Sentients of Orion, book 1
Reviewed by Tehani Wessely (this review was originally published in 2007)
Reading a Marianne de Pierres novel is almost like immersing yourself in a brilliantly detailed film – you find yourself engrossed in not only the plot and characterisation, but in the highly visual nature of the story. It is very easy to believe in the far distant (temporally and spatially) locale delineated in Dark Space because de Pierres embeds the physical surroundings so integrally to the plot that you find the world she has created is drawn implicitly for you, without being intrusive to the movement of the story.
In Dark Space, de Pierres has created a universe in a far distant future, where humans (or ‘esques) have migrated into the solar systems to planets that may be bought and sold by single families. In this case, most of the story is set on Araldis, a world owned by an aristocracy from a vaguely Italian background which purchased a world for its mining bounty. It otherwise has little to recommend it. Other than the upper class aristocracy, there are also the nobile – brought as servants but having some status – ordinary miners, and a variety of aliens inhabiting Araldis. The highest of the aristocracy, the Principe, is drawn as corrupt and uncaring of the lower classes, raising a self-centred, egocentric son with all his flaws, and no opportunity to experience life in order to grow or change. Trinder Pellegrini demonstrates some of the very worst of aristocratic dismissal of anyone of a lower class than he, even going along with his father’s plan to strip Mira Fedor – one of only a very few of her family in 200 years born with the genetic talent to fly the biozoon ship Insignia, and the only female – of her birthright. When Mira discovers this, she flees, and so becomes embroiled in the plots against the Pellegrini Principe and the aristocracy in general, quite by accident. Don’t be fooled though. This story is not the story of Mira Fedor and her fight to keep her birthright. That thread, while important to this book, and possibly more so in later instalments of the series, is not central to the story. Rather, the novel is about class, race, gender and cultural divides, woven deftly into an action packed plot on a distant world.
The novel follows two distinct storylines: the intrigues, terrorism and destruction that occur on Araldis in the weeks following Mira’s flight, told mainly from Mira’s and Trinder’s persectives, and another, seemingly separate, plot regarding Godhead Tekton of archi-Tects. Tekton is one of a chosen few from a widely varied background sent to “apprentice” to the all-knowing entity known as Sole. While the Sole entity is only briefly considered during the novel, it seems it is somehow pulling all the strings of the story, which made for an interesting journey following the distinct plotlines.
None of the main characters, Mira, Trinder or Tekton, are especially likeable in many ways. Mira shows as many of her class’s prejudices as Trinder at times, but she is portrayed far more sympathetically early on and is given much scope to grow. The Trinder character too demonstrates some personal growth, although it is generally for far more selfish reasons. Tekton is drawn as arrogant, self centred, ambitious and rude, and is difficult to be fond of, but the character is true to the part played. That the central characters are so clearly flawed is fascinating in itself, and adds to the reader’s immersion in the story.
In Dark Space, Marianne de Pierres has drawn a vast cast of characters, but the skill with which she has done so, providing them with depth and breadth without verbosity, and the fascinating relationships she has created between them, mean the reader can be drawn deeply into the world, surfacing only now and then to take a deep breath, then dive right back in. I can’t wait for the next instalment!