I received this novel from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.
When I saw Velocity Weapon showcased in the regular Orbit newsletter of upcoming titles, something immediately drew me to it, and I requested it with a bare minimum of knowledge about the story, which is unusual for me since I like to have an idea about what to expect from any given book. What I found was a very immersive story peopled with characters that felt real and solid, and I breezed through it in a short time: since this is the first volume in a series, I hope that the next ones will come out soon, because there are so many questions I can’t wait to see answered.
This is not going to be an easy review to write because I must avoid any kind of spoiler: Velocity Weapon offers so many surprises, so many unexpected twists, that to even hint at any of them would be a huge disservice – my unconscious decision to approach it “sight unseen” proved to be the best choice, and I urge you to do the same to enjoy this remarkable novel as it deserves.
The background: the discovery in the 22nd Century of a technology – called Casimir Gate – able to bridge huge interstellar distances fostered widespread colonization. Many centuries later, the settlers of Ada Prime hold the key to the local Casimir gate, while their neighbors on Icarion must pay for the rights of transit through the gate, which has caused increasing political and military friction over time. As the novel opens, in one such skirmish Icarion forces took the Prime fleet by surprise, scoring a bloody victory: while bound to their system by the punishing gate tariffs, they reached substantial technological advances, one of them being the powerful weapon which destroyed the Primes’ convoy.
As the political and military pressures mount, the Keepers – Ada Prime’s ruling body – must decide how to respond, while Biran Greeve, newly minted Keeper, has to deal with the loss of his sister Sanda, who commanded one of the Prime ships lost in the battle near Dralee moon. Sanda is not dead, however: she wakes up in a medical emergency cocoon, one leg missing from the knee down as a consequence of the battle, and the ship she finds herself on is empty of any other form of life. That is, empty except for the AI controlling the vessel – an Icarion ship named The Light of Berossus: what she learns from Bero, as the AI controlling it prefers to be called, is devastating. Icarion deployed their ultimate weapon, the Fibon Protocol, and in so doing obliterated not only Ada Prime but their own world as well: Sanda might very well be the only human alive in this portion of space, and what’s even more shocking comes from the revelation that it all happened 230 years before her awakening and that her emergency pod was the only one with a living survivor that Bero found in the debris field.
The two main narrative threads of Velocity Weapon follow the two siblings as they deal with the harrowing circumstances they find themselves in, and are offset with two other perspectives, one of them Alexandra Halston, the 22nd Century creator of the Casimir gates, and the other Jules, a thief-scavenger who stumbles on a heist with unexpected consequences and deadly ramifications. I must confess that I struggled a little to understand Jules’ role in the overall story – her timeline is parallel to Biran’s but they are systems apart – but in the end the “big picture” started to take shape and I admired the way in which the author juggled all these elements into a cohesive and fascinating whole.
The story is indeed an absorbing one, offering unexpected discoveries and mind-boggling surprises (more than once I had to keep myself from reacting loudly to such surprises when I was reading in a public place, lest other people think I was out of my mind), but the real bone and muscle of this novel are the characters, especially Sanda. The usual mold for a strong female character in the genre requires a hardened individual who is either brusque or forceful, or a combination of both, but Sanda goes beyond these limitations (not to say tropes): she is tough and resilient, granted, but she also possesses a good deal of compassion and a sense of humor that blend into a no-nonsense, hands-on approach which immediately endeared her to me. For example, when she wakes up on Bero and acknowledges the missing leg she remembers losing during the battle, she wastes no time on hysterics but rather looks for the best means of assisted locomotion and later on works on fashioning herself a prosthesis.
Where Sanda truly shines is in her interactions with Bero and the way the two of them slowly build a relationship based on cautious trust which at times slides into semi-affectionate banter (the exchange about kitten pictures on the internet is beyond precious): after a while she understands the ship’s AI suffers from a form of post-traumatic syndrome, caused by way the scientists manning the ship hurt its sense of self and its developing personality. Sanda’s realization she is dealing with what is in essence a psychologically damaged teenager brings to the fore her true nature along with her vulnerabilities, showing her for the wonderfully rounded and authentic character she is.
At first I did not connect as easily with Biran, Sanda’s brother: on the surface he looked too naïve and somewhat easily influenced, but as the story progressed I started to see he is made of the same stuff as his sister, just in a less apparent way. As he kept going on the path he choose (apologies for the cryptic phrasing, but it’s necessary) I understood how ready he was to sacrifice anything, even the position he had worked so hard to achieve, to fulfill his goal, and I started to warm to him – unexpectedly but with growing certainty.
In the end what can you expect from Velocity Weapon? Certainly a good space opera novel combining action scenes and character growth, but most importantly a story exploring the meaning of life, consciousness and freedom; the intriguing observation of political maneuvering and of plots building over a span of many years; and above all a very entertaining tale that will keep you with your nose in the book for the whole duration. And looking for the next book with an eager eye…