In terms of science fiction I tend to prefer books which are character led, like Becky Chambers’ sublime Wayfarers series, or blur the lines between sci-fi and fantasy, like Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. What I don’t think I’ve ever read is pure space opera, complete with space battles. I’ve never read Iain M Banks, Anne Leckie or even Isaac Asimov, I have watched Star Wars/Trek but I’ve never felt the need to call myself a really committed fan of either and (hangs head in shame) I’ve never seen Firefly. There’s nothing wrong with this as a genre, it just isn’t one I particularly enjoy (no matter how many Asimov and Clarke novels Rob has to tempt me with). So I’m not sure what attracted me to Drew Williams novel – but I’m glad I gave it a try.
The novel follows the work of an, at first, unnamed member of a group known as The Justified. Her job is to travel the galaxy, ravaged by something called The Pulse which has destroyed – to a greater or lesser extent depending on which planet you are on – modern machinery and computing, to find children with special powers. Space itself is unaffected but all planets, moons have been returned to a variety of states from pre-spaceflight to unable to sustain internal combustion engines. Space flight is possible – on ships operating with sophisticated artificial intelligence – but trying to land on a planet can result in all the ship’s electronics being totally ruined. The only race in the galaxy whose home planets were largely unaffected is the Pax: a race who are now trying to assimilate everyone they encounter into their sect. That sect is single-minded and has a total belief in ‘might is right’ – fascist is probably the best word to describe them.
From the moment that the Justified (later revealed to be called Jane Kamali – an ex-soldier who has been around since before the Pulse over a century earlier. I did a little cheer when her name was revealed, obviously) finds her latest gifted child, a young woman called Esa, the action comes thick and fast. Jane has to return to Sanctum, the Justified’s secret home world, with Esa but on the way manages to pick up some colleagues (including one who is running from a death penalty for treason), and a Barious (a race of robot-like beings who are, somehow, very snobbish about AI ships like the one she is now on). As they run the Pax keep following them: are they just unlucky or have the usually rather stupid Pax found out some very important information?
I didn’t mind all the fighting, bombs and blowing things to bits with extreme prejudice – I actually enjoyed the fact that the person doing most of the fighting was a female (or even two females as Barious are usually referred to as ‘she’). There was a lot more than I usually find in my choice of reading but it was mixed in with some nice characterisation. Jane, because of all the trouble she has getting Esa back to Sanctum, spends more time than usual with the girl – she’s usually a ‘pick ’em up, drop ’em off and don’t make friends’ kind of woman – and we see Esa having to learn a lot in a short time. Jane can cope with teaching her to use weapons but coping with the emotional needs (and rather black and white world view) of a teenager is more challenging. I’d complain that we don’t see that much of the girl, or her powers, which are stronger than usual, but this is the first book of a series so there is time. I’m hoping we also find out more about Jane’s past, find out where the Barious came from and whether the Pulse is coming back to do even more damage. Which means, damn it, I’m going to have get into space opera because now I need to know…