Author – Ren Hutchings
Pages – 480
Publishing Information – Rebellion, 10th May 2022
The One Sentence Review
A superb sci-fi debut with a heart warming and imaginative story that makes you fall in love with the characters and immerse yourself in their world.
Two Ships. One Chance To Save The Future.
Fleeing the final days of the generations-long war with the alien Felen, smuggler Jereth Keeven’s freighter the Jonah breaks down in a strange rift in deep space, with little chance of rescue—until they encounter the research vessel Gallion, which claims to be from 152 years in the future.
The Gallion’s chief engineer Uma Ozakka has always been fascinated with the past, especially the tale of the Fortunate Five, who ended the war with the Felen. When the Gallion rescues a run-down junk freighter, Ozakka is shocked to recognize the Five’s legendary ship—and the Five’s famed leader, Eldric Leesongronski, among the crew.
But nothing else about Leesongronski and his crewmates seems to match up with the historical record. With their ships running out of power in the rift, more than the lives of both crews may be at stake…
The Full Review
I absolutely loved this book.
Under Fortunate Stars made me feel all warm and fuzzy, whilst in the cold depths of interstellar space. There are many strengths to Ren Hutchings’ debut, but such a positive lasting impression for me is overwhelmingly achieved here with fantastic characters, whose stories I cared about and whose relationships with one another felt genuine and meaningful.
There are 4 POV characters, and despite loving all of them, I also found so much depth and likeability in several others too, which is testament to how much care the author has put into writing a cast you actually want to spend time with.
A common theme with the POV characters is the journey they’ve been on and how their pasts have shaped their present selves. With the help of occasional flashbacks and organic conversations, Hutchings builds the characters’ fleshed out backstories and this really makes you feel like you know them and therefore care about them, wanting them to succeed and at times to overcome the ghosts of the past.
You know every character is well written when the disappointment of ending one character’s chapter is immediately offset by the eagerness to continue another’s. Of course, the overarching story is told through a combination of these POVs, but each character’s individual story is intertwined with the main narrative. Shaan and Jereth were my two favourites. Shaan is instantly relatable to many of us; stuck in a job that doesn’t suit her, unable to showcase her true potential. In Shaan’s case, this is as a direct result of past events and the mystery of these events add intrigue to her journey from these events to the present.
Uma is the other POV beginning her story on the science vessel The Gallion, which serves as the location for most of the book. A brilliant engineer, she’s also in a job role which doesn’t showcase her talents but for different reasons entirely. Uma you could say, is a bit of a fan of The Fortunate Five – a group of individuals who, from their now famous ship The Jonah made peace with the Alien race The Felen, saving humanity over 150 years previous. As a result, these five people are celebrated and revered, some of whom more is known about than others.
I love the way Hutchings creates a mysticism around these historic characters and the use of intriguing names adds to this for the reader too as we want to know more about these people; The Negotiator, The Decipherer, The Voiceover, The Inventor and The Pathfinder.
The famous Pathfinder is Eldric Leesongronski, rescued along with his crew mates by the science team of The Gallion. Obviously there is a lot of confusion and scepticism from both crews – the Gallion crew want to know who these charlatans masquerading as the Pathfinder, the Voicegiver (Keila Kva-Sova) and the Inventor (Charyne Jaxong) truly are. Those same characters are frustrated with the constant questioning and suspicion from their supposed saviours, their names apparently famous for reasons unknown.
Eldric’s chapters were fun and I enjoyed getting to know this mathematical genius and perhaps the most famous of the five. Through him, we are also introduced to the fourth POV character and his long term friend, Jereth.
Now, I’m confident in assuming most readers will warm to Jereth almost instantly, and if they don’t, they will do as the story progresses. The definition of a loveable rogue, Jereth is a sort of wild maverick who doesn’t take life too seriously. Life is a bit of a game to him. What makes him so appealing as a character though is that he has so much heart, courage and loyalty. He’s not just written in as a ‘cool’ character for the sake of being cool – we’re really encouraged to develop a bond with this guy as the story progresses. He also offers comic relief in a story with some high stakes.
The compassion and care shown by a character who at first glance takes nothing seriously and sees life as one big party is a striking contrast and makes Jereth stand out especially brightly.
I definitely think the right four characters were chosen as POVs. Given how brilliantly the author is able to build your attachment to these characters and how interesting they are though, I would have loved to get to know some of the other characters in more depth, especially all of the fortunate five.
Saying that, the pacing of the book is fantastic and perhaps the introduction of more POVs or additional backstories could have negatively impacted how well everything flows. The editing is top notch and without a technical term to use, regular readers will know what I mean when I say it all just feels really polished and cared about. When one chapter blends so well from the last and into the next, you become so immersed in the storytelling because there is nothing to pull you away and remind you it’s ‘just a story.’ The writing grabs you and guides you through so seamlessly, enabling you to fully enjoy the imagination and craft put into Under Fortunate Stars.
Time travel stories can be a little mind-bending and as such I know they can be hit and miss sometimes, or quite polarising for readers. This is especially true of hard sci-fi where everything has to be explained scientifically. I’d describe this book as more soft sci-fi with a focus on character development rather than hard science. As such, you might say there are one or two fortunate coincidences that help progress the story – but it is called Under Fortunate Stars, afterall.
Personally I prefer this as I like that there’s no getting bogged down in pages of jargon and there’s still enough information to learn about the world and the sci-fi to keep me (and any other like minded readers) interested. I feel like this also makes the book more accessible for a wider number of readers. In short, there’s plenty for sci-fi fans to enjoy but I would still recommend it to people who don’t usually read science fiction and am still confident they’d enjoy it.
I love the way the time travel is handled and the introduction of the fortunate five. In fact, it’s possibly the only time travel story I’ve felt fully satisfied with the implementation. There’s loads of mystery and breadcrumbs scattered to keep you engaged in the story aswell as enjoying these wonderful characters. The bonus is you still keep your sanity which cannot be said for every use of time travel in popular culture!
Ultimately, this is a book that was able to distract me from a stressful period in the real world with amazing characters, a well thought out plot and absolutely superb writing to make this one of my favourite ever space operas. I’d highly recommend it to anyone and it was a real pleasure to read!
Thankyou to Rebellion Publishing and Ren Hutchings for the opportunity to read this advance reader copy in exchange for my review – which has been completely honest and unbiased. It was an absolute pleasure.
About the Author
Ren Hutchings is a speculative fiction writer, writing mentor, and history grad. She spent most of the past decade working in game dev while also plotting twisty space novels. She loves pop science, unexplained mysteries, 90s music, collecting outdated electronics, and pondering about alternate universes. Ren always drafts out of order, and almost everything she writes ends up involving a dash of time travel. You can find Ren online at renhutchings.com, and on social media as @voidcricket.