Telepath Den Harper did the dirty work for the authoritarian Expansion, reading the minds of criminals, spies and undesirables. Unable to take the strain, he stole a starship and headed into the unknown, a sector of lawless space known as Satan’s Reach. For five years he worked as a trader among the stars – then discovered that the Expansion had set a bounty hunter on his trail.
But what does the Expansion want with a lowly telepath like Harper? Is there validity in the rumours that human space is being invaded by aliens from another realm? Harper finds out the answer to both these questions when he rescues an orphan girl from certain death – and comes face to face with the dreaded aliens known as the Weird.
Satan’s Reach is the second volume in the Weird Space series, a fast-paced action-adventure that pits humanity against the unimaginable Terror from Beyond.
Satan’s Reach is the second book set in the shared world of the Weird Space, a property developed by Eric Brown for Abaddon Books. Being rather unfamiliar with shared worlds, especially in book form, I was curious to see what it would be like to move away from that first story told in The Devil’s Nebula and start all over with new characters in a new place. Would we see more of the protagonists in the first book? Would what happened there impact the story much? The answers to both questions would be yes and no. We do see Carew and crew and the events from The Devil’s Nebula certainly impact Den Harper’s story in Satan’s Reach, but we don’t meet up with Carew until almost at the end of the book and the influence on Harper’s story is indirect at best. But knowing the events from the first book makes for a richer reading experience, plus it is fun to spot things we know the background for.
As a story, Satan’s Reach stands alone quite well and can certainly serve as an entry point into the universe. The story stars Den Harper, a telepath on the run from the Expansion, who’s made his living as a trader in the section of space called Satan’s Reach. He’s an interesting fellow and I liked the way telepathy works in this universe: it’s a skill that has to be activated in those that have it the capacity for it through an operation and it needs an external device, a ferronnière, to allow the telepaths to actually be able to read people. What I liked about this limitation is that it makes reading someone’s mind becomes a conscious decision, not something that can happen by accident. A fact Brown uses to great effect in his development of Harper’s character and of the relationship between him and Zeela Antarivo, the orphan girl he rescues from a set of nasty frog-like aliens. Brown manages to give us a pretty thoroughly rounded character in Harper, with his history filled in and his desires made plain, he’s far more complex than the 281 pages of the book would seem to allow for. Then again, this shouldn’t be surprising as its often Brown’s characters that draw me most to his work.
While I liked Zeela as a character, I found her falling in love with Harper as quickly as she does one of the weak points of the novel. Even if she’s following the classic “fall in love with your saviour”-trope and going through the horror Brown puts them through together would naturally create a bond, I still thought it was too easy on her part. It’s only Harper’s atrocious past when it comes to love that puts the brakes on anything happening between them for a while. She made up for this in spades with her spunk and resilience though. I loved that even when she frightened out of her mind, she doesn’t freeze, but takes action, sometimes unexpectedly effective action at that.
Harper and Zeela face two separate sets of antagonists, one set is comprised of the Ajantans, the aliens set on retrieving Zeela, and the other of a couple of bounty hunters sent to bring Harper back to the Expansion. I especially liked this last set of characters: a human bounty hunter, Sharl Janaker, and the Vetch companion imposed on her by her Expansion employers, called Helsh Kreller. Janaker is an interesting window through which to show the reader more about the Vetch – the alien race that has been in conflict with the human Expansion for eons – as she carries all the prejudices about them over into her observations of Kreller. What is refreshing is that she is at times surprised by his reactions and his conduct in a positive way and that while she never comes to like him, she does respect him.
Once all parties come together after a race through space, there are some major revelations and twists that I hadn’t expected or seen coming and they create an elegant hook for more stories set in this universe. It’ll be interesting to see whether the next Weird Space book will again be written by Brown or if another writer will tell us his tale set in Weird Space. Either way, I quite enjoyed Satan’s Reach and I’m keen to see where the story will go and to learn more about the Weird and the battle against them.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.