Nophek Gloss – The Graven – Book One by Essa Hansen.
Orbit, pb, £8.99,
Reviewed by Steve Dean
Caiden is living a simple rural life with his parents, fixing broken old equipment as best he can. When the animals they’re caring for start to die off, strangers arrive on the planet and herd all the inhabitants inside their spaceship. They’re taken to another planet and fed to the Nophek; wolf/pig/rhino type creatures which produce the titular gloss in their heads. This substance is an alchemical substance, widely sort after and very valuable. He manages to survive and stumbles upon a spaceship constructed by the Graven, an extinct race of super-aliens. With more good fortune, he manages to activates the ship, saving him from more aliens, who are now fighting for the gloss. By chance, he’s rescued by a mixed bunch of aliens who turn out to be the good guys. One of them can fly the ship, and Caiden is taken out into a vast world he didn’t know existed. When Caiden finds out how he and his family have been treated all their lives, he sets out for revenge on the people responsible. Not just the individuals, but all of them.
This is, for the most part, a well-written novel with some interesting characters and events. It’s certainly deep and detailed, although most aliens seem to be variations on a theme, that theme being humans. The characters’ world is quite original and inventive; the author has certainly been keeping up with modern scientific thinking. This Universe is made up of smaller universes, like bubbles containing galaxies of various sizes. Special ships can pass through the rinds of these bubbles, many of which are undiscovered.
The story itself kept me interested as we followed Caiden on his adventures. He’s certainly a flawed hero, very impulsive and short-sighted in his actions, but he does at least improve as time goes on. The good guys are also well imagined and have their own problems. There’s a main bad guy and several grey characters and organisations to fill up the world.
It’s not perfect, the story does take a while to get going, and I found it jumped from one event to the next too quickly sometimes, leaving some things unexplained, as if the author had missed a step. I also felt the author had created some of the technology specifically to solve problems with the plot, which were quite noticeable. But this is a debut novel, and so we should allow some imperfections.
Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable read despite the flaws. I’m certainly looking forward to the next book in the series.
Orbit has been taking some chances with new authors recently, not all of which have succeeded, in my opinion. Still, this trend should be applauded and supported where possible, and in this case, I think they’ve found a future star.