I love old-school outer space science fiction, especially when it contains a twist. I devoured Patrick S. Tomlinson’s The Ark, Book #1 in the Children of a Dead Earth series. It not only combined two of my favorite genres, scifi and detective fiction (a locked-room mystery), but the writing style was completely addictive. (A link to that review is at the end of this review.)
I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen in Book #2, Trident’s Forge. There’s always a fear that an author will suffer from second book slump in a series after successfully building a world we love. No fear of that with Trident’s Forge, which is a riveting tale about first contact. The characters we grew to love or hate in Book #1 still captivate and are brought entirely new challenges in Book #2.
But what if you haven’t read Book #1? Because outer space science fiction series build far more complicated worlds than most Earth-based novels, I’d recommend reading Book #1 first. There are spoilers in my Book #2 review for Book #1; however, you have to know something survives the catastrophe in The Ark or there wouldn’t be a series. If you don’t want those spoilers, then click on the link at the bottom of this review & read the Book #1 review instead. Now, which to read first? You could potentially read Book #2 as a stand-alone since it takes place on a planet and not on a ship; however, I think there will probably be lots of “huh” moments because the previously developed relationship dynamics may not make much sense. That said, it’s always your decision to make and it may work out just fine for you.
Brief Background: Earth is dying, so a modern-day ark is built to take a wide sampling of humanity from across the globe as well as all other essential flora and fauna off planet to save what can be saved. They travel on a huge multi-generational ship headed for the one planet that has been identified as being Earth-like enough to hopefully sustain life and colonize. It’s a last gasp attempt to save life from Earth. All is well on the ship for several generations until sabotage occurs – that sabotage, Bryan Benson’s investigation into it, and its consequences form the basis for Book #1, The Ark.
Reaching and colonizing Tau Ceti G has been the Ark’s goal all along and that is where Trident’s Forge begins. The ship’s 30,000 survivors could not be happier to have finally reached it. It’s every bit as beautiful as they’ve been led to believe – a pristine unpopulated planet that should support human and earth-based animal life and upon which earth-based plants should thrive…if the analysis is right. Finally Earth’s survivors can breathe a sigh of relief.
With the terrifying ship sabotage behind them, the only thing left to do is to get the colony set up and take the final steps to ensure that colony’s success. Everything is riding on this, and I do mean everything. There is no Plan B. This is the only hope for the continuation of life from Earth. But no pressure, right?
There’s only one minor flaw in all of these plans…the planet is not uninhabited. Somehow, all of the tests and scans done on the planet have failed to identify its sentient inhabitants, the G’tel, who live on the other side of the planet from where the Ark’s crew have begun to set up their colony.
“Those [2 new stars] were the ones that held Kexx’ attention, and why ze’d left G’tel’s protective halo of trees so late at night. Out here, the glare from the campfires didn’t interfere with the sky. Ze watched the two new pinpricks of light and pondered their meaning while the heat of the village fires slowly leached from zer body…Kexx let a ripple of light wash over zer skin, both to let the uliks know ze was watching them, and to let them see the half spear stuck into the ground next to zer…Kexx probably couldn’t have killed them all before being brought down zerself. But ze would’ve gotten more of the uliks than the pack could afford to lose and still hope to take down tomorrow’s prey. So they passed.”
The G’tel have watched with amazement as new stars appeared in their sky and kept growing larger. One huge body in particular amazed them. They exclaimed in awe over the beam extending down from it to the planet’s surface and wondered at its meaning. They’ve made the only logical deduction available to them, that Gods must have surely come to visit their planet. They’ve even taken in some of these Gods to live among them, so they can learn from them. What they don’t know is that those particular Gods are ship survivors who escaped from the ship and hold some rather rebellious if pacifistic ideas.
“Kexx dropped prone, making zerself as small as possible. No animal’s skin-glow was that bright. Whatever the strangers were, they weren’t G’tel, from another village on the road network, or even Dwellers. The realization raced through Kexx’ mind, leaving a wake of bone-gripping fear as it went. Too terrified to move, yet too curious to look away, Kexx studied the small creatures as they jumped down to the sand and made their way down the beach…They skin was smooth and pale, like corpses, empty of the shifting patterns and colors of living flesh. Absent too was any skin-glow, except for the lights coming from their hands. They had two arms and two legs, but they were knobby, stiff…Long black strands covered the tops of their heads where display crests should be.”
When the G’tel encounter some of the colonists, and suffer consequences often suffered when rudimentary cultures meet cultures with more sophisticated weaponry, Bryan Benson is assigned a crew for a more diplomatic mission to assess the situation. What he uncovers is a massacre of natives and colonists, and a mystery that must be solved if the colonists and natives are to have any hope of surviving.
Thanks to the G’tel having grown to know and trust other ship survivors, Bryan is able to join forces with Kexx, the village truth-digger. Both are determined to not only learn what happened but to prevent it from ever happening again. Bryan can’t help suspecting that the ship sabotage he thought had been completely squelched could somehow be at the heart of this horrific violence.
What forces still exist who don’t want the colony to succeed and why? Can he and Kexx get to the bottom of the mystery before it’s too late? Will it ever be possible for the native tribes to trust or work with the colonists if they believe these descending Gods have turned vengeful? And if they realize the colonists are not Gods, will that knowledge lead to the colonists’ demise? How can this be worked out so everyone survives and the fearful, destructive forces are vanquished on both sides?
Just when Bryan and the other colonists thought everything was going really well, life does what life loves to do – throws a giant monkey wrench into all of their best laid plans. Just because you change planets, it doesn’t mean that you stop having stuff happen. And, Bryan being Bryan, he’s not about to let that stuff stop him, dammit! Kexx is a wonderful character – the perfect counterbalance for Bryan. I’m going to let Kexx be a surprise because I could write forever about that one character. Love Kexx – and that’s all I’m going to say. The villains? Of course there are villains, and they are sneaky, underhanded jerks bent on destruction with no thought about the consequences. They thrive on spreading fear and hatred – sound familiar? Unfortunately that modus operandi is time tested throughout history, so it’s probably not going to end any time soon – on or off planet.
With Trident’s Forge, Patrick S. Tomlinson has continued to build the momentum he began in The Ark…and I can’t wait to see where it takes us in Book #3. According to the author’s web site, Book #3 will take place 15 years after Trident’s Forge and will deal with an even greater test for both natives and colonists – damn, what could be more of a test than they’ve already faced? Needless to say, I can’t wait to find out! I could not put Trident’s Forge down, and read it in one marathon sitting. That is as much due to the writing style and characters as the non-stop, nail-biting story thread. If you’re an outer-space sci-fi geek like I am, you’re going to love this series!
Can’t wait to read it? Trident’s Forge is available now in all formats from your favorite online bookseller. Just click the link below and you can have it to read asap!
I’d love to get your comments on Trident’s Forge, Patrick S. Tomlinson and/or his other work, and/or this review!
Click here to read our review of Book #1 in the Children of a Dead Earth series, The Ark.