Do you like stories that keep you on the edge of your seat? Do you like high stakes races, space battles, and grand conspiracies? Do you like stories that blur the lines between science fiction and fantasy in a way that feels new yet completely natural?
Then go out and buy A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White, and then read it. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
I first found out about the book when a customer brought the second in the series, A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy, through my line. The cover had caught her attention and, to be honest, it caught mine too.
It was upon reading the back that I realized it wasn’t the first book (at the time we didn’t have a copy in stock). I made sure to write the name down both for her and for myself.
Upon doing some research, I discovered that I was more familiar with the author than I first thought. Years ago he wrote and produced an audio drama called The Gearheart, an enchanting combination of steampunk and rune-based magic. It was a podcast that I very much enjoyed.
I kept an eye out for it after that until we finally got a copy in. I bought it immediately and started it that night.
I was not disappointed.
The world he crafted is rife with magic, but in a way that fits perfectly within a futuristic world. The ability to use magic is tied to a specific part of the brain. It is incredibly rare to be born without it. I was impressed to discover there was a medical term for this condition, TERM, as well as common slang, like dull fingered.
That level of attention to detail speaks volumes about how much care and thought went into this book. It is also a lot of fun to see how he intermingles the technological and magical sides of the world.
Everyone born with magic has what is called a ‘mark’, which dictates what they can do with that magic. The first person we meet uses her mark to attune with technology, meaning that she can control it in a way few others can. Some people can create shields, others conjure fire, whereas others can use it to commune with animals and so forth. It is fascinating.
We meet one person who has no mark and another who has a deformed mark, meaning he can only do about half of what he should be able to do. It is interesting to see how they handle the difficulties presented to them living in a world primarily designed for those with marks.
One might even say it is a commentary on those who live with disabilities (especially the ones that aren’t visible). I mean, it is literally something different in their brains. It’s not a stretch to compare that to mental illness.
Another important thing to keep an eye on is any mention of the Famine Wars. It’ll be a while before you really start to get the full picture, mostly because no one likes to talk about it, but it does prove to be important.
We start off at a high stakes race following Nilah, a talented racer whose mark allows her to attune with technology. Its a thrilling introduction to the world, but things quickly take an interesting turn when a mysterious figure called Mother stops time and murders another racer. Nilah uses her ability to trigger the special drive on her racer and somehow manages to transport herself across the universe.
Thankfully, she lands mostly in one piece in a back alley on the same planet as another of our main characters. I mentioned her earlier. Her name is Elizabeth, a.k.a. Boots, and she was born without a mark. We also know that she has some connection to the Famine War, she has an AI she isn’t supposed to have, and she is really good at finding things. That is her job.
She receives word that the SHIP recently docked. The crew are old friends of hers that she abandoned some time ago, and they have been looking for her for a very long time. This is around the same time she learns of the hefty price on Nilah’s head.
That is why the second she runs into Nilah, she knocks her out. Unfortunately, she herself is knocked out before she can do anything to take the bounty. That is how they both end up aboard the Capricious.
The reunion is delightfully awkward and incredibly informative when it comes to Boot’s past. It turns out she was connected with the racer Mother killed. He sold her something that Mother wants, which is why her office was destroyed just before the book began. It was picture of a missing, nearly mythical warship called The Harrow said to have enough power to destroy a planet.
An incredibly dangerous prize indeed, and one that we don’t want just anyone to have their hands on.
Thus begins the game of cat and mouse between the crew and Mother as each group hunts for clues as to the whereabouts of the Harrow. It’s exciting. It’s thrilling. And there are a lot of things that are revealed that I am not going to talk about.
Because I am here to get you interested in the book, not to spoil the book. So, now you have to read it to see for yourself! (please message me when you do, I’ve been looking for someone to geek out about this book with)
Beyond the possible commentary on living with a disability, this story focuses a lot on how there is more going on to any one story than most people realize. Near the end you see what happens when people are given too much power and start to abuse what they have in the search for more. The conspiracy that gets untangled reaches so far back that it is hard to see exactly where it all began.
There is also a lot to learn about family, about staying loyal to those you trust. About sticking together and never giving up in the face of impossible odds. About how little, easy to miss details can make a huge difference.
This book is a fascinating combination of magic and science fiction and huge, overarching conspiracies that scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had. The cast is full of unique, dynamic characters with their own backgrounds and their own powerful personalities. I loved seeing them grow and evolve not only as individuals but also in their relationships with other characters.
A warning though: the more you read the harder it will be to put down. This story is a ride from page one and it only builds in intensity the farther you go. It has been a while since I’ve read a story with such a well-crafted twist that I had to put it down for a second (but only a second, because I had to know what happened next).
The second book, A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy came out in December 2019. Book three, The Worst of all Possible Worlds is going to come out in 2020. That is literally the only downside of reading this series.