Reviewed by L.A. Ashton
Genre: Sci-Fi / Space Opera
Pairings: F/F (setup for future novels)
Queer Rep: NBs! Queers!
Warnings: Graphic depictions of violence.
Neek is the pilot of a run-down transport ship, where she and her eclectic crew work to make ends meet. Exiled from her home world for not transcribing to the belief of the traveling planet Ardulum and its godly inhabitants, she seeks a way to earn favor to see her family again.
It seems like a normal day when the crew stumbles across a battle between a strange alien race and the sheriffs of the Charted Systems. Growing stranger by the moment, Neek and her crew are rewarded for their (accidental) aid with the gift of a slave girl. A slave girl who bears a striking resemblance to the Ardulan gods of lore, and whose ability to manipulate cellulose could make her a force of righteousness, or a paragon of destruction.
This is another “holy shit” book. And by “holy shit” book, I mean “holy God guys, read this immediately.”
Ardulum is beautifully paced, charming as hell, and delivers mounting excitement throughout.
The first scene is strange, delivering the narrative in a way that’s a bit unconventional, but easy to follow. I balked when I first began, but as I read on I became deeply entrenched in the moment. The reader’s next scene is with Neek, and she immediately makes you feel at home. The Firefly vibes are strong with this one, and the quippy charm and attitude was a sight for sore eyes.
Things unfold naturally; action and space battles flash through your mind’s eye, and personal struggles keep you grounded alongside the crew. I was always clamoring for more— more details, more info, more. This could be why I finished the book in less than two days.
The universe surrounding Neek is highly alien. Despite that, the world and intricacies are always palatable. My eyes never glazed over from info dumps or confusion. Instead, their lives and worlds bloomed to full color on the page in front of me. They felt like places that worked and moved even when I wasn’t watching them, realistic both in their structure and presentation.
Gosh darn it, I fell in love with the whole crew. I loved them and their interpersonal dynamics, which made every conversation a joy to read.
J. S. Fields does something wonderful in their writing, and it is something that calls to me specifically: Everything is gray. You think this character is chaotic evil? You think they’re the indisputable “bad guys”? Guess again.
The readers are given multiple povs that span the universe and its races, and every single glimpse left me more conflicted than the last. The characters I wanted to hate weren’t inherently awful! The guys you build up in your mind as good and untouchable might have dark ulterior motives! There is nothing more wonderful than this. It is human, and in this case it is also alien. Right and wrong shift depending on where you stand, and societal constructs color one’s upbringing. There is definitely commentary here— not heavy handed or brash, but nuanced. The reader has to reexamine their initial views and adjust as the book plows forward, and something as simple as this made the narrative all the more exhilarating. You are on a journey with the characters, sometimes with a touch of dramatic irony, and sometimes just as ignorant.
Ardulum was so good that I actually had to ban myself from downloading the second one, because I knew I’d read it the moment it hit my Kindle. I have things to do. It will be my reward. J. S. writes beautifully and stoically, if that makes sense to anyone but me. They deliver scientific information without forcing a laymen like me to scratch my head. The only parts I struggled with were during some battles, in which the manipulation of cellulose was being illustrated. It’s probably from a lack of understanding of the compound, but I didn’t feel I could envision it properly. Luckily this doesn’t detract much— the action is narrated internally as well as externally, so the effect of that manipulation is made obvious (and cool. It was super cool).
Please buy the book. Honestly, just... Here’s the link. Give it the ol’ click.
J. S. Fields’ official site can be found here, and their twitter is here.
Note: I am an Amazon Associate and I am using affiliate links. These do not affect you or my reviews.
From Ninestar Press:
Ardulum (print) | Ardulum (ebook)