Last year I read and reviewed Titanborn, a rollicking space opera set in the far reaches of the solar system, charting the adventures of Malcolm Graves, who is a fixer for the corporation controlling most of the major industry out there. And the reason why I give it a mention here, is that if you don’t know that nugget of information, the epilogue at the end of From Ice to Ashes – a standalone set in the same world – appears to be completely random.
Kale Drayton knows his place. As a Ringer, he’s used to keeping his head down and his mouth shut—no matter how much the Earthers abuse him or his own kind berate him. So when he’s caught stealing from a wealthy merchant, he’s lucky to be sentenced to low-paying maintenance work on a gas-harvesting ship instead of life in a cell . . . or worse. But when his mother is quarantined, Kale finds himself backed into a corner. To pay for her medicine, he needs money—the kind of money he’ll never make sweeping floors and cleaning ships. So when he receives a mysterious offer asking him to do a simple job in exchange for his mother’s treatment, Kale takes a chance once more.
Like all Ringers, Kale is completely downtrodden. His ancestors fled to Titan before a meteor hit Earth and this outpost of humanity had survived and thrived on this bleak colony – before Earthers, who hadn’t all been wiped out, finally make their way to Titan after 300 years to reunite humanity. Only it doesn’t go all that well for the fragile, thin-boned colonists who die in droves, wiped out by Earth-based germs for which they have no immunity. Now encased in suits and masks designed to protect them and too frail to fight, they have been reduced to serfs. Treated as sub-human, abused and enslaved, they eke a living performing all the menial, dirty and dangerous tasks.
It is a compelling scenario and one that seems all too probable. I kept hoping there would be one decent Earther, who might show a shred of compassion or empathy with the Ringers – but no one did. And then I thought back to the generations of slaves right up to modern times – and wondered how many people they would encounter in their daily lives who would give them more than a glancing thought. Not many, I’m guessing.
You’ll probably realise that Kale gets caught up in events that take him out of his downtrodden, miserable existence – and to be honest, there were times when the speed and effectiveness of the flurry of adventures he is involved in did sort of stretch my credibility. But I was prepared to go with the flow because it was enjoyable, full-on action and I read far later into the wee small hours than I’d intended to find out what happens next.
Bruno is an accomplished writer, who produces cracking action scenes, strong supporting characters and Kale was both appealing and convincing as a confused, angry protagonist. But he isn’t a Malcolm Graves, who for me ticked all the boxes as far as compelling protagonists go – and I’ll be snapping up the next book in this not-quite series to find out what is happening to Malcolm.