Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This is the first in a new space opera series by the prolific and reliable Adrian Tchaikovsky. It had a day at 99p, so here we are. It manages to both reach back into the past of the sub genre and acknowledge more recent developments. On the one hand, we have the technological sublime, galactic empires, and truly alien aliens; on the other, we have a plucky crew of misfits from different species whose main loyalty is to themselves.

The Architects are the main mystery here, the villain of the piece (or are they), an alien force which turns inhabited planets inside out for no apparent reason; an inexorable force that doesn’t even seem to notice the puny humans (and others) who try to stop them. Until they are stopped, it seems, by modified humans known as Intermediaries, who somehow penetrate the consciousness of the moon-sized vessels and turn them aside.

Faster-than-light travel is possible through (*waves hands*) “un-space” routes created by an ancient and vanished civilisation, but trained Intermediaries are also able to navigate unspace in the wild, using a kind of extra sense. Intermediaries are all damaged by the process of creating them, all in different ways, and the member of this ship’s particular crew has neither aged nor slept since turning an Architect away at the end of the recent war. Through a legal loophole, he is a free agent, and does his best not to draw attention to himself: a vain hope.

The maguffin here is a set of ancient relics which might be important in dealing with the Architects if they ever come back. The complications come in the form of clashing political factions, another alien empire, and a set of gangsters with symbiotic thugs who are more or less impossible to kill. If you were so inclined, you might see the distracting nativist politics in the face of an existential threat as a kind of snarky metaphor for… something.

This is a rollicking, pacy entertainment, with lots of space battles and close-up action, and a central crew who are not quite as touchy-feely as those in other recent popular space operas. I found it enjoyable, though there were perhaps one or two too many fight scenes. A second in the trilogy, Eyes of the Void, is on its way in April 2022.

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