Ten Low – Stark Holborn

“I hunch closer to the sputtering fire.”

Ten Low was an army medic for the side that lost an intergalactic war. Now she’s scratching out an existence in the desert wastes of Factus, a moon on the edge of the settled universe, plagued by ‘Ifs’ and guilt for her past actions. Trying to make amends leads her to rescue a teenage girl from a crashed ship – but all is not what it seems. Genetically enhanced to be a perfect soldier, General Gabriella Ortiz was on the other side in the war. Now she needs Low’s help to survive – and Low needs a great deal more if she’s ever going to atone.

As they journey across the barren landscape, perils pile one on top of another. Everyone is out for what they can get, it seems, including the mysterious and deadly Seekers – a roaming band that like to attack travellers… and harvest organs!

And on top of all of that, there is something mighty strange in the deserts of Factus. In the pioneer-like settlements, no one dares play games of chance. The ‘Ifs’ might get you, if you do. Are they real? Are they dangerous?

I was beyond pleasantly surprised by this book – it’s rare that anything lives up to a blurb that includes “Firefly meets Dune” but by golly this gave it a good go! It’s got that western vibe, the bleak scrabble of existence that Firefly had, along with a sense of camaraderie from the veterans. It’s got a real darkness at its core, too, and yet it’s not a depressing book at all – there’s a hopefulness, mainly from Low’s quest to ‘make amends’, but also from every character we meet who isn’t utterly awful.

I absolutely loved the world building, and it was so easy to visualise the setting and the desperate struggles for life, as well as placing Factus in a much wider universe even if we don’t really see any of it. If I had any criticisms of the book it’s that perhaps I could visualise it in terms of a combination of a half-dozen movies and tv shows, but rather than being unoriginal, it’s a huge boost in forming that mental image more easily, and then placing the story within it.

And it’s quite the story! Although it seems relatively simple – escape the bad guys, etc – it provides a few twists, enough layers to stay really interesting, and then – without ever letting up on a breakneck pace – weaves the different elements into quite the final piece. I wasn’t at all sure how it was going to be brought to a conclusion, but I can at least say it didn’t disappoint!

Recommended for fans of Mad Max, perhaps a bit of Stephen King’s Dark Tower but sci-fi, and yes of course Firefly.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages
First published: 2021
Series: none
Read from 3rd-8th June 2021

My rating: 8/10

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