Author: Michael R. Johnston
Title: The Widening Gyre
Publisher: Flame Tree Press
[Advance reader copy, due to be published on March 2019]
Synopsis: Eight hundred years ago, the Zhen Empire discovered a broken human colony ship. Given a place to live by the Zhen, humans are safe. But it hasn’t been easy. Not all Zhen were eager to welcome another species, and humans have faced persecution. One of the first humans to be allowed to serve in the Zhen military, Tajen Hunt became a war hero but he failed in a crucial mission and resigned in disgrace. When Tajen discovers his brother has been killed by agents of the Empire, he and his crew set out to finish his brother’s quest: to find Earth, the legendary homeworld of humanity.
Every now and then the Space Opera genre wakes up from its current day mediocrity, and something good shines under the light of a different star. This is what happened with this book, which has the predetermined potential to become the first of a series. The basic concept (see the synopsis) is not new, and the setting is also a well-known trope in the business, what shines is the craft of the author and his ability to create a real page-turner that releases here and there moments of fun alternate with a lot of well-depicted action.
Quite frankly, it’s not a back-to-the-basics novel. Space Opera was pulp action set in a science fiction environment (back off, this is my opinion!), most of the time centered on a likable character and a set of useful cardboards supporting actors. The gist was the struggle against big enemies, with a flamboyant third act to prepare the final triumph. In this book we got plenty of conflict, drama and almost impossible odds; but the characters are all well-portrayed, believable and “real” enough to keep the reader close to every page. Plus, we have a current level of complexity in the world building and a lot of hints about the backstory of the whole alien civilization in charge.
The plot is a crescendo, which is a tradition for a Space Opera. The difference between this book and many others is about the plot management. Every step, every bump-and-grind moment of the story, flows naturally with ease. That keeps the reader comfortable, well set in the story. The use of the first person is often criticized in a story full of action, but it works just fine in this novel. It’s an old trick, a way to tell the reader that there is always a way out for the main character. Just stick with Tajen Hunt and ride shotgun in his spaceship, the ride will be worthy of your money.
The pros of this book are based on a magnificent world-building, with a believable alien race. The backstory of the Zhen empire is solid, and it’s functional to the comprehension of their civilization. The main character development is also substantial, and the same applies to the main cast.
The cons of this book are about tropes. I know, it’s tough to create something new in a subgenre explored for decades, not to mention the movies. Let’s say that the ghost of Han Solo and the spirit of the Millenium Falcon are in their places, OK?
Vote: 07,50 / 10,00.