BOOK REVIEW: Shards of Earth, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

shards.jpg

Series: The Final Architecture (#1)

Publisher: Tor

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 533

Publication Date: 27/05/2021

Verdict: 5/5

The Architects destroyed Earth, and nearly eradicated the human race. Idris helped end that war. A generation has passed since then, and now Idris is being sought by powers that want to use him as a weapon. There are some things you can’t run from forever . . .

From his roots in epic fantasy, Adrian Tchaikovsky has established himself as one of the strongest voices in modern science fiction. His SF output of the past few years has been incredibly diverse, from the post-apocalyptic Firewalkers, to hard Sf in Children of Time and Children of Ruinto the time-bending One Day All This Will Be Yours, and even a foray into the dying Earth genre with Cage of SoulsShards of Earth places a new feather in his cap as Tchaikovsky takes on full blown space opera. This is the first book in a new series, but the change of setting does not detract from Tchaikovsky’s hallmarks of pacing, wit, and big, concept-driven storytelling.

Where to being with the worldbuilding in this one? Tchaikovsky has always been good at writing the non-human, and here he introduces a half-dozen alien species and cultures. Whether it’s self-aware machine clusters, spacefaring locust swarms, or clams with an empire to rule, every species is unique and well-developed. None of them have the easy route of humanoid with different morality (and foreheads) but they all feel fully realised. Of course, we spend more time with some than others, but none of them feel like asides. Each species could hold a novel in itself, and bringing them together is gloriously messy for our characters.

But it’s not just alien cultures Tchaikovsky has developed. Oh no no.  Without Earth in the picture, humanity has split into new factions to. In theoretical control, you have the Council of Human Interests, abbreviated to ‘Hugh.’ As you’d expect, Hugh is oppressing the Colonials, who are ragtag settlers and spacers, and just so happen to include our protagonists. Then you have the Parthenon, who are a group of (mildly fanatic), artificially grown female soldiers. There’s an element of Warhammer 40,000’s Sisters of Battle about the Parthenon that I really enjoyed. I’ve used the word messy already in this review, and that’s what I like most about the politics of Tchaikovsky’s post-Earth future. Everyone has a different idea of how things should be done, and while war crimes abound and there’s no shortage of ethical debate, no group has a monopoly on evil. Sure, some of the groups are broadly sketched, but they’re never unified wholes. Everyone has an agenda.

On top of all this phenomenal worldbuilding, we have one of my favourite tropes. A ship and it’s ragtag crew take centre stage. Idris’s team of misfits and renegades could give anyone a run for their money. But even if they are rough around the edges, they’re not criminals as you often get with this trope. They’re just hardworking salvagers looking for a break. if I had to pick a favourite from the crew, it would be Kit, an enlightened capitalist who happens to be a an alien crab. In characters as in ideas, Tchaikovsky seamlessly blends the relatable with the very, very weird. We only get the PoV from a few of the characters, first alternating between Idris and a Partheni soldier named Solace, but at around the one-third mark the scope broadens a little to include other perspectives. Personally I’d have liked to have those other viewpoints earlier on, but that’s an insignificant complaint for a book that is otherwise a winner in every regard.

Shards of Earth is the best kickoff to a new series you could hope for, and shows just why Tchaikovsky has earned such acclaim.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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