Book Review: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of The Salvagers
Publisher: Orbit (June 26, 2018)
Length: 480 pages
A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe showed so much potential from its premise. You have an egotistical speed racer who loses her fame, fortune and friends after she is framed for a murder she did not commit. You have an ex-military pilot turned celebrity treasure hunter, except her biggest score didn’t pan out the way she’d hoped. All of this is set to the backdrop of space with a magical twist, because in this world, sorcery is as much a part of daily life as technology.
Which means, if you’re one of the few extremely rare people born without magic, things can really suck. Lizzie “Boots” Elsworth has long accepted that as her lot in life. She’s a veteran of a war that saw her home world destroyed, and now she makes her living selling fake treasure maps to gullible or desperate adventurers hoping to strike it rich with one lucky salvage. It’s mostly harmless, though Boots did make the mistake of selling one of her counterfeit maps to her former captain from the military, and now he and his crew are coming after her for some payback. While attempting to evade them, Boots runs into Nilah, a young woman who is in a terrible bind of her own. A pro racecar driver, she has just fled from the biggest event of the racing world after it was interrupted by the use of illegal magic. One of her rivals was murdered during the course of the spell, and the perpetrators have pinned his death on Nilah, forcing her to go on the run.
Both Boots and Nilah’s escapes are cut short, however, when Cordell, Boots’ old captain, intercepts the two women and holds them captive aboard his ship. And now, whoever is after Nilah is after him and his crew too. Realizing he’s been caught up in a greater conspiracy, Cordell has no choice but to keep running with his new prisoners in tow, learning more about their mysterious pursuers from Nilah and Boots’ accounts. Turns out, there actually might be real treasure out there, and somehow, it’s all connected to the maelstrom of chaos happening all around them.
Sometimes, no matter how much you want to like a book, you just can’t justify giving it more than an average rating. Still, average meant it was okay—it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad—and that’s pretty much how I felt about everything in this one, from its story to the characters and even the somewhat different-from-the-norm world-building. The reality is, there have been a number of these ensemble-crew-adventure-space-opera-type novels released in recent years, most of them attempting to capture the action and atmosphere of popular sci-fi franchises like Firefly or Star Wars. And quite honestly? I’ll keep reading them as long as they keep coming. I do love this genre, though admittedly, things can start to blur together the more of it I read, and at some point, my tastes must have become more demanding.
So technically, there really isn’t anything wrong with this novel. Still, while the people, places, and plot were all pleasant and entertaining enough to read about, they never truly cross the threshold into becoming interesting or memorable either. The characters have great backstories, but their personalities are archetypal, and they think and act in very predictable ways. Story-wise, we had our high points, though the plot on the whole is still your typical generic space adventure fare. The world-building, which should have been the novel’s crowning glory, also fell short, and I think it failed to shine for several reasons. First, any time you have both magic and technology in a sci-fi setting, things can get messy. To the author’s credit, he did manage to keep this mashup somewhat clean and easy to understand, though in doing so, I think he also played things a little too safe. We have some cool ideas here, like auto-racing with magic, but we only ever get to catch a brief glimpse or scratch at the surface. There’s a vibe of “just go with it” to many of the concepts, and most of the systems here, both magical and technological, are only lightly touched upon. The wider implications of a society having both at its disposal are also not considered or explored in depth.
In any case, A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe wasn’t a standout for me, though granted, I can be quite picky when it comes to this genre. Still, if you enjoy fun sci-fi adventure stories about treasure hunters and heists in space and are looking for a light fluffy read won’t require too much time or deep thought, this one might just do the trick.