Ten Low is eking out a living at the universe’s edge. An ex-medic, ex-con, desperate to escape her memories of the war, she still hasn’t learnt that no good deed goes unpunished.
Attempting to atone for her sins, she pulls a teenage girl from a crashed lifecraft. But Gabriella Ortiz is no ordinary girl — she is a genetically-enhanced super soldier and decorated General, part of the army that kept Ten prisoner. Worse, Ten realises the crash was an assassination attempt, and that someone wants Ortiz dead…
To get the General off-world, they must cross the moon’s lawless wastes, face military hit squads, savage bandits, organ sharks, and good old-fashioned treachery. But as they race to safety, something else waits in the darkness. Something ancient and patient. Something that knows exactly who she is, and what she is really running from.
Ten Low is gritty sci-fi which evokes the spirit of the best spaghetti westerns to create something that feels fresh, bold, and new.
What begins as a thrilling rescue across a wilderness of sand soon becomes a dazzling speculation over the value of redemption, price of life, and chains of loyalty.
Doc Low is a medic who took the losing side in a war fought long ago. She was a spy. A traitor. And now, she’s an outlaw who wanders the sand of a desolate moon, refusing to take a life, committed to saving every soul she encounters. Enter a child-soldier who needs saving, but doesn’t want to share breathing space with a traitor, and the fireworks are ready to begin.
The characters are well-drawn and explored in surprising depth. They’re easy to root for, and the enemies-to-friends vibe which you see coming right from the start doesn’t feel forced or contrived. The secrets that both Doc Low and the child-soldier hide from each other should drive them further apart, but only prove to bind them closer together, and the pacing is excellent in how these secrets are revealed. As a reluctant alliance develops, it feels natural, earned, and is rewarding to read.
But the real standout of the book isn’t the characters or the plot. It’s the world. Factus is a barren moon where life is beyond hard. Made even more so by the strangeness of The Seekers — mythically dangerous beings who harvest the organs of those who cross them — and The Ifs. The Ifs are what really elevated the world for me. They’re non-corporeal beings who thrive on chance and luck — every bet has multiple outcomes, and they’re able to navigate through those outcomes, seeing all scenarios and possibilities. They feed on doubt. On indecision. Doc Low is haunted by The Ifs, so when she’s in a bind, she can see every possible outcome of her choices all at once, and select the best route forwards. But the price of this curse is getting harder and harder to pay.
The multiverse-navigating element to the story adds such a fascinating layer to the action, the relationships, and the intrigue of the whole book. If you feel like all the spaghetti westerns you’ve ever seen could’ve done with a few violently inclined, reality-manipulating, otherworldly beings thrown into the mix, then this is definitely the book for you.
Ten Low is properly grown up sci-fi. It’s not for the squeamish. Or for anyone who requires a lot of exposition to understand the mechanics of how an alien world works — there’s an abstract quality to the writing which I absolutely adored, and it doesn’t give easy answers, but forces you to slot the pieces together yourself. Ten Low is a thoughtful, unsettling ride that puts the ‘wild’ in wilderness and sets a new bar for Sci-fi Westerns.