I've read a few interesting mergers of SF and Fantasy this year -- some that were just that, interesting, some that were good -- a couple that were more than good. Thankfully, Brassey's Skyfarer was in that latter camp. Even in those early chapters where I was still trying to figure out the world, remember which name lined up with what character, and get a handle on the plot, I had a sense that this was going to be one of those books I talked about very positively -- and very often. That sense just only got stronger as the book went on.
I feel like could go on for pages about this book -- but won't let myself (so I can avoid the wrath of Angry Robot and you can actually get something out of reading it yourself -- which you have to go do as soon as it comes out).
So you've got this group called the Eternal Order -- a group committed to death, destruction, power, and plunder. When it comes to numbers, they can't stand up to the civilizations around them, at least when they ally themselves against the Order. But when they (rarely, it seems) can come in with a quick strike against one people they can wreak much havoc. Which is exactly what they do here -- they come in and demand that the rulers of Port Providence hand over the Axiom Diamond, or they will wipe them out -- and it's clear that Lord Azrael, the commander, isn't being hyperbolic. The royal family responds with armed resistance, which has some measure of success, but is primarily fighting losing battles.
Into the midst of this looming genocide comes a wayward spacecraft, the Elysium. The Elysium is a small carrier with more weapons than one should expect (we're initially told this, anyway). The crew has just welcomed an apprentice mage, fresh from the academy, to complete her studies with her mentor/professor. Aimee de Laurent has been pushing herself for years to excel, to be the best -- if there's a sacrifice to be made for her studies, she's made it. All leading up to this day, where her professor, Harkon Bright has taken her as an apprentice on his exploration ship to complete her education. She joins a crew that's been together for years and is eager to find her place within them.
When the Elysium arrives in the middle of this, it doesn't take anything approaching calculus for them to figure out what this particular crew is going to do. There's The Eternal Order on one side, civilians and the remnants of the military on the other. There's a ravaged civilization on one side and the ravagers on the other. There's a group trying to prevent The Eternal Order from getting something they want and there's, well, The Eternal Order. So our band of adventurers tell the remnants of the royal family that they'll hunt down the Axiom and protect it.
This isn't exactly a revolutionary idea for a story -- but man, it doesn't matter. There's a reason everyone and their brother has tried this -- it's a good story. Especially when it's told well. And, I'm here to tell you that Joseph Brassey tells it really well. Not just because of his hybridization of SF and Fantasy, but because he can take a story that everyone's taken a shot at and make it seem fresh, he can deliver the excitement, he can deliver the emotion. There is some horrible stuff depicted -- either in the present or in flashbacks; there's some pretty tragic stuff; and yet this is a fun read -- the pacing, the tone, everything makes this feel like the adventure films and books that I grew up on. You want to read it -- not just to find out what's going to happen next, but because it's written in such a way that you just want to be reading the book, like a having a glass of iced tea on a summer's day.
The characters could uniformly use a little more fleshing out -- which isn't a weakness in the writing. Brassey pretty much points at the places where the reader will more details (especially when it comes to Aimee and Harkon), making us want more than he's giving us. What we're given, though, is enough to make you root for or against them, hope that they survive (or are subjected to painful and humiliating defeat), or simply enjoy the camaraderie. The good news is, that there's more to learn about everyone -- about their past and their present -- and how those shape their future.
You've got magic -- various schools of magic, too, each with its own understanding of what magic is and how it can be used; you've got swords and lasers (and similar kinds of weapons); you've got space ships running of magic (not just hyperspace drives that act like magic); objects and persons of prophecy; beings and intelligences that aren't explicable -- tell me why you wouldn't want to read this? Especially when you throw in epic sword fights, magic duels, and spacecraft action all written by someone who writes like a seasoned pro. Sign me up for the sequel!
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Angry Robot Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.