Review: Artifact Space (Arcana Imperii #1) by Miles Cameron


Rating: 10/10

Synopsis

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 . . .

Review

Thank you very much to Gollancz, Miles Cameron and Will O Mullane for providing me a review copy. Please be warned this review contains some minor spoilers, and you read at your own behest. I was unable to shorten the summarization of the story because it is a huge plot. I could tell you word to word what the plot is in simple words, but that would be betraying the deeper conflict hidden inside this story. The minor spoilers mostly remain to a political viewpoint, so you will not be too affected by it, as it is often inspired by real world events.

Artifact Space is gritty, hard sci-fi that will keep you turning page after page. It has a fascinating plot, a simple breakdown of the main character where instead of becoming involved in high tech-military style arcs as is in common in sci-fi, it immerses you into the perspective of a character inhabiting a cargo ship. This book already needs to be its own TV series in many respects, for creating a world like this is commendable, and it isn’t easy to create one. This book reminds me of a Memory Called Peace in so many ways. For me, I took down notes to make sure I didn’t get lost, as some sci-fi novels demand it and I would have certainly wanted a dramatis personae and glossary because it would have helped in some parts of understanding these new fascinating cultures. The addition of the map of Athens, however, was very helpful indeed.

This is a deep story filled with so many intriguing plots and none of the characters in this book is boring. Each character fulfils a purpose, a motive, and a plot. Every side character feels expanded and three-dimensional, not two-dimensional. Everyone has a backstory. Everyone is running from their past. It often brought the vivid battle descriptions to life, and the amount of times Nbaro ends up getting in trouble is often mind-boggling. This is Star Trek Discovery, the Expanse and the Outer Worlds all assembled together. This is what I would compare it to. It’s a very engaging world. There’s never a boring moment, but perhaps the technical details of the story take over the pacing of the narrative arc that I was going for. Many characters appear then some of them don’t appear as often as I would have liked to see them be. That said, sometimes it veered off into a more realistic, gritty sci-fi mode, and it veered off into more world-building tidbits here and there. So I would have wanted more focus on the story rather than reading some parts about the ship’s details in my humble opinion. It was welcome, however. The book could have cut some scenes short, and some scenes needed better pacing.

Let’s summarise the story in a nutshell to the best of my recollection: A Greatship called the New York is destroyed by an unknown force. And these greatships transport goods from City, but they also trade in Xenoglas taking it all the way to the mysterious Alien race dubbed the Starfish, at the Tradepoint at the other end of the universe, which is quite extreme really, but time works differently in this world. This causes the Earth cultures, or shall we say, the DHC which is more or less a company rather than a direct institution that controls the colonies which have branched off into their separate counterparts, to have a financial crash. As a result, the colonies distrust each other, and xenoglass becomes very expensive. People lose jobs, economic mismanagement, you name it. Nbaro finds herself in Athens having to deal with this pain, never mind the fact Nbaro’s life before boarding the Athens, was terrible in every sense of the word within the Orphanage that she spent her early years in. She did, however, expose a corrupt part of the Dominion, which had gotten two men from New London to chase her and practically get rid of her. She survived that. However, she then fakes her papers, gets a hacker to do all the details, and she is often in fear that her fake life will one day shatter. Shatter beyond repair. If you think this is all the story, let me be clear. This is barely scratching the surface. There is a far deeper story hidden here. Much deeper. And more mysterious than ever before.

I have to give it to her though; she escaped from her miserable life beforehand, and she is venturing beyond into space. She trains with the pilots and is rapidly meeting figures of power aboard the Athens that she would never have been able to do had she not faked her papers in the first place, and all this happens as she learns to navigate, fight and gain the trust of her crew. Plus, there’s a lot of bargaining going on in this ship. A lot of technical details on the ship, the ability to do business with merchants are such examples These anxieties add tension and fear, and I am impressed by Cameron’s ability to pair real-life consequences directly affecting the main character and her journey on the Athens. If New York can be destroyed, then Athens can also be destroyed by this unknown force. The mystery is, of course, who is destroying the ships? And what does that hold for the future of humanity? There are more unknown parallels here, but we get to see aliens! And alien ruins!

There is so much more to this book that I don’t want to spoil anymore. Interesting characters, a well thought out world that isn’t easy to write. I must applaud the author for not only coming up with such a staggering concept but also writing this is no easy feat. This must have taken years of hard work, and my respect for Miles Cameron has increased. He writes excellent historical fiction based on the Wars of the Diadochi, and to see him making the jump to sci-fi is wonderful. I admit I was a little disappointed not to recognize some references from his Diadochi novels, which I would have wanted to see some Easter eggs here and there. Perhaps I missed it. Overall, this is worth reading. This really needs a Netflix/Amazon Prime TV show adaptation because frankly, it’s like the Expanse. I liked it. It’s a solid 10/10 from me. There is tons of mysteries in this world to explore, and the sheer immense scope of this very ambitious sci-fi novel will amaze you.

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