Jo Anderton

Veiled Worlds, book 1

Angry Robot (2011) 

ISBN: 978-0-85766-154-8

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Debris is the debut novel from Australian writer Jo Anderton, and it is remarkably good. Although it is not without flaws, it may be that most of those are due to it being the first in a trilogy; they may be resolved when we have the rest of the series in front of us. In the meantime, this is an exciting, engrossing novel.

Debris is set in a far future world, one in which people called pionners manipulate the particles that hold all matter together to create; pions are used to build, to decorate, to run almost all forms of technology. Although only a very talented few can manipulate pions with great skill, most people can see them and use them to some degree.  The very few people unable to see pions at all are outcasts; viewed as not only disabled but somehow distasteful. They are relegated to a life one step above the gutter, collecting the dangerous waste products created by manipulating pions. For some reason those who can see pions can’t see the waste; and those who can’t see pions can see the waste.

As the novel opens, Tanyana has little concern for those people. She’s one of the highest ranking pionners in Morvac, leading a team in creating a complex and ambitious piece of art. She’s respected, rich, deferred to, and pampered. And then an accident destroys her life.  Not only is she horribly injured and scarred; she loses the ability to see pions at all. Tanyana is stunned; within days she is an outcast too, without the money to maintain her lifestyle, without her friends, without any recourse.  And the lack of recourse soon matters to her, as Tanyana is convinced it wasn’t an accident at all. Someone sabotaged her.

Despite her deep distress, Tanyana has little time to focus on this mystery. Adapting to and surviving her new life takes everything she’s got. It doesn’t help that she has fallen at the same time that something dreadful is happening in Morvac – the waste seems not only out of control, but sentient, and determined to destroy Morvac.  If Tanyana and her new team don’t learn to work together quickly, they’ll die – and so may much of Morvac.

One of the interesting things about Debris was the creation of a world with genuine originality. This is quite hard to do in fantasy, and many authors with a talent for original characters and plots will fall back on familiar tropes when it comes to setting. While there is a touch of familiarity to the world – it could be a far distant descendant of our own society – the underpinnings are original and interesting. Anderton focuses on Morvac and apart from a couple of passing references, there is little about the wider society in which the city is located. But within Morvac Anderton has created a fascinating, original, and believable world.

I describe this as a fantasy, as to me the pionning aspect of the novel reads like a kind of magic; but you could make an equally good case for calling it science fiction. Some of the explanations seem to draw on science for their basis, and it may well be that as the true nature of pionning is explored further, that it may come to feel more science fictional than fantasy.  In essence, this means that readers of both genres are likely to find this enjoyable.

The characters who inhabit Morvac are also credible. Although they have been shaped by their lives – and they’re not lives you or I could lead – the emotions and reactions that they display have a familiar humanity about them. Given their circumstances, the reader could see themselves behaving in much the same way. Even when they behave stupidly, you wince because you could see yourself being that stupid in that situation.

Tanyana is not the most likeable character. She’s prickly, and you get the sense she was probably a self important snob before disaster befell her. She doesn’t trust easily, nor does she offer friendship easily. But Anderton paints her dilemmas with agonizing perceptiveness, and readers will soon find themselves caught up in her struggles.

This is, as noted, the first in a trilogy. In consequence, there are not significant resolutions in this book. We are given intimations of the mystery which will presumably be further revealed in books two and three; a history which has been almost forgotten, a balance out of whack, a conspiracy – or two? – which is shadowing Tanyana’s life. These hints are intriguing enough to make me want to find out more, and I hope the mystery lives up to its early promise here.

I did feel that perhaps Tanyana was a little too blind to the motivations of some of those around her; but then again, she was to some extent in shock. She’s an intelligent woman with a reasonable amount of life experience, so if she doesn’t wise up a bit in later books I’ll feel that this aspect is laid on a bit too thick. At present I’m prepared to reserve judgement; this is part of the novel that may be hard to judge accurately without reading the entire trilogy.

On the whole, this was an outstanding novel. It was engrossing and original, and left me interested in reading the remaining novels in the trilogy. There was strong character establishment, and a tantalising mystery was dangled before the reader. Perhaps the greatest weakness is how little is resolved; it’s always nice to feel that one or two things have been resolved at the end of a novel, even if major plot threads are left hanging for the next. In this case, I felt very little was resolved. And still, I enjoyed it immensely. Highly recommended.