The Rush’s Edge by Ginger Smith

With the help of his commanding officer, a genetically engineered ex-soldier fights back against the government that created him and others like him to be expendable slaves… 

Ginger Smith’s debut novel The Rush’s Edge is an intriguing, oftimes explosive, adrenaline fuelled shot of science fiction. We follow Halvor Cullen, a genetically engineered supersoldier (or “vat”) as the novel’s heart-of-gold protagonist as he and his crew become slowly embroiled in a fight against the government that created him.

At first, I must admit I wasn’t particularly sold on Hal as the protagonist. Picking up this novel that touted the main character as “genetically engineered supersoldier” put me in mind of the type of action novels I tend to avoid. One could all too easily read him as your stereotypical gun-toting cliched action man – a person written to have obvious style and charisma, but minimal substance behind them.

Yet, further on into the novel I read, Smith surprised me. As much as I am a fan of sci-fi that’s a touch more weird, her exploration of each of the characters, their relationships, and the dilemmas they faced did much to draw me into this book.

“For a vat seeking the rush, the Spiral’s Edge had plenty of temptations to offer. […] Trouble tended to follow Hal wherever he went.”

I’m hugely fond of the found family trope, and this novel serves that up in spades. Each of the crew members aboard the Loshad are compelling in their own way (I really liked the dynamic between Tyce, the ship’s captain, and Hal as bound brothers-in-arms) and there’s even a bit of romance in there (for those who like such things as I do!).

The Rush’s Edge is a book with heart, an adrenaline fuelled character driven story that takes a poignant look at human relationships and the ethics of human rights. The “vats” are shown and treated by wider society and their makers as disposable freaks. They are bred for fighting, and their physiology means they live incredibly short lives compared to “nats” (natural born folk) – a tragic reminder of their existence.

This focus on vats as this “othered” group was a conflict that really intrigued me, one which I was delighted to see explored more as the novel pressed on. What happens when you push science too far? When you sideline the living, breathing soldiers once they’ve served a purpose rather than see them as people? There is a poignant, heartbreaking undercurrent to this action-packed novel that Smith makes sure to remind us of at every turn, which does much to deter you from thinking this is your stereotypical “man turns up and shoots things but in space” book.

“They talked a lot about that in the training[…]-of how loyalty and obedience to the ACAS came first, so much so that Hal had always linked the two in his mind. But now […] obedience meant you did what they told you because they made you, but loyalty couldn’t be demanded. It was given.”

Smith’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of the genre clearly radiates off the page. Exposition and rich details about the world are crammed in with abandon, with this world giving off hardened sci-fi, cyberpunk vibes with seedy underbellies, “teckers” (also known as hackers), assassins, and A.I. Whilst many of the tropes used are well-worn ones, that is perhaps to its credit. Fans of sci-fi books that are simpler to follow will like this, and it is a solid entry into the ranks for readers looking to get started in this genre.

Whilst the pacing was sometimes too erratic for my liking, slow in some places and faster in others bouncing from scene to scene, some readers might prefer that as a way to explore more angles in the story. In fact, there is much to be said about the hints dropped and explanation of other-worldly beings and its history (A.I named the Mudar who fought humanity until they’d lost) that it made me want to find out more.

Final verdict:
A solid debut sci-fi novel, and a great book to introduce readers to the genre, The Rush’s Edge is a thought-provoking, fast paced, heart-wrenching story. I’m excited to see more written by her, and thank you Angry Robot and NetGalley for the ARC!

The Rush’s Edge is due to be released on 10th November, and can be ordered here.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

“We do bones, motherf*cker”

Sometimes, you stumble across a book that has such an intriguing, batsh*t concept, you can’t help but want to delve immediately into the book. That is what Tasmyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth is – her debut novel and the first one as part of the Locked Tomb trilogy.

With a tagline that really speaks for itself – “lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!” – this book tries to pack a lot in. And when I say a lot I mean that I had to make quite a few notes along the way, especially over the more technical terms re: necromancy and how it works. But it is also immersive and rich in its worldbuilding, with witty character dialogue, and heartbreaking narrative that made me cry a few times and laugh raucously at others. It also, much to my delight, subtly (and at times, not so subtly) makes references to memes and fanfic (if you too, like me, have spent way too much time on the internet and know your fanfiction tropes, you’ll spot them).

In a world where there exist eight other Houses, each bound to serve the omnipotent Emperor Undying, the Necrolord Prime of the First House, we are introduced to our protagonist and POV character Gideon Nav. Gideon is an indentured servant of the Ninth House, likewise bound to serve her childhood nemesis Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Princess-Necromancer of the Ninth House – a goth house where skull face paint is applied liberally, and they summon skeletons as a primary source of their power. You’ve got to love a House that goes all out for the aesthetic.

The plot unfolds as the long-suffering duo embark to the planet of the First House along with the representatives of seven other Houses – the heirs and their cavaliers – with the goal to become a Lyctor (immortal servants who serve the Necrolord Prime). But as is quickly made apparent, all is not as it seems in this First House, and the goal of becoming a Lyctor far more muddied and complex than initially thought. The dynamic and banter between Gideon and Harrowhark which sits at the front of this novel, is particularly enjoyable to read: the former a foul-mouthed, brash jock, the latter a long-suffering, cerebral, sharp-tongued necromancer.

