“Flying down a wormhole was like throwing yourself into the center of a tornado, one where if you brushed the walls you would be obliterated down to subatomic particles before you even knew it happened.”
So begins Forsaken Skies, the first installment in a new space opera by D. Nolan Clark (a pseudonym for the horror author David Wellington). And if that first line doesn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what will.
“You can’t just let drones do their own thinking. They’re not smart enough to know when they’ve got something wrong.”
A mysterious fleet of drones attacks a small colony of religious Separatists on the desolate planet called “Niraya.” No one seems willing to help the Nirayans fight the dangerous drones. But what do the aggressors want, anyway? Who sent them?
And who can stop them?
Published September 2016 by Orbit.
The beginning of Forsaken Skies is all action and juicy conflict as it brings together the cast of characters.
A naïve pair of Transcendentalists from the victimized planet of Niraya seek military assistance from an ex-navy conman named Maggs; but rather than helping the desperate women, Maggs steals their money and runs. Unluckily for him, the Naval hero and famed commander Lanoe is in town from another planet, trying to chase down a young runaway named Thom. Commander Lanoe captures both men and, after hearing about the attack on the Nirayans, he pulls together all the help he can muster: the two criminals; an ex-rebel-pilot named Valk, who currently works space traffic control on the planet where Lanoe noisily chased down his quarries; and two women from Lanoe’s old squad. One of these squadmates, Ehta, is an ex-pilot-turned-marine with PTSD about flying ships; the other is Lanoe’s old flame and second-in-command, Zhang.
Some of the character arcs blew me away and some of them didn’t. Valk’s arc is particularly fantastic, and I also really enjoyed two of the women’s arcs, especially Ehta’s. On the other hand, two character arcs fell short, for me: (1) after the author hung his hat on the mysterious motivations of the conman, Maggs, during most of the book, that arc ended up falling short, for me; and (2) one of the women serves only as a prop for one of the men’s character arcs before she’s killed off. I suppose she’ll be a Mockingjay for the new fleet of warriors on their next mission.
Still, I enjoyed getting to know most of these characters.
After bringing together the crew, the author slowly and carefully doles out clues to the mystery that drives the plot: who is attacking the barren planet of Niraya—and why? The pacing is perfect and I read along quite happily and willingly, even as the tight, teasing setup transitioned into more plot-specific action.
One specific worldbuilding qualm surfaced as I read: the planets in this universe never seem to go to war. (Unlike modern countries.) Instead, corporations do all the fighting.
The polys always find another reason to fight…because they make money off the fighting.”
That doesn’t make a lot of sense, to me. I don’t think corporations are the main causes of war right now, so why would that change? It seems logical that different planets—like today’s different countries—would find reasons to go to war. Call me a skeptic, but if we can’t manage world peace now, I doubt we’ll be able to manage it in the intergalactic age.
Other than this worldbuilding qualm*, I found the planets, cultures and settings fully-realized and quite entertaining.
So basically, this book was a lot of fun! I was hooked from page one. Line one, even. I did find my mind wandering during certain scenes, like those detailing the religious politics of Niraya, or other scenes that focused primarily on revealing the soul of the commander hero.
But the big reveals, during the final battle, definitely live up to the epic-sized expectations built up during the setup.
Readers very familiar with the genre may not find a lot of original stuff here, but I suspect even veterans will find something to like—and readers new to sci-fi are in for a treat! The beginning of the book is so strong, you’ll be hooked before you know it. I really enjoyed Forsaken Skies and am definitely planning to read vol. 2!
Recommended To :
Readers in search of a decent new space opera, especially new readers looking for an exciting introduction to the genre.
Many thanks to D. Nolan Clark, Orbit and Netgalley for my free review copy of Forsaken Skies!
*In a great interview over at MYLIFEMYBOOKSMYESCAPE, Clark/Wellington expounds upon the planets and the polys: polys have taken over the planets in our galaxy (except for earth) and currently run them to make a profit; but they also keep trying to defeat earth’s navy and ultimately add earth to their list of conquests. So that explains why corporations, not planets, go to war. I still have a hard time thinking that polys would make more money by going to war than through business or trade, but I can certainly see corporations getting behind the push for intergalactic expansion–and even owning planets. Intriguing idea.