It's a thrilling and unsettling read. Cormac Easton is a journalist who has been chosen to accompany a remarkable new expedition into space. As a precursor to a manned mission to Mars, the purpose of this expedition is simply to see how far into space it is possible for the current technology to get, and come back with lots of new data. In order to get as far into space as possible, new propulsion systems have been introduced to make the initial take-off many times faster and more powerful than any previous launch. The only way for the human body to withstand the pressure this creates is to place all of the crew into hypersleep for the launch. The first problems of the trip arise when the First Pilot fails to awaken from his hypersleep - he is dead, and has been for many days by the time the crew wake to find him. After that, and all in the first chapter, the rest of the crew follows 'one by one, falling off like there was a checklist', until only Cormac remains alive. What follows is a claustrophobic and suspenseful psychological portrait of a man driven to desperation by a terrifying sequence of events. The sparse prose perfectly suits the location, and the first-person narration (meaning that we only know as much as the main character - not very much) really contributed to the pervading sense of imminent doom and/or madness.
"What would you do if the world was brought to a standstill? If you heard deafening static followed by the words 'MY CHILDREN, DO NOT BE AFRAID'?
Would you declare it an act of terrorism? Turn to God? Subscribe to the conspiracy theories? Or put your faith in science and a rational explanation?
The lives of all twenty-six people in this account are affected by the message. Most because they heard it. Some because they didn't."
|Angry Robot, £8.99|
I was briefly unconvinced by the story at the very start as it seemed too similar to other stories I had read recently, but I was very quickly captivated by the brilliant characters and fast pace of the story. Cathy is a fantastic character to read as she contemplates her forced return from the freedom of Mundanus to the repressively old-fashioned society of the Nether. There were lots of really enjoyable touches (the Arbiter has a gargoyle containing his dislocated soul for a sidekick, Fae Lords are attended by tiny faeries with dragonfly wings, the impossibly long-limbed brothers Thorn) and I particularly loved the mysterious Shopkeeper, with his shop full of artefacts and charms - no two alike and not displayed in any obvious order. It's the first book in a planned series 'The Split Worlds', and my only (small) complaint about this one is about its ending, which I felt was not quite satisfying enough for a stand-alone novel. Luckily, the two sequels both have planned releases for this year, so it won't matter for long!
I'm off now to read 'A Natural History of Dragons' (yay, dragons!) by Marie Brennan, and 'Bookplate Special' (Booktown Mysteries #3) by Lorna Barrett. I shall report back!