I treated myself to this one, as I’d heard lots of good things about it and I had already read and enjoyed Emma Newman’s Between Two Thorns.
Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown. More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harbouring a devastating secret. Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost.
Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi. The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…
Ren is a wonderful protagonist – smart, wary and so achingly vulnerable while maintaining a tough exterior that precludes any sort of self pity. When such a great character bounces off the page, I realise how rarely this depth and poignancy is achieved. I love the world and the fact that from the very first page, we learn there is some terrible secret surrounding planetfall which has compromised the colony and hangs over Ren like a swinging sword.
The pin-sharp writing prismed through Ren’s pov gives us a vivid view of the accompanying cast of characters, particularly Mack, who has engineered the cover-up surrounding the circumstances that took place all those years ago. And there’s the young stranger who staggers into their small settlement, who has clearly been living off the land in ways the far more pampered colonists could never do. Who changes everything…
But in order for this story really to work, not only do we need to be heavily invested in the internal politics governing the colony, we also need to fully believe in the alien structure that was the point of their journey to this planet in the first place. Is it strange and disturbing enough? Oh yes. The forays that Ren take inside the structure are visceral and disorientating, without any real answers. I love the nature in which the traumatic events impact upon Ren’s behaviour – awesomely original and yet, heartbreakingly logical and so very human. As I was luxuriating in this eerie, beautifully crafted book, there was a small niggling worry at the back of my head in case the ending would be a disappointment.
I needn’t have worried. The ending is so very right that I closed up my Kindle with tears in my eyes, which doesn’t happen all that often. This one comes with a strong recommendation if you enjoy science fiction on any level – it’s an outstanding read.