Review: Flotsam by R J Theodore

“Captain Talis just wants to keep her airship crew from starving, and maybe scrape up enough cash for some badly needed repairs. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to root through a pile of atmospheric wreckage, it seems like an easy payday. The job yields an ancient ring, a forbidden secret, and a host of deadly enemies.

Now on the run from cultists with powerful allies, Talis needs to unload the ring as quickly as possible. Her desperate search for a buyer and the fallout from her discovery leads to a planetary battle between a secret society, alien forces, and even the gods themselves.

Talis and her crew have just one desperate chance to make things right before their potential big score destroys them all.”

Thanks given to Netgalley and Parvus Press for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Parvus Press have been on my periphery for a while – a fairly new US publisher of speculative fiction who champion ‘great stories.’ My kind of publisher. I follow them on Twitter and that’s how I came to learn of Flotsam (Peridot Shift, Book One) by R J Theodore… the book is due out early next year, and I was immediately drawn in by the colourful, evocative cover. The blurb cemented my interest (come on, a steampunk first contact novel with airships, aliens and world-altering stakes – what’s not to love?) and the author offered up the first chapter to her mailing list subscribers so I snapped that up.

When the book came up on NetGalley, I couldn’t request it fast enough.

Perhaps the standout strength of this book is the worldbuilding. Peridot is a fascinating, fractured world that was refashioned after a cataclysmic event in the distant past. In this unfamiliar world of floating islands, airships are the main source of travel for its five distinct races. And Peridot truly comes to life on the page; it’s remarkable that Theodore manages to establish the world and its cultures and races so well straight off the bat. And as if that isn’t enough, she introduces an alien race and culture into the mix, juggling them all with aplomb. There are times where the prose strays into being overly descriptive, particularly when introducing one of Peridot’s races for the first time for example, but the sheer unfamiliarity of it all does require some exposition and clear imagery, so this is a very minor criticism.

The plot is slightly more familiar: a heist gone wrong. There’s a prize, intrigue, competing factions, double-crossing and a race against time. It all works well, and the stakes ramp up at every turn until the fate of Peridot hangs in the balance – it’s only in comparison to the unique worldbuilding that the plot seems slightly predictable. It will be interesting to see where the sequel goes, when the stakes for this novel have already climbed so high… but I’m definitely looking forward to finding out.

And then there are the characters. Talis makes for a compelling protagonist, with an intriguing past leading to her being the captain of her own airship in the present, flitting from contract to contract trying to keep her crew fed and her ship airborne. On paper, she sounds a tad clichéd, but it was compelling to read about her struggles as a captain, shouldering responsibility and guilt and facing tough choice after tough choice. In fact, Theodore does such a good job presenting Talis’s flaws and shortcomings that it does become somewhat hard to believe that she inspires such devotion from two secondary characters in particular. But this didn’t overly affect my enjoyment of the novel, and the cast of secondary characters all felt well-drawn.

Overall, I give Flotsam four stars: a powerfully imagined world which sucks you in, and a cast of characters that make the journey enjoyable. I couldn’t give it the full five stars because the plot and some characterisation didn’t quite reach the level of excellent worldbuilding, and that in turn created a subtle sense of unfulfilled potential, but I do think a sequel could easily strike the right balance there.

I really liked it.

You can learn more about R J Theodore here, and Flotsam is available to pre-order in paperback from Amazon.co.uk here.

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