Series: The Graven (#1)

Publisher: Orbit

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 384

Publication Date: 17/11/2020

Verdict: 3/5


Caiden is a teenager when he sees his world destroyed, and his family slaughtered before his eyes. When he stumbles across a mysterious ship and a crew of strangers, he finds himself faced with a choice. Build a new life, or hunt down those responsible . . .

I wanted to enjoy Nophek Gloss a whole lot more than I did. One of my plans for 2021 was to read more debut novels, and there have been a lot released over the past few years that have passed me by. I’m always on the search for new authors to read, and had hoped Hansen would be to my liking. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

Nophek Gloss is a highly original book, but if you held a gun to my head and asked me to compare it to something, I would say Guardians of the Galaxy. It has that same madcap energy, the same fusion of dozens of different styles, a cast of diverse characters flung together by fate. And like Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s fun in the moment, but falls apart on closer inspection. The sheer variety of ideas on display works against the book, and it’s hard to see any central thread tying the affair together. This book throws multiple universe into the mix, each with their own laws of physics, civilisations, and histories. That’s a great concept, but in a short book like this it never really gets explored. At least not to my satisfaction. It’s just a thing that’s there.

If you’re less interested in big, conceptual SF and instead want a fun ride, then you should enjoy this. The book moves at a breakneck pace and is sure to keep the pages turning. It’s got action, tragedy, humour. A bit of everything, just like its worldbuilding. It’s always exciting, sometimes confusing, but has a certain cinematic feel to it. This is one of those books that I feel I would have enjoyed more in a different medium. As a film or even a TV show, it would have been much easier to get my head around the multiverse aspects. Literally showing over telling. There is a glossary at the end of the book, but even this didn’t exactly answer all my questions.

Now, I’m not a reader who pays much attention to characters. As long as they serve their purpose in the plot, I’m pretty easily satisfied. But Nophek Gloss is built around its characters, so they deserve special attention, and here is another respect in which the novel fell flat for me. Some of Caiden’s crew felt very similar to each other, to the point that I sometimes forget who I was reading about. This is not helped by a character who’s pronouns change midway through a scene, and overall I never really got a decent impression of what any of the characters (many of whom are presumably alien) actually looked like. And then there is Caiden himself. This next bit is a mild spoiler for early on in the book, so you might want to look away.

Caiden is fourteen, which makes his quest for vengeance rather tricky. So early in the book he undergoes a procedure to age himself by six years. How this occurs isn’t fully explained, but his body rapidly matures and he gains knowledge of all manner of things. Fine so far, but then adult characters flirt with him, despite having known him an hour previously when he was fourteen. This was an odd choice on Hansen’s part, making the character in question come across as rather creepy, which I don’t think was the intent. But the effect is there regardless.

In the end, Nophek Gloss packs in too much material for its own good, and I doubt I’ll continue with the series.

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