NOPHEK GLOSS (The Graven #1), by Essa Hansen

I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

It’s once again time for an unpopular opinion on a book that seems to mostly receive high accolades: I requested Nophek Gloss because of its promise of a space-faring adventure and revenge quest (I can never resist a good vengeance story), but found myself struggling to move forward – I set it aside twice, hoping that some distance might foster a different perspective, but once I reached the 58% mark and realized that I was forcing myself to read, I knew I had to admit defeat and walk away from it.

Nophek Gloss starts with an adrenaline-infused inciting incident: 14 year old Caiden and his family live on what looks like an artificial environment, raising cattle; his knowledge of life is quite limited, yet he feels the need to always question rules that have been there for a long time. A devastating epidemic, however, kills the cattle that the colonists are tending and their overseers load all the people on a huge transport with a vague promise of relocation to a new facility. What follows is instead the devastating, bloody end of all that Caiden knew and loved, so that the only thing fueling his will to survive is the burning need to find the ones responsible for his loss and make them pay.

I opened this book with great expectations – maybe too great – and at first it appeared to be all that I was looking forward to, but just as the story reached its first turning point for Caiden (i.e. his encounter with a diverse group of mercenaries who took him in, offering him the chance both to survive and to learn the skills he would need to reach his goal) everything became chaotic and I began to lose my grip on the narrative.  

The universe in which Nophek Gloss is set is rather a conglomeration of universes whose borders can be traversed, each one possessing unique qualities and endless life forms: the problem for me is that this kaleidoscope of worlds, aliens and technologies is offered in what to me amounted to a massive sensory overload – there is a LOT of it, all thrown at the reader with hardly any time to process it before more details are added to an already confused and confusing tapestry.  I don’t mind having to work my way through a story, visualizing or extrapolating what the author is keeping on the sidelines, but here most of it looks like a jumble of terms with no rhyme or reason to it – remember the worst moments of Star Trek’s so-called technobabble? Something like: “reroute the pre-ignition plasma from the impulse deck down to the auxiliary intake”… Well, a good portion of this novel made me feel that way, and it bothered me because it made little or no sense and kept me from forming a mental image of the world the author was trying to show.

Caiden is the other almost insurmountable problem I faced: granted, he’s a teenager and he undergoes a horribly traumatic experience, so it’s understandable that he would suffer from PTSD and survivor’s guilt and would be consumed by the need to exact his revenge on the ones responsible for the situation, but there is no space for anything else in Caiden’s psychological makeup, and that makes it very difficult to see the humanity – if any – behind that huge wall of mindless hate. And I don’t use the word ‘mindless’ carelessly, because Caiden never fails to bodily launch himself against those offenders as soon as he sees one: it doesn’t matter that his new friends advise caution, or that he keeps entering a fight he’s not equipped to win, because as soon as he sets his sights on them he charges like the proverbial bull shown the red cape. And he does that repeatedly, as if every encounter were followed by a complete memory erasure that made him forget past experiences, or – worse – as if he were unwilling to learn from his mistakes.

Worse, the 14 year old accepts a procedure that bestows six years of physical growth on him, together with the sum of knowledge his previously secluded life could not provide: this could have been an interesting way of bringing him to adulthood in a brief span of time, narratively speaking, but keeping his reactions those of a teenager – an unthinking teenager at that – makes that a moot point, because what use is a grown body when your emotions remain those of a child? Not to mention that this choice did little to endear Caiden’s character to me…

When all is said and done, I guess it all comes to personal preferences rather than authorial skills: Nophek Gloss is certainly an ambitious, imaginative story with a rich background, but sadly it’s not the kind of story I can bring myself to enjoy.

My Rating:

26 thoughts on “NOPHEK GLOSS (The Graven #1), by Essa Hansen

  1. I am sorry this book was such a disappointment! I have this book on my TBR and, to be honest, I was expecting the world-building to be, maybe, overwhelming but what you wrote about the MC made me stop. I think that I would have the same issues you had with him. I want to try this one out for myself but I would lower my expectations, that’s for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m frankly relieved to read this review, because I’m struggling with this book as well. My issue is her writing style. Its just bizarre! I’ve circled many a sentence already that I can’t make heads or tails of no matter how many times I read it. I am going to try to push through, although with 200 pages left its going to be tough🙄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, it’s a comfort to learn I’m not the only one who’s frankly puzzled by the writing style! It made me often think about those music videos where you have a breakneck succession of clips at a fast rate and you’re trying to visualize the underlying story but the quick motion and the flashing lights keep you from getting a firm picture…
      I can’t wait to hear your final thoughts on the novel 🙂


  3. Thanks for spelling out your issues with the MC. I liked the cover and the revenge synopsis sounds wicked cool. But when a character acts like how you describe, I don’t enjoy that one bit. So I guess I dodged a bullet that you warned us about 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Aw, what a shame! I was looking forward to this one so much, but you’re the second person I know for whom this book did not work at all. The other blogger is Tammy, and since I trust both your tastes, the prospects for this one aren’t looking too good for me… I might still check it out, but it’s definitely making the decision to de-prioritize this easier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was both disappointed and sad to find this one so far from my expectations, because the premise was a good one and the first few chapters so promising… Still, I look forward to your take on this book once you decide to read it: learning of different perspectives is as much fun as reading the books themselves 🙂


  5. Ah… I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy this one, Maddalena. Himself couldn’t get on with, either. I did enjoy it – but I think you’re absolutely right – if a writer’s style doesn’t suit you, then you need to walk away. Because reading is supposed to be fun!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve felt this way with a lot of books recently. I think, for me, it’s due to lack of concentration at the current moment in time given everything *waves arms mindlessly around* taking place. I’ve had to stop reading a number of books that I was really looking forward to – I will pick them up again but for now I’m not going to force myself otherwise my reading will come to a full stop.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These days, more than in any other period of my life, I don’t need to have to “battle” with a book – there is enough strife going around in the world…
      And since I had to set aside a few books that I hoped to enjoy, I know perfectly what you mean! Here’s to better times… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. As I personally that my opinion rarely diverges from your own, I fear I’ll run into the same issues as you. There was something that was always keeping me away from starting this one and now I know that there might indeed be some great reasons to avoid it too. The oversensory overload and the pseudo-technobabble are enough to make me cautious. Excellent honest thoughts as always, Maddalena! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Usually my so-called “book vibes” work well and “warn” me beforehand about stories that might not agree with me, but this one sounded so potentially engaging that I probably did not hear the… warning bells 🙂
      Well, on to the next one…

      Liked by 1 person

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