A fantastic space opera that has it all; great characters, imaginative worldbuilding and an exciting plot full of mystery and adventure.
Artifact Space by Miles Cameron was a delight to read, and despite being a hefty enough book, never felt too long, nor too short. The pacing is spot on. On finishing, there is so much to love and look back on but this excellent craftsmanship was the first thing I thought about when evaluating which elements to talk about.
It’s obvious the author is an experienced storyteller, though the fact he’s never published a space opera before is incredibly surprising (and impressive) given the craft and care that has gone into immersing the reader on this interstellar voyage.
So why did the pacing, the style, the overall vibe just feel so right?
‘Do you ever feel like this voyage is nothing but two polar opposites?’ she asked. ‘Terror and boredom?’
This quote from our protagonist Marca Nbaro later in the book sums it up nicely…
Wait, wait, wait! I don’t mean the book is either terrifying or boring; it’s never boring – but there are certainly adrenaline filled sequences mixed with relaxing worldbuilding, aswell as intriguing mystery elements to the plot too. It works tremendously well in keeping you interested. The ‘terror’ the characters experience is exciting for us the reader, whilst their boredom is actually an opportunity for us to get to know the characters, world and ship better.
Some of these times are actually my favourite in the book. Scenes where the characters discuss their theories or our main character is simply learning about life on the ship. Once you become invested in the characters and realise how well written the book is, you begin to pay even more attention to the details because the book’s got its claws into you and you want to consume all of this detail, and it’s a real treat.
I think readers who like things kept simple and those who like more sci in their fi will both be happy. There are some conversations that admittedly you can almost skim read if you wanted to when it becomes more technical, and it won’t impact your understanding of the main story. Equally, it also gives that extra authenticity and capable vibe to the dialogue and world the story takes place in.
Partly why this works so well is because our main character, first name Marca but most often addressed by her surname Nbaro, is learning along with the reader. She begins capable but she doesn’t begin knowledgeable and that helps us as the reader pick things up. She’s also a really likeable lead – hers is our only POV but I never got fed up of following her story. I rarely like the way teenage characters are written but she’s got a really self deprecating humour combined with a headstrong, assertive fire in her belly that works really well. I’d go as far to say she’s one of my favourite main characters from any sci-fi. The full cast of characters are brilliant, too. Everyone’s motives, actions and opinions are believable and it was really interesting to experience multiple character developments but from a single POV, which again highlights the skill of the author as I imagine this is a difficult feat to pull off. The ship’s AI, Morosini is a particular highlight.
Something else I really loved and touched on briefly above is the worldbuilding. Most of the book takes place on The Athens which is a huge ‘greatship’ shaped similarly to a sword (following the author on twitter this comes as no surprise and did make me smile!) – the greatship Athens is so large it can take dozens of hours to search the cargo, and it even has its own rat population as a city would. It is (if I remember rightly) 7 levels, with thousands of people on board. We have references to The Age of Chaos (our current era) and an interesting situation where humanity has progressed in many ways but always maintains that human fallability. Humanity hundreds of years on is also further along in some ways technologically, without the ability to conduct research on the scale we do in the current present day – it’s not all better. Animal species for example have been brought as a rarity to some of the habitable planets, existing differently than on Earth. There are only a few whales left, for example.
What else do we have in this world? Well trying to minimise potential spoilers, Deep breath… aliens, shady goings on, life on a greatship fully imagined, ancient artefacts, mysterious trade agreements, planets and exploration, space battles, swords, inventive weaponry and a future of humanity with remnants of our modern day culture that I really enjoyed. There are so many more amazing things in the book of course, and the different elements really paint a vivid overall picture. They’re also never overwhelming. They just sort of, build without you being conscious of it. There are breadcrumbs dropped and seemingly unimportant details mentioned that become important later on, and organically so.
You realise as you get further through the book what a layered world and plot you are experiencing; it’s how the author is able to tell a story without the whole book being centred on this one plot point – there are multiple threads to enjoy and to be invested in. As you get towards the end you also start to realise that many of them were building this overall picture the whole time that takes something fun and enjoyable up a level to something that feels incredibly well thought out and polished. A real premium and satisfying feel.
Overall, a stunning read. Artifact Space kept me hooked at all times, keeping the adrenaline pumping with excellent action scenes whilst keeping me invested with fantastic characters and an in depth, brilliantly imagined world.
Can’t wait for book two.
Out in the darkness of space, something is targeting the Greatships.
With their vast cargo holds and a crew that could fill a city, the Greatships are the lifeblood of human-occupied space, transporting an unimaginable volume – and value – of goods from City, the greatest human orbital, all the way to Tradepoint at the other, to trade for xenoglas with an unknowable alien species.
It has always been Marca Nbaro’s dream to achieve the near-impossible: escape her upbringing and venture into space.
All it took, to make her way onto the crew of the Greatship Athens was thousands of hours in simulators, dedication, and pawning or selling every scrap of her old life in order to forge a new one. But though she’s made her way onboard with faked papers, leaving her old life – and scandals – behind isn’t so easy.
She may have just combined all the dangers of her former life, with all the perils of the new . . .