A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White (Salvagers #1)

7/10 An exciting science-fantasy adventure with charismatic female leads and plenty of magical space battles. A solid summer read.

What do you get when you combine futuristic car racing, intergalactic treasure hunting, evil government conspiracies, renegade space pirates, and universe-spanning glyph magic? You get Alex White’s incredibly fun and engaging A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, the first book of the “Salvagers” series. This is a solid pick for a summer beach read, an action-heavy adventure with a nearly all-female cast of kickass protagonists that feels ready-made for a blockbuster film treatment. Although there were a few plot holes that required some mental gymnastics to bypass, this book was a pleasure to read and provided an excellent escape into a fresh and inventive universe.

My favorite aspect of this story is the characters. The book switches off chapters between two main points-of-view, though a couple of key supporting characters get nearly just as much narrative focus throughout the story. Nilah Brio is a young and brash race car driver, determined to break all circuit records utilizing her massive talent in the field. She is a bit of a spoiled brat, living a sheltered life in the rich upper crust of the galaxy, but she is easily likeable due to her extreme dedication to her craft and her well-honed physical and mental prowess. Like everyone else in the galaxy, she has a specialized magical talent. As a mechanist, she can “talk” to machines, which comes in handy while racing hyper-speed vehicles running on magical eidolon crystals for a living. But during her latest race, tragedy befalls a fellow racer, and Nilah is framed by an extremely powerful, time-stopping assassin named Mother. Suddenly Nilah’s fame and fortune become inconsequential as she’s hunted by malevolent forces on all sides. She has to clear her name but her situation worsens each day.

Elizabeth “Boots” Elsworth is a veteran pilot who has fallen from grace, two decades past a Famine War that saw the destruction of her home planet. She earned a flash of fame hosting a successful television show that focused on her finding lost treasure across the universe, but now makes a living selling fake maps to salvagers while barely keeping herself solvent. Boots is quite literally one-in-a-million; while everyone else in the galaxy has their own special glyph magic, Boots was born without the ability to cast. As if things couldn’t get any worse for her, she discovers that her old nemesis has tracked her down, and someone wants her dead.

It isn’t long before Boots and Nilah’s paths converge, and the plot’s many twists and turns links them up with a renegade space crew and launches them through a series of conspiratorial mysteries and lively set pieces. There is one memorable escape scene that spans three chapters (!) and spotlights White’s ability to write his way through chaotic atmospheres with style. Since the story takes place over 850 years into the future, White takes full advantage of the space fantasy setting with a heavy dose of technical wonders and magic-infused battle scenes. He a confident writer, deftly weaving through his conjured language of tech-speak like he’s giving a TED talk: comfortable and informative. I found it to be a nice balance of science fiction with fantastical elements that doesn’t lean too heavily into hard science, though certain realistic elements of energy and space travel do come into play.

White is skilled at creating protagonists that are easy to root for (especially Orna, a scarred mechanist warrior with an AI battle suit that follows her like a dog) and some truly vile enemies that are responsible for some unspeakable horrors. I enjoyed how each cast member is given their time to shine, and our few main characters progress along their story arcs in meaningful ways. It cannot be said that all characters have purposeful journeys; the antagonists felt rather one-note, but perhaps that will be fixed in future volumes. Overall, I recommend this book to those who might be looking for a fun popcorn science-fantasy adventure that feels like a female-led Mission Impossible movie in space, with lots of fun action, warm romance, and some cool magic and tech concepts that keep the pages flying by. The sequel is out this December and I’m looking forward to spending some more time with Boots, Nilah and the gang.

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Alex White's Salvagers series

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