Design a site like this with
Get started

Review: The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal


Look: I’m weak for a good cover. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it. In hardcopy. Oh, my weakness got me burned plenty of times in the past, but this time it paid off. Despite some initial misgivings because the protagonist is so rich and influential, it turned out to be a fun, fast-paced, twisty mystery set in a queernorm world. Oh, and each chapter begins with a cocktail recipe (alcoholic and not!).

Tesla Crane is a famous inventor and the heiress to a business empire. But only a short time into her incognito honeymoon on a luxury interplanetary cruise ship, a person is murdered and her new husband is framed. Armed with her wits, her adorable service dog (Gimlet is BEST GIRL), and a foul-mouthed lawyer on speed dial, she must find a way out of this mess and clear her husband’s name.

Most of all, The Spare Man was a book that charmed me with its plot. I’m not, normally, a plot-focused reader. I like slice of life and romance, and am bored by action…but I do love a good mystery and this was a real page-turner. I always wonder a little if an author will manage to keep the tension for all 300, 400, or however many pages and the pacing even, and Kowal more than did it. And like the protagonists, I couldn’t even begin to guess the murderer – too many suspects.

Since an incident in her past left Tesla with a spinal injury and PTSD, the book also deals quite extensively with both mental health and disability, in a way that felt quite realistic. Tesla constantly struggles with chronic pain – even though she has a device that helps manage it, it never goes away, dialling it up has negative side effects, she uses a cane on bad days, and she cannot walk at a fast pace without consequences. Explosions also give her flashbacks.

I won’t lie, though, when I saw “rich, famous inventor” in the blurb, I winced. I trusted the author enough to give it a try regardless (plus, that cover is really gorgeous), but I couldn’t help but think of Elon Musk’s reputation and my long, long hatred for him that far predates the twitter mess. Luckily, Tesla is not an absolute fascist asshole and she’s at least somewhat aware of her privilege – she still sometimes has moments of “don’t you know who I am, how dare you” that made me cringe and wonder just how poorly an average person would fare in her situation, but I can’t really blame her for using any tool at her disposal to get her husband’s name cleared. For the most part, it was bearable, and I do recommend it.

Enjoyment: 4/5
Execution: 4/5

Recommended to: mystery fans, anyone looking for disabled MCs or queernorm worldbuilding (even if the MC is in a het relationship, everything around is INTENSELY queer), if you need some cocktail inspiration
Not recommended to: hmm, dunno, if rich and privileged protagonists are an absolute dealbreaker?


4 thoughts on “Review: The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal”

  1. Were you ever able to figure out what “Hourglass” was? Sometimes, I felt like Ory literally had Ewen programmed somehow to respond to an “Hourglass” command, but I don’t think that was ever really explained.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: