REVIEW SUMMARY: A fun “small scale” space opera.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Ex-military intelligence officer Alexander Delgado must retrieve the alien Seriatt known as Lycern for military dictator General William Myson in order to maintain peace between the planets.
PROS: Easily-accessible writing style; story held my interest throughout; lots of plot twists and drama.
CONS: Weaker plot points in the first half of the book
BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining first novel regardless of its flaws.
In his first novel, The Affinity Trap, Martin Sketchley creates what I like to call a “small scale” space opera. Although the story line and characters may span light years, there are a small number of threads that tell the story. (As opposed to, say, the dozen of so threads in Peter F. Hamilton’s Nights Dawn trilogy.) In this case there is one single narrative giving the protagonist’s perspective. Even so, the other elements of “larger scale” space opera are there: plot twists, backstabbing, swashbuckling adventure and dramatic tension.
It’s the 24th century and most of humanity has fled from social decay by moving into giant habitat towers. Within the towers, order is enforced by the government known as Structure, headed by the underhandedly ruthless military leader General William Myson, whose rise to power is thanks to the bankroll he secured through secret arms deals with alien races. One alien race, the Seriatt, sees Myson’s dealings as a threat. In order to ensure political peace and keep his money engine running smoothly, Myson agrees to father the child of Vourniass Lycern, assigned child bearer of the royal Seriatt household.
When a pregnant Lycern flees to the planet of the religious cult The Affinity Group, Myson, his political plans threatened, sends aging ex-military intelligence officer Alexander Delgado to get her back. Delgado has lost favor with the military after rejecting Myson’s new regime but he now hopes to regain his former glory. What Delgado does not expect is that Lycern will change his life forever.
Suspension of disbelief is a funny thing; it’s like a tower of blocks, really. A story with totally believable elements is no risk at all to the integrity of that tower. On the other hand, a story that introduces unbelievable elements is at risk of making the tower crumble. But it’s not necessarily an automatic story killer. Yes, reading major unbelievable elements is like toppling the tower by pulling precious blocks from the bottom of the tower. But minor unbelievable elements are more easily digested – they remove less-critical blocks from the top of the tower.
And so it was with The Affinity Trap. There were several story elements, some larger than others, that caused my suspension of disbelief to waver. For example, when Delagado crash lands on Veshc, home planet of the Affinity Group, he is immediately able to locate Lycern who happens to be on a nearby hunting excursion. How convenient. More serious threats to suspension of disbelief are the motives and intentions of Delagado and Lycern which, in the first half of the book, are all over the map. Delagado’s opinion of Structure seems to toggle back and forth between unwilling servant out to reclaim his former glory and kick-ass rebel. It makes him a somewhat confused, though still effective, protagonist. During these parts, the narrative, which included an inexplicable detour to an entertainment facility, seemed to lack as much direction as Delagado himself. Lycern, too, had questionable motives. In one scene, she is desperately trying to escape Delagado because she does not want to return to Myson. In the next (one of several sex scenes) she’s fawning all over Delgado, infecting him with her addictive pheromones that bio-chemically binds him to her.
And yet with all of these potential story killers I was still able to enjoy this story. The author’s clear, descriptive and easy-to-read writing strengthened the book as a whole.
One cool sequence was when Delagdo hooked up with the band of hopeless rebels who live outside of the protection of the domes in the ruins of the once-great cities. The portrayal of the post-apocalyptic-like world was excellent and it was cool when Myson’s Purifier brigades came to clean the streets. Another neat sequence was when Delgado, now on the run, infiltrates military intelligence headquarters. Lots of neat technology and sf ideas are here to hold a reader’s interest: implanted nanotech called nobics give Delgado heightened senses and abilities; cyborgs guard Myson’s headquarters; the Seriatt are a tri-gendered race with unique social roles; the various military weapons are accompanied by descriptive and effective scenes of destruction and death.
In true space opera style, the plot contained enough plot twists and dramatically tense scenes to keep me wondering what would happen next. In fact, there is a lot more going on in this book that I can’t say for fear of spoiling it. In the second half of the book, these revelations did give the characters the motivation that they lacked in the first half. Thus, plot-wise, the book got stronger as it progressed. Oftentimes the author tried to dramatize the situation with such paragraph-ending summaries stating how the future would be decided in the next few hours… or…there was no turning back now…etc. He needn’t have bothered; the story and the confident writing style stands on its own dramatic strength. Instead, more effort might have been placed on a more accurate title since the Affinity Group itself plays only a cursory role in the story.
In the end, even with a somewhat long list of plot-related negatives, I found myself drawn to the compelling narrative. I was eagerly waiting to see exactly what happened next. Although this book may suffer a little from first-novel syndrome, it’s worth a serious look. Sketchley is clearly a competent and skillful writer. I look forward to the next book in the Structure series, The Destiny Mask. For now, The Affinity Trap is here to keep you entertained.