Tuesday, October 20, 2020

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Fractured Void by Tim Pratt

Full Disclosure:  This book was read as an e-ARC (Advance Reader Copy) obtained via Netgalley from the publisher in advance of the book's release on November 3, 2020 in exchange for a potential review.  I give my word that this did not affect my review in any way - if I felt conflicted in any way, I would simply have declined to review the book.

The Fractured Void is a new space opera novel by author Tim Pratt, author of "The Axiom" trilogy which began with "The Wrong Stars" (which I reviewed here).  This book is actually a tie-in novel with Twilight Imperium, which is a (board) game that takes place in a space opera setting.  I have no experience with Twilight Imperium, but Pratt's original space opera trilogy featured two novels I really enjoyed and one that I thought was merely fine, melding a fascinating space opera world with good characters and some really great humor.  So I requested this book on Netgalley when I saw it immediately, because I was excited to see what Pratt would write next.

And The Fractured Void was pretty much exactly what I wanted.  Again, it features a very humorous take on space opera, with some really fun characters - both heroes and villains - and a plot that allows them to have a bunch of fun adventures from beginning to end.  It wraps things up in a satisfying fashion, while also providing a cliffhanger for a second book, so you can stop here if you want, but I won't because I enjoyed this a good amount.  As you might expect from a tie-in novel, there's nothing here that's truly mind-blowing or must-read, but if you want a fun space opera that will keep you entertained, this is absolutely a book for you.  

---------------------------------------------------Plot Summary--------------------------------------------------------
Felix is a Human captain of a legitimate cruiser in the Mentak Coalition - a multi-species group of former prisoners who now are a military force of pirates and privateers.  Of course, the action he pulled that earned him his captaincy also involved him disobeying orders, so as a result his superiors both awarded him with the captaincy and the ship but also punished him by assigning him to patrol a backwater area of space, where nothing....ever.....happens.  And so Felix months later is absolutely bored, with no one but his best friend Tib (a Yssaril with the ability to turn invisible) and Calred, his Hacan security officer along with him.  

But when a last second shift in Felix's patrol leads to them to discover a group of privateers, obviously working for the Federation of Sol, trying to abduct a random scientist from one of his patrol worlds, well Felix gets the adventure he was looking for.  Unfortunately, that adventure comes with an insanely annoying scientist with an ego the size of a planet, whose research just might make him too useful to simply get rid of.  Add in two foreign forces who are desperate to get that scientist and his research back, and suddenly Felix, Tib, and Calred have their hands full, traveling around various worlds on a mission to reshape the galaxy.....well, maybe.
The Fractured Void is a fun space opera told in third person from the perspective of Felix, with occasional asides to check out the perspectives of the two antagonists who wind up chasing Felix and his crew.  It uses these perspectives to showcase both the characters and the setting to good effect.  People familiar with the Twilight Imperium setting may be immediately comfortable with the setting - the types of alien races, the planets and factions in question, etc. - but those unfamiliar with the setting, such as myself, will have no problem understanding and enjoying this novel, as the narratives always make sure to explain (without being too ham fisted) what each of the aliens/factions/worlds look like and are about.  

An this is a really fun and humorous world and characters.  Felix's faction, the Mentak Coalition, is a band of pirates who've somehow formed a serious governmental power in this galaxy.  The result is that while they may control worlds and warships, they also are first-minded about profit, whether that be from spoils of war, or from income sources they can scam from others....to the point where they expect their captains to be skimming some of the income sources they come across into their own pockets (Felix tends to prefer skimming 2% of his profits for himself and his team).  And Felix, a guy who embodies that to its core, fits in perfectly there - ready for adventure at the start (although it gets beat out of him) and willing to take some crazy risks for it.  Mind you, these aren't "bad" people or antiheroes - they want to steal shit and make money, not kill people just for the fun of it, and when people do die, Felix and his crew feel pretty damn awful, and it shifts their perspective quite a bit.  But it doesn't stop them from getting into jail breaks, heists of dangerous objects, and shipjacking when appropriate.  And that's all really fun.

The antagonists are fun too, a mercenary soldier for the Federation of Sol and a security head for the Letnev who wind up on our heroes' trails.  The soldier has an incredibly fun-loving attitude toward her work, to say nothing of trying to seduce people for fun - although she tries to draw a line between seducing people who she knows she'll have to kill.  Meanwhile the security head comes from a stiff unyielding faction and the contrast between her and the soldier is a really fun back and forth that leads to a hilarious climax.  

These characters build up to a fun plot, with some really great dialogue, solid but unexceptional action pieces, and a lot of humor that is very enjoyable from beginning to end.  The ending is satisfying, with the worst character of everyone getting his comeuppance at the end, making it even more pleasing while also ending on a major sequel hook to keep a reader interested in going forward.  Again, there's nothing here really super notable, but sometimes you just want really fun space opera with a lot of humor, and this is definitely that.

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