Tor | 2021 (27 May) | 560p | Review copy | Buy the book
Earth is destroyed, its form twisted and distorted by the Architects, a species the size of a moon, that barely notices the planets and ships that it moulds into more pleasing shapes. Technologies developed to try and confront this enemy, including the creation of enhanced humans, until a method of attack was discovered almost by accident when one type of altered human – the Intermediaries – was found to be able to communicate with them and the Architects, almost in horror, left. But now, years later when humankind is divided by warring factions, vessels are vanishing and it is possible that they have returned. Intermediaries are few and far between and their sleepless endless lives are a torment. One of them, Idris, is navigator aboard a small salvage vessel. He wants to lead an obscure, quiet life. That will not be allowed to happen.
Adrian Tchaikovsky is a truly brilliant writer of science fiction. He is stunningly inventive and imaginative and he fully delivers on that vision with fantastic prose, plots and characters. Children of Time is one of the best books I have ever read, and I thoroughly recommend Cage of Souls and The Doors of Eden as well. And now I can add Shards of Earth to that. I was thrilled to learn that the author was embarking on another space opera series (The Final Architecture) and this is a great beginning.
The world building is vast and glorious. Humanity is divided and warring in the aftermath of the home world’s destruction, and the factions are all represented here, notably Idris and Solace, a Parthenon warrior. The chapters move between key characters, which keeps up the momentum but also widens the epic scale of this universe. The crew members of Idris’s ship are so well drawn (I love the paternal, even maternal Captain) and we follow them as they get into all sorts of scrapes (to put it very mildly indeed) as they travel through the truly terrifying Unspace. These aren’t characters you want to get too attached to…
As with most epic space operas, it does take a while to get going. There’s a lot of history to learn but the book ends with a chronology of events and a list of people, places, ships and factions. This isn’t spoilery and I would definitely recommend reading that first. I found that it helped a lot and when I met Idris, I already had a good idea of what he would face.
This is a witty book, it’s also frightening. The Architects are the stuff of nightmares and the descriptions of what they can do really stand out in the novel. I love the mix of banter and mayhem as people go about their business on ships, habitats and worlds, some of which are lawless and run by gangsters. Everything we see is the result of the Architects. Their random and careless destruction has traumatised mankind, leading people to cope with it in their own ways – whether that’s through religion, becoming part of a warrior elite class, killing, hunting for the Architects, or hiding. And watching all of it, we sense, is something so monstrous that it cannot be perceived, something in Unspace that is so horrific that humans must sleep through their journeys through it, with only the navigator, the Intermediary, remaining awake and haunted. This is fabulous stuff!
Shards of Earth is an immersive and thoroughly engaging read, full of mystery, enigma and menace, as well as wow moments. Epic space operas are a favourite thing for me and Adrian Tchaikovsky is very, very good indeed at writing them.