“But Gideon was experiencing one powerful emotion: being sick of everyone’s shit”

It’s sci-fi, with a smattering of gothic suspense, action, and murder mystery all wrapped into one intriguing, exciting, and heady cocktail. You follow Gideon as each of the characters in this crumbling, old palace try to figure out the long-lost secrets of Lyctorhood, whilst trying not to fall foul of any…further, darker secrets hidden away in this place. They are each pitted against each other whilst working together, and as the tension and suspicion grows, Muir drips feeds information about what-the-hell-is-going-on to you at the right points, in a way that kept me continually guessing (and yes, make notes as you read. It’s worth it, I promise).

The array of supporting characters with their different types of cultures and death magics are brilliant too (I would die for the Sixth House, not to be too dramatic about it), and soon you find yourself trying to navigate this haunted house trying to root for as many of them as possible (whilst outright despising others).

One flesh, one end. Bitch.”

This is a book which doesn’t pull its punches, whether that’s in the intricately detailed lore it drops, in the vicious, downright scary fight scenes that are nail-bitingly tense, or in the emotional dialogue it clocks you around the face with.

One thing I particularly loved about this novel is its depictions of relationships; specifically the connection between the Necromancers and Cavaliers. If there’s a trope I love seeing it’s the “ride or die” connection that Muir explores so wonderfully, and with such nuance, between each House. One cannot exist without the other – a heartbreaking point that sits at the centre of the entire book and ends on a traumatic cliffhanger. 

Final verdict : 

Gideon the Ninth takes an extremely intriguing premise and delivers up a wonderful, heart wrenching, and rich story. There is so much here, it deserves to be read and then re-read, with new points picked up upon each time. This is a must read for sci-fi fans at the very least.

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

I know that you should never judge a book by its cover, but when Orbit sent me this in the post and I opened it to see tiny cats in space suits, I already knew that this was going to be a space opera that I would enjoy. 

“Kidnappers. Alien emperors. Psychic cats. And she’s out of coffee.” 

Valdes’ debut novel is one that teems with depth, colour and (extra-terrestrial) life. But despite the sprawling universe she depicts, the heart and core of the book is very much grounded in human (well, humanoid) emotion, centred around its protagonist Captain Eva Innocente and her crew onboard La Sirena Negra. When word is received that Eva’s sister is kidnapped by an intergalactic mob boss named The Fridge (yes, you read that right), she must go on a series of dangerous missions to get her back. But, as you might imagine in such a complex galaxy such as this, all is not as it seems and the Captain slowly uncovers more than she was blackmailed for.

Much like the novel’s protagonist finds, once you get into the thick of Chilling Effect there are so many twists and turns to follow, it is sometimes hard to keep up, but no less entertaining. From psychic cats, aliens who hunt anything without a bracelet marking it not to, to brainwashing monks, early on in the novel, Valdes introduces us to a particularly grotesque example of this “twist”in the form of an amorous space Emperor (aptly named the Glorious Apotheosis). A fish-man who won’t take no for an answer, he meets Eva and tries to get her to join his harem, only to set a bounty on her head when she says no and hunts her across the galaxy (and throughout the entire novel) popping up at inopportune moments to wreck her ship, rather like a bull in a china shop.

“Between psychic cats, and kidnapped sisters, and her own booze addled temper, she was ready to unload on someone. […] “My name is Captain Eva Innocente” she slurred. “You can call me Captain, which is safe, or you can shut up, which is safer.” 

Eva Innocente is vivacious and gusty, a protagonist whose escapades and personality make for an engaging read. This book is one that effortlessly slides between hilarity and seriousness as the plot demands (and for all the humour, there are some well-realised serious, if heart-warming moments). There is much to be said for the diversity of the crew too alongside its Cuban-descended, foul-mouthed Captain, and how well Valdes makes you engage with each of Eva’s found family as well as the biological one she seeks (reminding me rather fondly of Mass Effect).

The budding, and at times incredibly awkward, alien romance between Vakar, the ship’s engineer, and Eva is adorable, and whose interactions are some of my favourite moments in the book. (It’s also beset with some hilarious scenes that had me hiding my face in my hands. I hope you like liquorice because it gets mentioned a lot…). 

However, whilst there is much to enjoy about this offbeat space opera, I felt that at times, the overarching storyline (Eva’s quest to locate her sister) and the ensuing twists that happen afterwards with The Fridge and “Proarkhe technology” – which is only loosely explained – were rushed. For a book that really puts its all into its vibrant world-building, and a heart-warming and funny main character, the pacing of the book especially towards the end was the main hindrance to me enjoying it as much as I could have.

Scenes that I felt should have had more emotional impact – like the ending with what it reveals and the (slight spoilers!) time-skip explanation – were rushed, whilst other parts which seemingly had little relevance to the overarching plot dragged on. Like a rollercoaster that speeds up and ends too quickly, I only wish that Valdes had made this novel longer or at least elaborated a bit more on some of the intriguing plot points and lore that she drops into conversation between characters or details in any exposition.

Overall view:
Chilling Effect is a quirky, fun-fuelled, space opera that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you like sci-fi wacky and offbeat, with alien romances, a human heart pumping away at its centre, and a protagonist with more charismatic gravitational pull than a black hole, you should definitely give this a try.

Chilling Effect can be bought all good book shops + online. 

*Thank you Orbit Books for posting me this copy in exchange for an honest review.