Review: Nophek Gloss (The Graven #1) by Essa Hansen

Rating: 7.5/10

Synopsis

When a young man’s planet is destroyed, he sets out on a single-minded quest for revenge across the galaxy in Nophek Gloss, the first book in this epic space opera trilogy by debut author Essa Hansen, for fans of Revenger and Children of Time.
Caiden’s planet is destroyed. His family gone. And, his only hope for survival is a crew of misfit aliens and a mysterious ship that seems to have a soul and a universe of its own. Together they will show him that the universe is much bigger, much more advanced, and much more mysterious than Caiden had ever imagined. But the universe hides dangers as well, and soon Caiden has his own plans.
He vows to do anything it takes to get revenge on the slavers who murdered his people and took away his home. To destroy their regime, he must infiltrate and dismantle them from the inside, or die trying.

Review

Nophek Gloss is one of the most vividly imaginative science fiction books I’ve ever read; from the wild alien technology to the vast array of different xenid species. It has been one hell of a ride – like Mass Effect with some lingering wisps of Red Rising but at the same time something of its own. Pick someone broken, add them into the mix of a found family, give them a dose of vengeance, drop it all into an expansive multiverse littered with the ancient tech of a lost people and you’ve scratched the surface of this terrifyingly original debut.

Caiden, is lost – not right – in many ways, and put together in even more. Hansen has done a great job giving us something very human mixed into all of this alienness, something very scarred, that also fits in well amongst the backdrop of super-advanced tech etc, but positions him to be strong enough to wear those broken pieces as armour. And a cause to make a change. It made him stronger, more capable than those around him, but not as mature. Due to several very Hansen-sci-fi plot points, he only matured in a forced, alien-tech sense. At times, I did feel like he was very brash, the artificer of his own failure. These parts played out in annoyance, in a face-palm, or an ‘Oh, Caiden, just stop!’ moment. But I cared, and that was what matters. And although he does stupid things and often messes up, he is trying his best to survive.

The plot, in simple, non-spoiling terms: Caiden is with his family unit on a planet designed to rear livestock for Nopheks. When all the livestock dies, the Casthen step in and their plan uncovered, Caiden is rescued. Taken off-world by a group of misfit passagers. There, he learns that his world is but a drop is a massive expanse of universes. The multiverse. When he finds out that the Casthen Prime, Cydanza, is responsible for his plight, he sets his eyes on revenge – at which point he meets Threi, an oily slick Casthen Enforcer who shares his goal. Kill the Casthen Prime. I have to say I loved the plot; it was exciting and bounced between action scenes. But A LOT did happen. And sometimes, for me, a little too quickly. There were chapters in which an entire plan was hatched, acted on, failed and defeated. Only for something new to happen in the next – the turnover of subplots were very quick. This lent itself to the feeling that the same might happen with the next chapter and left me wondering what mattered at times. And what did matter paid off well before the end, where the story petered out into preparation for the next book. Very cleverly executed, though. It still managed to surprise and shock.

Found family: when all was lost for Caiden, he found something new. Laythan, En, Taitn, Ksine and his whipkin, and Panca. At first, something that seemed ill-fitting – I didn’t initially buy the feelings that Caiden, now Winn, felt for his new family. It seemed surface deep, too quick. The connection only took place when he later is not with them, Hansen weaves a net of emotions, memories and the little things that one feels when their family is distant. On their return, my chest was tight, breaths quick. I was glad – the family felt real, genuine. Along the way, additions to this setup serve to pull your heart out, add layers of disgust towards the Casthen, and questions about the Dynast, the ruling faction.

I thoroughly enjoyed Nophek Gloss; it is a cracking debut for what promises to be a fun series. If you love all the original, advanced technology you could possibly handle, a lovable, intriguing main cast with a lot of history and scars, and a fast-paced plot, then this is one you might want to pick up.

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