#SciFiMonth Book Review: Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne
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: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of The Memory War
Publisher: Tor Books (September 8, 2020)
Length: 336 pages
The protagonist of Architects of Memory, Ashlan “Ash” Jackson, is a feisty and determined salvage pilot with a lot of secrets. For one thing, she’s carrying on a complicated relationship with her boss Captain Kate Keller that she would like to keep under wraps. For another, she’s secretly dying of a degenerative neural disease that could jeopardize her chances of buying her way out of corporate indenture if anyone ever found out, and then gone would be her only shot at finding a cure.
But then one day Captain Keller and her crew are tasked to clean up an old battlefield above a dead colony, and they come across a mysterious piece of tech that turns out to be a weapon of Vai origin. An alien race bent on committing genocide, the Vai other are brutal and aggressive, slaughtering everything they come across. That no one alive actually knows much about the Vai or have even seen them is perhaps a testament to the thoroughness of their destructive behavior. Their attacks always seem to happen out nowhere, descending upon human colonies to wipe them out, then leaving as quickly and suddenly as they had come.
For Ash, the discovery of the weapon is both traumatic and hopeful. Not only did a Vai ambush on her home world kill everyone she had ever loved and landed her in indenturehood in the first place, first contact with the aliens would throw a wrench in all her carefully laid plans. And yet, every member of their salvage crew now stands to become richer beyond their wildest dreams—if they can somehow manage to survive the coming onslaught.
For an adventurous space romp, Architects of Memory certainly delivers the goods, but will it be enough to stand out and satisfy the most avid of sci-fi fan? Hmm, maybe. Or maybe not. The story definitely has a great premise going for it, and speaking as someone who loves a good space opera, the addition of alien intrigue and conspiracy is always a welcome element. I also enjoyed the action and the world-building. While there’s nothing too new here with regards to how this future is run by mega-corporations, or how individual human beings are but assets to be bought and sold, I liked how Karen Osborne took familiar ideas and built upon them rather than seek to reinvent the wheel. When it comes to debut novels where excessive ambition can actually work against you, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing it safe.
That being said, there are some signs pointing to Architects of Memory being written by a newer author. The pacing is swift for the most part, but uneven and bloated in places, making it hard to keep my attention focused on the story at times. The world-building, while vivid and imaginative, also lacks detail when viewed from a wider perspective. The characters are perhaps the weakest aspect. Ash is well-written and fleshed out, so thankfully that was enough to keep me reading, but sadly everyone else was completely forgettable because they never quite manage to become fully realized as more than human props. It truly felt like as if only purpose of the supporting cast was to create endless drama, which I found difficult to care about when I could hardly even be bothered about the people involved.
The good news though, is that the overall plot is powerful and engrossing, and that might be enough to fuel the interest of even the most demanding sci-fi fans. I only wish the world-building and character development had been stronger, though I have to say the second-half ramp up to the ending and the climax itself was probably worth the price of admission alone. Until then, I was still on the fence on whether or not I would want to continue the series, but the questions and fascination left by the conclusion made me feel hopeful to discover more about the setting and people of The Memory War universe. Ash’s story wrapped up quite nicely here, which makes sense since the next book appears to be about Natalie Chan. Nat was one of the side characters in Architects of Memory whom I would have liked to know better, and the sequel sounds like it’ll be the perfect opportunity to see her in action.