Book Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The war is over. Its heroes forgotten. Until one chance discovery . . .

Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade his mind in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers. Eighty years ago, Earth was destroyed by an alien enemy. Many escaped, but millions more died. So mankind created enhanced humans ­such as Idris – who could communicate mind-to-mind with our aggressors. Then these ‘Architects’ simply disappeared and Idris and his kind became obsolete. Now, Idris and his crew have something strange, abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects – but are they really returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy as they search for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, and many would kill to obtain it.

Thank you to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

This is the third book by Adrian Tchaikovsky that I’ve reviewed on this blog, and the third of his new books I’ve read this year. He is certainly a powerhouse when it comes to releasing books, and I am more than happy to try and keep up! So far, I have not been disappointed. This story is set in a world in which humans have been colonising space for about two centuries, and it begins at the end of the war with the Architects, great planet-sized beings that got their name from the way they destroy worlds by twisting and ripping them to create works of art. Very early on in the book there is a chilling description of Earth as it has been left by the Architects, a great flower-like structure with its core exposed and frozen, forever reaching towards the sun (this is actually the image on the cover of the book).

‘In the seventy-eighth year of the war, an Architect came to Berlenhof. The lights across the galaxy had been going out, one by one, since its start. All those little mining worlds, the far-flung settlements, the great hollow polyaspora of human expansion, exploding out from a vacant centre. Because the Architects had come for Earth first.’

In the aftermath of the war, all the different factions that had united against this unstoppable force begin to split into factions, so that along with the great loss of planets and lives, and the depletion of resources, there is great tension politically across the known universe. Unaltered humans -the Colonisers- are resentful of other groups, such as the genetically modified humans and other species that have integrated themselves into society, and another war seems to be brewing. It is in this high-strung political climate that the crew of Vulture God, a salvage vessel aboard which Idris now makes a living, finds a ship only recently destroyed, and it seems clear it was done by an Architect. From here the crew are hunted by all the various factions who seek to use this finding for their own gain, while more sinister things seem to be happening in the depths of space…

One of the things I loved about this book is the scale: it is set in space, which is as infinite as you can get, but there are certain elements that actually make it feel huge. The massive Architects, the ‘unspace’ that people use to travel between distant parts of the universe, the void in which a large and incomprehensible presence haunts all who cross it, and the Throughways and Relics left by a civilisation named the Originators, which nobody truly understands. These massive elements of the universe pair perfectly with the claustrophobia of the spacer life, in small ships that keep recycling parts to keep running, in overpopulated docking bays on overpopulated planets. The contrast was well executed, and it made me feel the same way the characters did as I read the different parts.

And speaking of characters, this was definitely a fun cast, and I got very attached to them!

Meet the Crew
  • Idris Telemmier (point of view character)- an Intermediary (called Ints) who survived the war with the Architects and has been working with the salvaging crew of a ship named Vulture God, going into unspace -the void between space- to salvage and bring back ships that have lost their way. He has not slept or aged in the many years since the war, and he isn’t sure how much longer he’ll retain his sanity.
  • Myrmidon Executor Solace (point of view character) – a member of the Parthenon, women genetically engineered and grown to be soldiers, they are like the Amazons of Greek mythology or the Valkyries of the Norse. As someone who fought alongside Idris during the war, she is sent by her superiors to talk to him and offer a contract with the Partheni, who are now hostile to the Colonisers and wish to regain the advantage over them by having an Int.
  • Rollo Rostand – the captain of Vulture God. He is gruff and direct, but he calls his crew his children, and is fiercely loyal.
  • Keristina ‘Kris’ Soolin Almier (point of view character) – the lawyer aboard Vulture God. She is a badass, knife-wielding woman who can talk anyone out of charges with her extensive knowledge of the law and its systems, and can fight her way out of anything else. She specifically represents Idris as the position of Ints is precarious and everyone is constantly trying to enslave them.
  • Olian ‘Olli’ Timo – Vulture God’s drone specialist, she was born with her limbs truncated, so that she only has one leg, and it ends at the knee, and her arms end at the elbows with little fingers that sprout from there. Because of this, she’s developed an affinity for communicating with any machinery, and uses some cool contraptions to get around when she isn’t on the ship.
  • Kittering ‘Kit’ – a crab-like creature called a Hannilamra aboard Vulture God who runs the numbers and finds jobs for the crew when the captain is otherwise occupied.
  • Musoku ‘Barney’ Barnier – the engineer aboard Vulture God, always despairing about the state of the ship but finding a way to fix it regardless.
  • Medvig – a Hiver on Vulture God.
  • Havaer Mundy (point of view character) – an employee of the Intervention Board, sent to investigate the discovery of a ship destroyed in the style of the Architects, which was brought back from the deep void by the crew of Vulture God.

There are, of course, other minor characters but these are the main ones we encounter, and the ones we get to know better. Tchaikovsky has a great knack for character writing, and especially writing group dynamics. I loved getting to know the point of view characters and their internal thoughts, but I also enjoyed watching their interactions and changing relationships with others. Idris and Solace were probably my favourites of the main cast, though Rollo comes a close third, and everyone (strange aliens included) feels well-rounded and believable, even those that appear in only a few scenes.

‘The lethal barrage of fire fell away from them, raindrops down a window. Except the window was the universe and ‘down’ was in every direction.’

But really, Shards of Earth is just beautifully written. It perfectly balances the technical language with vivid imagery, and the character development pulls it all together to create this brilliant thing. And of course, it wouldn’t be an Adrian Tchaikovsky novel without creatures of weird and wonderful evolutionary traits! Powerful clam overlords, crabs with screens on their shells, strange worm-like creatures, and near-indestructible symbiotes populate these pages, and I hope to see more in the next instalment!

Book Info

Published: 27th May 2021 by Pan Macmillan
Genre: Science-Fiction, Space Opera
Pages: 560
Series: The Final Architects, book one
Narration style: third person, multiple POV
Format read: eArC
Copy owned: no, but have preordered
Trigger Warnings: tortrue, blood, and violence

All quotes taken from an uncorrected proof, and may not be exactly replicated in the final work.

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