BOOK REVIEW: The Exiled Fleet, by J. S. Dewes

Hold up, this is a sequel! Find my review of the previous book by clicking on this link.

  • Book Two of The Divide
  • Published by Tor in 2021
  • Space Opera
  • 420 pages
  • ⭐⭐⭐

The universe isn’t as big as it used to be. Literally. And that’s a problem for Adequin Rake and her crew, who are stranded far from civilisation, with limited resources, a no hope of rescue, and relationships that were strained well before the end of the world . . .

So here we are. The difficult sophomore release. When a debut makes a splash, there’s a lot of pressure on the sequel. Some books live up to their expectations, and others fall short of the mark. In my review of The Last Watch, I talked about how the hype surrounding that debut had led to a less than fulfilling reading experience. That sense of disappointment tempered my expectations for the second book. Accordingly, I enjoyed The Exiled Fleet quite a bit more. But that’s all about state of mind. Because honestly? The second novel of The Divide is essentially more of the same.

The Divide is one of those series that’s a single story split across multiple books. The action picks up a little while after the end of the first, but there’s no recapping or easing in. I’m glad I read these two novels back to back, or I’m sure I’d have forgotten details. Of course, middle books are notoriously fickle, and when there’s a single storyline being carried through the series, it does mean that The Exiled Fleet has neither a beginning nor an end in broader narrative terms. It’s the bridge between two parts of what I assume will be a trilogy. That’s not always a safe assumption to make, but trilogies remain as popular as ever. There is a fair bit of development here, but a lot of it is more in terms of character arc than the threat to existence posed by the collapse of the Divide itself. But the simple truth is, if you’re a fan of this book, it’s likely because of the characters rather than the story.

And it’s the characters that really sparkle. Rake and Cavalon remain our protagonists, but there’s a wonderful supporting cast too. As a fan of shows like Dark Matter and Killjoys, I could read banter between crewmates all day long, and that is something that Dewes hits right on the head. The word of the day is fun, and in that regard The Exiled Fleet is a runaway success. It’s an exciting read and full of nice people who are generally pleasant to one another, but still have the capacity for dramatic fallings-out. This being the second novel, we get a deeper insight into their backgrounds. Cavalon takes the lead here, and his journey is perhaps my favourite part of the book. Especially where it leaves him. But while the journey itself is a fun one, it does leave me wanting more. Not more as in a third book, but more as in more. My real issue with The Exiled Fleet is that it’s all a bit forgettable.

There are so many elements I’d like to see more of. The Viators. The history that is only hinted at for so much of the book. The weird time-space ripples that let you see your own duplicates. Maybe there’ll be more exploration of these in the future, but I’m not patient enough to stick around that long. As I say, the bantering crew is great. It’s just not what I was hoping to find from these books. What we get is good, but it could be so much better. I don’t regret reading The Divide, but I’m not enthusiastic about continuing with the series. Maybe that will change with time, but for now it’s time I parted ways with this series. But if you want action and characters that shine, then you are going to get so much more out of The Exiled Fleet.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you may also like:
Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus, by Isaac Asimov
Mars, by Ben Bova
Cold Welcome, by Elizabeth Moon

Published by Alex Hormann

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

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