Nova War by Gary Gibson (Shoal Sequence: Book 2)

Gary Gibson’s second book in the Shoal Sequence, Nova War, follows on directly from the events of the first, Stealing Light. At the end of Stealing Light main characters Dakota Merrick and Lucas Corso escaped the destruction of the Nova Arctis system, battered and bruised aboard a derelict Magi spaceship of such immense power and importance that it has the potential to start a galaxy ending Nova War.

Fans of the first book will not be disappointed, Nova War continues Gibson’s page turning, dramatic style of Space Opera. His writing is confident and easy flowing and whilst this is still undoubtedly hard sci-fi, it doesn’t get bogged down in page after page of scientific theory and description.

The story once again focuses around Dakota Merrick, a human with implants in her brain that allows her to engage with any machine she wishes. Dakota has discovered that Humanities knowledge of the rest of the galaxy (fed to them by the faster then light travel controlling species the Shoal) is highly inaccurate. The Shoal are not the only species capable of FTL travel, they have in fact been at war with a rival species, The Emissaries, a war in which they are slowly being defeated.

Dakota survives the destruction of a whole solar system only to become prisoner of the Bandati, a flying, insect-like species who have discovered Dakota’s dark past and want to use her to unlock a millennia old secret that could change the balance of the long war between the Shoal and The Emissaries. Dakota must try to stay alive while rival Bandati factions fight for her knowledge. Along the way she must deal with familiar friends and foes, including the wonderfully named and equally devious, Trader in Faecal Matter of Animals and the not quite human Hugh Moss.

The book contains some wonderfully descriptive passages and action packed set pieces, one in particular, where Bandati security forces face off against human criminals in the belly of a giant worm is superb. The stories conclusion is equally gripping, set upon a crumbling space station while rival factions battle for another lost Magi ship is breathtaking at points.

The Bandati are an excellent and imaginative creation, all clicking mandibles and gossamer-light wings. The descriptions of the Bandati home world are particularly effective, Gibson really makes his alien species and worlds come alive on the page, they feel whole and well defined in a way I have rarely read since China Mieville’s Bas-Lag series. The religiously fanatical Emissaries are equally impressive as terrifying, elephant like bad guys.

Dakota herself is given time and room within the story to grow as a character, as her abilities change, so does her characters strength. She is an unusual and morally questionable heroine and one that you want to stick with through the books 400 pages. Able support is offered by the conflicted Lucas Corso; their relationship was strained to say the least in Stealing Light but is pushed to new levels in the sequel. He spends most of the novel just trying to stay alive which while adding to the tension, does start to grate by the end. You do start to wonder why the Bandati are keeping him alive when he has clearly past his usefulness about halfway through. However, the best supporting character has got to be Hugh Moss, his back story takes up a sizeable part of the novel and helps to explain his drive to destroy the Shoal and stop Dakota Merrick.

While I found Nova War an entertaining and at times gripping sci-fi page turner, at times it was a bit adolescent and its themes will feel familiar to hardened fans of Space Opera. What it means to be Human and the dangers of technology are issues that have been addressed many times before, but I feel that Gibson’s is a name to watch, there is nothing wrong with providing entertaining escapism and I await the third in the series with some interest.

7/10 An entertaining and at times gripping sci-fi page turner.

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