Forsaken Skies | D. Nolan Clark | 2016, Pb 2017 | Orbit | 570p | Review copy | Buy the book
When forgotten, rather elderly fighter pilot hero Aleister Lanoe pursues the desperate young renegade Thom through a dangerous network of wormholes to the space station Hexus, neither of them would guess that this is the beginning of a whole new adventure, one that offers them both the chance of redemption. Or, as is more likely, a painful death on a colony planet so far away from the rest of human civilisation that nobody would even notice.
Niraya, a colony of farmers and religious exiles, is under attack. The spearhead of an invasion force landed and slaughtered everything in its path until it was brought to a standstill. Wars are common between planets – fighter pilots are the celebrities of the day – but there is nothing familiar, or even human, about this invasion and telescopes reveal that the rest of the huge force is just weeks, if not days, away. And nobody beyond the planet cares. In desperation, two religious women, an Elder and her Aspirant, smuggle themselves aboard a tanker travelling from Niraya to Hexus seeking help from wherever they can find it. In the end, help comes from where they least expect it and a small force makes its way to Niraya on what must surely be a one-way trip.
Forsaken Skies is the first in a series, The Silence, and it is off to a fine start. We’re given a small group of unlikely mismatched heroes – including the irrepressibly awful and yet deep down rather redeemable Maggs as well the old pilot who fought on the wrong side of the last war and ended up almost incinerated for his trouble (there’s a reason why he never takes his helmet off). All are estranged from society for one reason or another, or, as in the case of a couple of them, AWOL, and all seem content (to varying degrees) to be led by Lanoe into a battle that seems impossible to win. We’re given some of the reasons why during Forsaken Skies but there’s a strong sense that there is much more to learn through future novels.
While much of the novel focuses on our motley crew, their relationships, their inspiration and their methods of coping with the threat of imminent death, the rest deals with the invasion of Niraya and its moon so rich in everything that the invaders want. The action scenes are fantastic – dog fights galore – and yet, what I particularly like, they don’t take over the book. They play their part and it’s a great one but they are not the reason for the book’s existence. There’s a lot more going on here than thrilling fights to the death against an unknowable threat in the terrifying vacuum of space.
The novel is quite a length but I found it a fast, fun read, the story moved along by interesting characters, strange worlds, battles and a formidable, creepy enemy. This isn’t hard science fiction; its emphasis is very much on thrills. My one issue would be that one or two of the characters could have been developed further, just as I would have liked a few more moments to stand still and look around. Having said that, I think several characters are very well done – Valk, for instance, is outstanding – but Lanoe is supposed to be the central figure and I feel like I barely know him at all. I felt deeply for several of these people, though, and shed tears for one, so D. Nolan Clark is definitely doing something right.
I love first contact stories and this is a good one. The more we learn about the enemy, the more I wanted to know. The invaders’ mission is tantalising and some of the conclusions drawn are fascinating. I definitely want to know much more about them and the indications are that in book two I will. Our bunch of heroes are curious and not typical. There’s plenty I want to know about them too. I was eager to read Forsaken Skies as soon as it arrived and it did not disappoint.
Forsaken Skies is an adventure set in space. It’s fun (loving to hate Maggs is one of its many pleasures), thrilling, easy to read, and it promises much for the rest of the series.