The Fractured Void (Twilight Imperium #1) by Tim Pratt

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

I admit that this was a fun and lighthearted romp of a novel.

As far as first books in a series go, it fulfilled its function rather well – it introduced the world and the characters that live in it without it ever filling like an infodump.

The world is fascinating. We have different planets, and a lot of different alien species that have learned to co-exist in a way that seems very natural. The way they operate, talk and interact with each other never feels forced. Also, all alien species described fit well into their environment, like the “squid” people who live on two planets that are covered by oceans.

This is what attracted me the most to this book. I love when the author knows their world. He doesn’t have to give us an infodump on it for the reader to see that. The little hints thrown here and there along the story show the reader that there is much more history to explore and that the author knows what’s going on. There is background there. Things happen for a reason. I would love to explore this galaxy a bit more in the next books.

But the worldbuilding is only part of the magic formula. The other ingredient is the characters. And I admit that this part didn’t work quite as well for me.

I liked the Duval Devils alright, even though they seemed a little over the top in their piratey brashness from time to time. They seemed like a group of misfits at first, posturing in front of each other and trying to look cool. But I admit that they gelled as a team somewhere halfway through the book, probably because they finally had a common goal and a common detestable person to hate. I think Tib was my favorite character in this book. She is smart, she is efficient, and her sarcasm is right up my alley.

I really didn’t click with the duo that was opposing them. I know Azad and Severine were supposed to represent two strong female characters, but… I don’t know… I think Azad’s complete lack of scruples or any moral compass at all did her no favor. She has all the markings of a psychopath, and I have never been particularly found of those. The author kept them alive for a reason, so my guess is they will play a part in future books, but honestly, I could care less.

The author takes home the 2020 award for creating the most detestable character of the year, and he isn’t even a villain in a true sense of the term. Thales is a despicable, nasty piece of work. He is a megalomaniac with a huge chip on his shoulder who never forgets any offense, real or perceived, towards his fragile ego. I admit that I cheered a little when our good captain punched him in the face. And I definitely felt good when he got what he deserved at the end of the novel.

My problem with this book is that it feels like a big prologue rather than a first book in a series. The set up for the real conflict happens in the last two chapters and in the epilogue. Yes, it was fun to see the Duval Devils wheezing around the known galaxy assembling parts for the wormhole device, but it’s only set up. The bad guys are introduced only in the last chapters, so the end of the book feels rather anticlimactic. Yes, Thales got what he deserved, but the damage is already done, and the REAL STORY starts now. Only it doesn’t because the book ends.

I like this book well enough to pick up the next one in the series, because the writing was fun and light and there was a good balance between action and exposition. Hopefully, I will like the characters of the next installment better than this one.

PS: I received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

Stars: 5 out of 5

This is by far one of the best books I’ve read in 2020, and I have read over 90 books so far this year.

Here is the premise: multiverse travel is possible thanks to the technology discovered by a brilliant inventor on what is called Earth Zero. Unfortunately, in order to traverse the space between worlds and survive the integration into the new reality, the traveler needs to be dead on the other side. So basically, you can only travel to worlds in which the local version of you is already dead, otherwise it would be like trying to push yourself into a space that is already occupied. The results are… bloody and definitely fatal to the traversee.

So even though scientists are biting at the bit to go and explore different versions of reality, most of them come from wealthy backgrounds, which means they are alive in almost all those realities. So people from disadvantaged backgrounds make the best traversees. People who live in poverty and hunger, in war thorn villages, and places ravaged by disease.

Cara, our protagonist, is one of those people. She is dead in all but a handful of the 300 or so worlds that can be visited from Earth 0. She is worth something to the company she works for precisely because she is so worthless to the rest of reality that it’s a miracle she survived at all.

I loved Cara as a characters. She is deeply flawed and has a huge chip on her shoulder. She is convinced that she is worthless, that she is scum, that doesn’t deserve love, affection, or even happiness. Part of it is because of her upbringing, part of it is because she studied how all of the other versions of herself died, part of it is because she has a secret she is ashamed of.

This perception of unworthiness taints Cara’s view of everything in the world as well as her relationships with people she loves. And it’s infuriating and painful to watch sometimes. She immediately assumes the worse in any situation and acts on that assumption, often creating conflict where there wasn’t any or hurting people who didn’t mean any harm to her.

A lot of times I just wanted to shake her and tell her to just stop assuming and actually TALK to people. Especially when it comes to her relationship with Dell. She loves Dell, but she had decided that Dell doesn’t reciprocate the feeling, that she is either indifferent or flat out hates her instead. And she decided that without even talking to Dell about it. Really? A lot of hurt feelings and misunderstandings could have been averted if those two had sat down and talked things through at least once.

It was very interesting and satisfying to see Cara grow as a person. She starts the book as someone only looking out for herself. Someone who is trying so hard to fit in with the citizens of the City that she is shunting everything that remind her of her roots. It’s very fulfilling to see her realize that those roots make her who she is now. That she is worthy of love and admiration as a person she is, not just as a commodity that can hop between worlds.

I like that by embracing those roots she realizes that there is only so much that her moral compass would let her do, and when she stumbles into a dangerous plot and has a choice to make between going along and living in comfort and being ashamed of herself for it, or going with her conscience and trying to stop the people responsible, and probably die in the process, she chooses the later.

There are a lot of important themes in this book. What is the value of human life? What length would you go to to pursue your dream? Can people change, and more importantly, can your perception of people change based on their actions?

And the most important message of all, I think – you can find happiness if you accept yourself fully, flaws and all.

2020 has been a difficult year for all of us, and I found that message of hope was extremely timely and uplifting.

PS: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.