Adrian Tchaikovsky, Shards of Earth, Tor, 2021.
Shards of Earth is the first volume in a series of epic space opera novels, and the perfect read for an adventure with subtle satire.
The Architects came. Unknowable, unstoppable. It took an Int', a modified human, to stop them. Then they disappeared, hopefully forever. Decades later, the Int', Idris, lives a more or less quiet life on a salvage ship with his crew. But his past catches up with him. Solace, who is an engineered warrior, comes to offer him a job with her people, the Partheni. At the same time, a ship is found, apparently attacked by the Architects.
It took me about fifty pages to get into Shards of Earth. The fast paced prologue was great at introducing us with the previous war and the immense threat that the Architects are, but then I hit a slump. Happily, the novel soon picked up its pace again and the characters became real.
Among them all, the two main characters, Idris and Solace were a real highlight for me. The first one is understandably traumatised by the war and I appreciated that we aren't reading about a hero ready to get into any fight. Even the warrior, Solace, is reluctant to accomplish what she came to accomplish. The world has changed in the decades following the war, and both Idris and she have changed too because of the war. They both see the injustices, the compromises, the war-mongering fools, and those who are ready to lie to attain their goals.
We are following the adventures of the crew as they try to understand if the Architects are back or not. So we explore planets and space stations, meet various aliens. But beneath the adventure, there's also a sharp satire for our times about government manipulations and ideologies, which I really appreciated.
The world building is expansive, and I particularly liked the unspace, which ships use to travel between worlds.
Tchaikovsky's storytelling is as skilled as usual, and Shards of Earth proceeds at a fast pace, with clear and efficient prose. He also takes the time to delve into the characters' dilemmas and pain in a way that felt entirely realistic to me. And although Shards of Earth isn't a horror novel, a particular passage may very well be the best cosmic horror pages I read recently.
Shards of Earth is both a very entertaining space opera adventure and a satisfying--if bitter-sweet--satire of humanity and politics. It achives this delicate balance with great gusto and I look forward to reading the next volume.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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