The Pax ships carry necessities like food, water, and basics to help civilians who live on the planets. Although their resources are sometimes stretched thin, they believe in their mission to make sure people are taken care of. Cira is one such Pax citizen who believes in the mission, though she does not understand why they cannot transport or offer particular aid to the orphans of the ongoing wars. She has committed treason in that she has aided children to be secretly transported and, in some cases, allowed them to remain as stowaways on board the ship.
Riston is one such stowaway, the one who has been there the longest. He is accompanied by four younger stowaways, who are all really smart and talented children. They all know the ship very well and escape detection through those means. If they are caught, the sentence could be imprisonment/forced to serve in military or dangerous factory or death (depending on age, etc.).
When items start going missing on board the Pax Novis, Cira is quick to blame the stowaways, even though they have as much to lose as anyone by the thefts/carelessness. The alternative is too dangerous- that someone else may be aboard the ship with more sinister motives. When other Pax ships begin to drop communications and then somehow disappear completely, the race is on to save their own ship from the same fate.
This book is a solid sci-fi with great world-building (or should I say universe-building). I fully comprehended the ship, the people, and the situations in this future. The characters are also fully realized, particularly Riston but also Cira, her mothers, and to a lesser extent, the other stowaways. I also really loved how the book not only gives us Riston and Cira's perspectives, but it also includes various documents that come together to give more background on the stowaways, the Pax fleet, and the group behind what is happening to the ships.
Probably one of the the best parts of the book is all the representation with Cira having two mothers plus other LGBT relationships mentioned, a few main characters (Riston, Adrienn) falling in the non-binary (using a new pronoun of ze, zis), and Cira identifying as ace/asexual. While these were not the main plot points of the story (vs. the thriller/suspense of ship sabotage, etc.), their inclusion makes the book all the stronger for it.
Because of all the world-building and character introductions, which are needed with a world so different and such a high volume of characters, the book moves pretty slowly at first. I think I would have liked less at the start in favor of a faster plot, but I imagine future books will be much faster-paced due to all the details and slow-build of this first book. I definitely want to revisit this universe and characters again, regardless.
Overall, this was a fascinating sci-fi/thrilleresque YA read that I would recommend to anyone looking for books with great representation, strong world-building, and a unique plot! I very much look forward to reading the next book.