by Tade Thompson
Publication Date: October 26, 2021
Genres: Science Fiction
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
The colony ship Ragtime docks in the Lagos system, having traveled light-years from home to bring thousands of sleeping souls to safety among the stars.
Some of the sleepers, however, will never wake - and a profound and sinister mystery unfolds aboard the gigantic vessel as its skeleton crew make decisions that will have repercussions for the entire system - from the scheming politicians of Lagos station to the colony of Nightshade and the poisoned planet of Bloodroot, poised for a civil war.
This book is everything I want in a space mystery. I love locked room mysteries, and this book utterly blew me away with its version on a spaceship. It’s utterly thought-provoking and extremely hard to put down!
“Let me get this straight. You have never investigated a killing on board a large spacecraft?”
“Any spacecraft, really. But don’t worry. The principle is the same, except all your culprits are locked in here. With murder, some things never change: means, motive, opportunity.”
Shell has trained for years to go into space and now finally has her chance as the captain of the Ragtime, a passenger transport bound for the colony of Bloodroot. It’s a bit of a joke, though, that all that training is mostly superfluous as all the real work is done by the ship’s AI while she and the passengers are in an induced sleep. But when she’s woken on the other side, it’s to disaster. Ragtime isn’t responding and dozens of passengers are dead. Desperate to save the rest, she contacts Bloodroot for help, and they send her Fin and his Artifical partner Salvo. Fin’s currently in disgrace due to a repatriation job gone wrong, but surely even he can figure out what murdered her passengers. But more importantly, they need to figure out how to survive, because the actions they take on this one spaceship may soon affect the future of the entire galaxy.
“Why am I insane?”
“Because you are still trying to solve a murder when you should be trying to survive. Tick-tock, Rasheed. Life support is running out.”
The book is mainly told from the captain and the investigator’s point of view, though there are several other POV characters. I loved Shell from the first page. As someone who’s known from the start that she’s basically an overtrained babysitter, she rises to the occasion of having all of that knowledge suddenly be very, very necessary for her (and the ship’s) continued survival. She’s lacking in a few of the soft skills – she comes off as an insufferable know-it-all occasionally – but her focus is always on her duty to her (remaining) passengers. Fin, on the other hand… well, Finn hates space, and he knows the reason he was sent on this mission – which has nothing to do with repatriation – was because he’s already someone his bosses feel willing to wipe their hands of if he screws it up. What exactly repatriation is is something that it takes a good chunk of the book to explain, but, like the rest of the breadcrumbs throughout the book, it’s totally worth it. There’s a few other characters, including retired astronaut Lawrence, a quasi-uncle of Shell’s and now the in-title-only governor of Lagos station, and his daughter Joké, who come rushing to Shell’s aid when he hears that something’s gone wrong. Beko, the actual administrator of the station, originally struck me as nothing more than another politician, but by the end of the book, I was firmly a fan.
“The pressure of living is the pressure of the reader of a story who wants something to go awry, otherwise what’s the point?”
And that’s one of the things I loved about this book. Hints of the plot are scattered like breadcrumbs, and your initial interpretation of events (or characters) is likely to be shaken as the book progresses. It’s hard, though, to talk too much about the plot without going into spoilers. The pacing is terrific, with one discovery or twist after another keeping the plot moving, and the book was extremely hard for me to put down. The mystery portion itself is top notch, but it’s also exploring themes of inequality and colonialism; both Lagos and Bloodroot are based on Afro-futurist principles, with Bloodroot especially adhering to living with their new planet, in direct opposition to the climate-wrecked Earth. The only thing that stopped me from giving it 5 stars was some “men-writing-women” stumbles that took me out of the story.
Overall, easily a 4.5 star book, and one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. I’ve already added the author’s previous trilogy to near-the-top of my TBR and cannot wait to see what he writes next!