Maybe this is a reflection of my age, but I kept thinking about how clean spaceships were in science fiction when I started reading. The governments were huge global or galactic entities demonstrating how humans had unified, and often how they had integrated into a system of many alien species. There was an orderliness to science fiction worlds, even if the protagonists were rogues or the ruling government was evil. I also remember that when the protagonists got their hands on a MacGuffin someone would say, “we need to get this into the right hands!” and there were right hands for it to go to. We don’t live in that world anymore. There are no objectively right hands, just better or worse hands, depending on where you stand.
In Shards of Earth, humans, with a lot of help from alien species, were slowly colonizing other worlds. The Architect showed up and sculpted Earth as they had many other inhabited worlds, forcing people to flee in anyway they were able. Millions died unable to get off the planet or in spaceships not designed to carry so many people safely. Humans and aliens banded together to fight a desperate war for survival, and won. Or survived, because the Architect disappeared. Decades later, humanity is even more fragmented with a growing Nativist movement that narrowly defines human and rewrites history, as such movements do. Shards of Earth follows Solace, Idris, and the crew of the Vulture God, a salvage ship for hire. Rounding out the cast is Havaer Mundy, a spy.
Idris and Solace are survivors of the last battles against the Architects, heroes of the war. Idris Telemmier is a human whose brain was modified to fight Architects. He is one of the last of his class and has lived for decades, unsleeping, not aging, desperately trying to stay free of the various factions that see him as a commodity (yay, capitalism). He travels with his own knife wielding lawyer. Myrmidon Executor Solace is a human who was grown in a vat with other women exactly like her – a Partheni soldier, a clone. Solace has been put into long sleeps, waking a different points. She can see how the fractures between groups of humans has widened.
“We were the shield and sword of the Colonies,” the Partheni went on. “And then, when the war was over, you started asking why we had to keep on being different to you.”
Space hasn’t been kind to a lot of humans. Malnutrition and lack of gravity have had long term impacts on bodies. Travel through unspace is a constant mental trauma for Idris, but he can survive the trauma and the others cannot. The tension between the wealthy and the rest of humanity lies underneath everything. Tchaikovsky stops short of glorifying the make do mindset of the Colonials, or the genetic perfection of the Partheni. Instead they are all good, bad, and fully human.
Shards of Earth very nicely sets up a universe on the brink of going from not great to worse. I loved the complicated characters and their conflicting loyalties. I don’t know exactly where Tchaikovsky is going with the series, but I’m looking forward to finding out. A lot of conflicts have been set up and it will be interesting to see which ones are in the foreground in the next book. It has a banger of an ending and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
CWs: deaths of characters, violence, torture, physical and mental trauma.
I received this as an advance reader copy from NetGalley and Tor in exchange for an honest review.