Cover illustration: Jon Sullivan
SPATTERJAY BOOK ONE
Publisher: Tor UK
First published: 22 March 2002
This edition published: 2 October 2009
On the cover:
WELCOME TO SPATTERJAY...WHERE SUDDEN DEATH IS THE NORMAL WAY OF LIFE
Three travellers arrive on the remote planet Spatterjay - Janer, bringing the eyes of the hornet Hive mind; Erlin, searching for the ancient sea captain who can teach her to live; and Sable Keech, on a vendetta he cannot abandon, though he himself has been dead for seven hundred years.
On its vast waterscapes only the native hoppers dare risk the voracious appetites of the planet's wildlife. Somewhere out there is Spatterjay Hoop himself - and other notorious villains who need bringing to justice for the hideous crimes committed centuries ago during the Prador Wars.
But time is running out. For one of the most brutal Prador is about to arrive, intent on exterminating all remaining witnesses to his wartime atrocities...
Major hell is about to erupt in a chaotic world - where minor hell is already a remorseless fact of everyday life...and death.
This is one of those SFF novels that can be hard to define into a sub-genre. There's no doubt that it is Science Fiction, but much of the story is set in an environment that is much more typical of Fantasy. Ships sailing on an ocean is usually something that you find in Fantasy, or perhaps more often in Historical Fiction. Added to that there is also an element of Horror here. Not only in the titular character, but in many of the indigenous creatures of Spatterjay.
So the question then is if this somewhat strange mix comes together and works as more than a collage? -I have to say it does, more than that - it is one of the greatest strengths of the novel. Asher manages to use the elements from the different sub-genres to create a world that is in many ways more alien than it could have been by not being constricted by only Science Fiction "rules".
Despite being as unfriendly as it is, Spatterjay is a very interesting world. It is well realised and by the end of the novel you'll have had a good introduction to its history and how it works in the narrative's present.
The story is a really compelling one. It takes a while before it gets going, and there are layers added to it throughout. The pace starts out as rather slow, but like a steam-train once it gets going it builds up speed rather quickly and at times reaches a breakneck pace.
There are several threads that drive the story, each of them related to a different character, and each of them interesting in themselves. Asher manages to weave these threads in and out of each other with a deft hand, creating a story that comes together very satisfyingly.
Asher has populated his world with a pretty large cast of characters. They are a varied cast, and they all feel real. Of course not all of them get the same amount of pages to give them depth, but they are still given enough time to show us who they are.
The main characters are an interesting group of different beings. And following their journey is an enjoyable experience. There's room for different races, species, and even artificial intelligence in the cast. They are diverse enough to not get close to boring, and they have different motivations and agendas that creates tension and excitement.
The only problem I had with the novel was the different POVs. They change frequently, and I at times felt this made it difficult to get a feel for what was happening. It did in no way ruin the story, but it did make it a bit harder to stay immersed in it.
Towards the end I felt this worked much better, and I am not completely sure if it was because this mode of storytelling works better when the pace of events is greater, or if I was just getting used to it. Either way, I don't think this should discourage anyone from picking up the book unless they hate frequent POV changes.
This was the first time I read a book by Neal Asher, and although he comes highly recommended by bloggers I trust, I didn't really know what to expect. (I tend to avoid reading too much about books I know I'm going to read.) I was not disappointed by those who recommended the book. This is a type of adventurous story that I enjoy very much.
I would say that this is one of the Science Fiction books I have read that would be easiest for Fantasy fans to pick up. And I would urge anyone who enjoys Fantasy, and is curious about Science Fiction to pick it up.
All in all this is a great story set in a well realised world, with lots of action, and enough mystery and depth to make it really interesting. I'm certainly going to pick up more of Asher's books in the future.