The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal

July 23, 2020 Book Reviews 6 ★★★★★

The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette KowalThe Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal
Series: Lady Astronaut #3
Published by Tor on July 14, 2020
Genres: Alt-History, Science Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: Kindle or ebook
Source: the publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Bookshop | Barnes & Noble
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Also in this series: The Calculating Stars
Also by this author: The Calculating Stars, Shades of Milk and Honey

Mary Robinette Kowal continues her award-winning Lady Astronaut series, which began with The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, with The Relentless Moon.

The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC's goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

The Relentless Moon: Riveting SF

The Relentless Moon is terrific! It absolutely lives up to the previous books in the series. The novel is gripping, suspenseful, and sometimes wrenching, with moments of levity that never detract from the deadly serious situation in which the characters find themselves.

There is so much I want to say, but I can’t without spoilers. The Relentless Moon takes place on Earth and on the Moon, during the time frame covered by The Fated Sky, and is told from the point of view of astronaut and governor’s wife Nicole Wargin, a secondary character in the first books. Those who have read The Fated Sky will understand the need to change narrators in order to tell this part of the overall “history,” since Dr. Elma York is altogether elsewhere during the events of book. Readers of the series will also anticipate at least one of the major events that occurs in The Relentless Moon… but believe me, knowing something about what’s coming doesn’t diminish the rising suspense and tension in the least.

Kowal is an excellent writer who really knows her craft.* Her characterization is topnotch. Nicole’s character and voice are distinctly different from those of Elma, the narrator of the first two books. Nicole’s personality is harder, more worldly (or cynical), though she projects a smooth and polished persona befitting a governor’s wife. She is also an occasionally unreliable narrator, at least when it comes to certain aspects of her life or personality… and no, I’m not going to tell you what, only that all becomes clear eventually.

Although the book is written from the point of view of a white woman, the cast is racially diverse. The international astronaut program and colonization program both include individuals from a number of different countries, as well as both white and black Americans. Two of the major secondary characters — good friends of Nicole’s — are black pilots; another is a Taiwanese woman who works as a computer. Since the time frame is the early 1960s (albeit an alternate timeline), race inevitably arises as an issue at times, with several incidents of overt racism and unconscious bias on the part of some secondary characters (most of them minor.)

Nicole’s perceptions of other characters are important throughout the novel, for reasons I can’t specify, but that will be obvious as you read it. The book reads like a mystery, or perhaps a thriller. Kowal expertly builds a feeling of tension and impending danger throughout, racheting up the stakes for Nicole and the rest of the lunar colony’s astronauts and colonists. I could hardly put the the book down! At the same time, I found it too intense for middle-of-the-night insomnia reading; instead of falling back asleep, I would have read straight through the night.

Kowal’s worldbuilding is equally strong. She really does her research, both through reading and by corresponding with experts, and it shows. Everything feels and sounds realistic, from piloting a small plane on Earth to the design and function of the lunar colony modules. You have only to read the Afterword to see how much care and thought Kowal puts into making sure every aspect of the book makes sense and is scientifically feasible.

As wonderful as The Relentless Moon is, I recommend reading The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky first. The first book sets up the premise on which the entire series rests, and the second covers events which greatly impact what happens in TRM. While I think I could have followed everything that happens in TRM without having read TCS and TFS, my background knowledge gained through the first two books gave context, depth, and urgency to the characters and situations in TRM.

If you enjoy audiobooks, it’s a fantastic way to experience this series. Mary Robinette Kowal is a professional audiobook reader as well as a writer, and she did a fantastic job on the first two books. I didn’t have the opportunity to listen to The Relentless Moon, but I’m sure her narration is just as good. And of course, one of the joys of listening to an author read her own work (well!) is that all the voices, emphasis, and interpretation are as close as possible to what she had in mind while writing the book.

CW for The Relentless Moon (spoilers)
eating disorder; epidemic; spouse’s death

*Ms. Kowal co-hosts the Writing Excuses podcast with Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. It’s always interesting and informative to listen to her and her colleagues discuss the craft and techniques of writing.


About Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of the Lady Astronaut Universe, The Spare Man and six historical fantasy novels: The Glamourist Histories series and Ghost Talkers. She’s a member of the award-winning podcast Writing Excuses and has received the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, four Hugo awards, the RT Reviews award for Best Fantasy Novel, the Nebula, and Locus awards. Stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, several Year’s Best anthologies and her collections Word Puppets and Scenting the Dark and Other Stories.

Her novel The Calculating Stars is one of only eighteen novels to win the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards in a single year.

As a professional puppeteer and voice actor (SAG/AFTRA), Mary Robinette has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures, and founded Other Hand Productions. Her designs have garnered two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence, the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve. A professional audiobook narrator, she records fiction for authors such as Seanan McGuire, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi.

Mary Robinette lives in Nashville with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters. Visit

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • COYER Quarantine Edition (2020)
  • POPSUGAR Reading Challenge 2020

6 Responses to “The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Thank you! I plan to buy this one on audio, too. I know I will be rereading and/or relistening to the whole the series, especially if there’s another two years before the next one. (Which is fine; I don’t mind waiting for books this well written!)

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Nicole, I think you will really love this series. I hope you read it at some point; I’d love to see your thoughts on the books!

  1. Lark

    Oh, shoot, the third one’s out? I still haven’t read book one. How did I get so far behind in this series? I don’t know where the time goes!
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    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I know what you mean! I love this author, and devoured the first two books (though I never got around to reviewing The Fated Sky, darn it. I’ll try to remedy that.) But there are so many series I’ve started, or meant to start, and now I’m two or three or eight books behind. Too many books, too little time!