Assassin’s Orbit by John Appel
Solaris, pb, £7.37
Reviewed by Stephen Frame
Assassin’s Orbit is a good, meaty read. It doesn’t have much to say in the way of subtext, it isn’t much on character development, but it’s an honest action-adventure in space that delivers a satisfying punch.
The action starts from the very being, with multiple murders in the environs of Ileri Station, a huge habitat tethered to a space elevator on a colony world below. In this future, humankind has fled Earth; the reasons are central to the plot and are revealed as the action progresses. The narrative starts out feeling like a murder mystery, as the first of the three main characters the reader is introduced to is Noo Okereke, an elderly female private investigator. The murders are made personal for Noo as one of the dead is a young relative of hers.
From here, the plot moves to take on the feel of a geopolitical thriller, as it becomes clear the murders are assassinations by hostile forces. This brings in the other two main characters, Toiwa, the police commissioner on Ileri and Meiko, a spy for the Commonwealth, a more powerful nation seeking an alliance with Ileri. Again, both of these characters are elderly women, none of whom are particularly friendly towards each other.
This makes for an interesting dynamic to the story, but it feels as though the best use of this isn’t made. For much of the narrative, it comes across as these women just doing their jobs. Tough jobs though they are, more could have been made of the interplay between the three women.
With this sense that the women are just doing their jobs, the novel does lose the feel of being a thriller, becoming more of an action-adventure. That’s not to say it isn’t an enthralling read. The story is packed with action set-pieces, from hand to hand combat in zero gravity, to car chases on air and water, to pitched battles in space. These are handled well, keeping the pages turning, as the existential threat to Ileri station and everyone on it, and the planet below is drawn out of the shadows.
If there is one issue that slows the action down, it is the sprawling cast of characters. Each of the three main characters has an entourage of secondary characters alongside. A good memory for names is needed to keep track of who’s who. But this is a minor issue in what is otherwise a story that speeds along, with enough twists and turns and surprises to let you forgive its flaws. Recommended if you simply want to be entertained.