Out in the darkness of space, something is targeting the Greatships.
With their vast cargo holds and a crew that could fill a city, the Greatships are the lifeblood of human occupied space, transporting an unimaginable volume – and value – of goods from City, the greatest human orbital, all the way to Tradepoint at the other, to trade for xenoglas with an unknowable alien species.
It has always been Marca Nbaro’s dream to achieve the near-impossible: escape her upbringing and venture into space. All it took, to make her way onto the crew of the Greatship Athens was thousands of hours in simulators, dedication, and pawning or selling every scrap of her old life in order to forge a new one. But though she’s made her way onboard with faked papers, leaving her old life – and scandals – behind isn’t so easy. She may have just combined all the dangers of her former life, with all the perils of the new…
Thank you to NetGalley and Gollancz for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Artifact Space blew my mind. I am relatively new to science fiction, having always preferred fantasy, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to appreciate this book, especially when seeing other reviews that compare it to some of the older, classic sci-fi. But while I am sure some elements and references went straight over my head, I needn’t have been concerned. Miles Cameron’s fist science fiction novel has shot up through the ranks to become one of my favourite reads of the year. I simply couldn’t put it down; whenever I was reading, the rest of the world fell away and it would take quite a bit to pull me back out. And even when I wasn’t reading, the story had me in its grip.
Marca Nbaro, the main character, is someone who is endearing, though it took me a few pages to figure that out. We’re introduced to her in what is a high tension moment – she’s hiding from someone, and she is trying to sneak her way onto the Greatship Athens, for reasons initially unclear. Very quickly, though, I was invested in her struggle, and incredibly fascinated by the world she inhabits. Nbaro is from City, the greatest orbital in Human Space, and grew up in the Orphanage, run for the children of those who die on duty. City seems to be modelled on Venice, and has the original piazza San Marco relocated on it, which is incredibly cool, and only one of the many details that made me fall in love with the book.
And there are so many details, which I could go on and on about – the androgynous people, the sword shaped Greatships, the complex societal structure, the references within society to things from our earth, that nobody really understands anymore (such as James Bond and rock, paper, scissors), the sword fighting in space, the holographic tattoos… what a world! Anyway, back to Nbaro – she succeeds in getting onto the Athens, and we discover she was prevented from graduating and joining the force because of something that happened at the Orphanage, but that she has great talent and is even descended from one of the early captains of the Greatship Athens.
From the premise, I expected Nbaro’s story to be one of clandestine movements and fear of discovery, and it is for a while, but I think I was just as surprised as Nbaro to find that the cast of characters she encounters aboard her new home are loveable, supportive, and impressed by Nbaro’s quick thinking. Our protagonist quickly rises in people’s esteem, and I loved watching her grow and come into her own. All of Cameron’s characters have a vivacity to them, and though there were quite a few to keep track of, I loved them all, with their complexities, quirks, and energy.
In fact, this entire book has a very particular energy – it’s like an undercurrent throughout, making even the quiet moments thrum, and making the action scenes arrive suddenly and with great power. Part of this, I think, comes from the mystery of who in the vastness of space is targeting the human Greatships, with Athens seeming to be the next target – Nbaro (and the reader) never knows when a quiet, boring watch might turn into an emergency situation. There were so many threads to unravel during the course of the story, and while some questions were answered, I now wait impatiently for the second book to find out more, and you can be sure Artifact Space will be occupying my thoughts for some time to come.
Published: 24th June 2021 by Gollancz
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: The Arcana Imperii Universe, book one
Narration style: third person, past tense, single point of view
Format read: eARC
Trigger Warnings: violence, blood, mentions of sexual violence and sexual content, language