Dark Space by Marianne de Pierres

Jo-Jo Rasterovich, a mineral scout, has discovered Sole, an entity with so much power it is simply referred to as god. Sole knows the secrets of knowledge and agrees to share these secrets with the population that makes up the Orion League of Sentient Species (OLOSS). However, it is not for free. Sole agrees to trade this knowledge, but not for just anything: it requires the sentients to show feats of cleverness for such stuff. Representatives from different planets can apply to join the project, with only the most brilliant being accepted. One of these is Tekton, desperately wanting to be the one to gain new knowledge from Sole and willing to go to any length to get it.

dark-spaceAraldis is the home to the Cipriani families. Colonised only a handful of generations ago, it is a dry, unforgiving world with little to offer but its mineral wealth. The technological level of the planet is not high, with only a few of the more advanced technologies being used by the familia that can afford it. The mining operations are run with mechanical technology, principals of which have been around for hundreds of years.

Mira Fedor is a baronessa, descended from the Pilot line with the ability to fly biozoons (biological/AI starships). As she is due to graduate from Studium and take up her birthright as pilot of Insignia, the flag ship of the ruling family, things do not go to plan. Instead of being announced as the Pilot First, it is Trinder Pelligrini, the son of the current Principe, that is given the honour even though he does not possess the ability. Mira flees before her heritage is taken from her and given to Trin, gaining travel back to her home in the dry lands of Araldis through not entirely legal means.

Trin, the Principe’s son, is being punished for his behaviour – he has killed an Uuli through his incompetence and drunkenness. For this he is sent to work, stuck in a tiny corner office with little to do and no instructions. He starts digging and finding information that his father would not want made public. He is then sent off elsewhere to work as an aide to the chief of security in a remote mining town in Araldis’ dry lands. Not competent in much, Trin is more of a liability to them than anything else, barely earning any respect for his role in saving a life during a fire. He is given the one task he does not want: to go to villa Fedor and find out about Mira’s whereabouts. Even though it was not his wish to become Pilot First, he must still follow the orders so he can gain her genetic heritage.

It is here that both Trin and Mira find themselves when things go wrong on Araldis. An invasion is taking place: deadly Saqr have been modified to withstand the conditions on Araldis and are hunting and killing everyone in sight: nobody is safe. Together they must find somewhere safe, somewhere that they can get help to fight this threat in the hope that Araldis can be saved.

Dark Space is a book that has been sitting on my shelf since its release, not because I didn’t want to read it, but because other things just got in the way. Now I’ve finished it I’m very glad I did, it’s an enjoyable book that is a very satisfying read. The plot is slow to gather pace, but during these early sections of the book we get a very in depth look at life for Mira and Trin, both very different characters in different situations.

The sections where we follow Mira are more about her struggle after fleeing the Studium when she finds out that she must give up her birthright. From there things go donwhill for her: her home is destroyed and her sister dead, she is left with a ‘bino and korm that she must care for, all while trying to find somewhere safe. Her situation is not very nice and although the character is a little annoying at times, in the context of the story and her history, it is written well enough not to be too bleak and miserable.

Trin on the other hand starts out as a little shit. He cares for no one but himself and can’t quite believe that he has to actually do things for himself. An annoying character would be an understatement, but luckily things do change. He does slowly grow up and accepts that things are different outside of his family, making me more sympathetic to him in his situation. Although he’s not the most enjoyable character to read, he fits in perfectly well in this story.

As the story is much more focused on Mira and Trin, it is only through short sections that we see or hear of Sole, Tekton and Jo-Jo. Tekton and Jo-Jo are characters with a depth to them that I wouldn’t expect with such short sections about them. I’d like to see where they progress to and perhaps a little more of their story taking priority. Sole is something that I was expecting to have a large role in the story, but it never is used to the potential it could be, a shame considering the possibilities – perhaps something that will be focused on more in the sequel.

The book as a whole works well, but I can’t help but wonder whether it has been labelled as space opera when it really isn’t. Focusing over 85% of the book on two characters on a small frontier planet doesn’t scream out space opera to me. The building blocks are certainly there for the next books and I can only hope that the scope grows a little more to show the bigger picture. I can imagine that the series as a whole will fit nicely into the space opera genre, this one just isn’t quite there though.

All in all this was a solid read with a good foundation and interesting, if not always likable, characters. The story has definitely got a lot of promise, something that I sorely would like it to live up to. At the end of the day, if you’re looking for big scale space opera from page 1 then this isn’t the book for you, but if you’re willing to put in that effort for what could be a great series it could be very rewarding.

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