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Artifact Space cover

Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

(Gollancz, 2021)

Reviewed by Phil Nicholls

This is a hefty book, published as a 568-page trade paperback. Cameron has written a mighty story to match this hardback-sized tome.

Orphan Marca Nbaro achieves her dream of enlisting as a midshipper on the greatship Athens through the use of forged papers. Once aboard the vast Athens, she experiences all the joys and perils of being a junior officer in the Directorate of Human Corporations fleet. While learning her duties it becomes clear that someone is destroying the DHC greatships. Nbaro must fight to escape the legacy of her past and the current dangers to the Athens.

Nbaro is quickly revealed as smart and lucky, as she becomes entwined in the destiny of her ship. Cameron keeps the plot moving through colony worlds, space battles and plenty of politics. The story is thrilling and Nbaro is a wonderful companion on this amazing journey. Despite her regular “I’m an idiot” refrain, she is an engaging character with great personal resources. Think Wesley Crusher or Horatio Hornblower aboard a military vessel from Banks’ Culture.

I enjoyed this book immensely on so many levels. Artifact Space is filled with joyful wonder, starting with the baroque Athens herself. The interior of this vast warship is crafted in decorated bronze and wood, with murals and assorted nods to Greek mythology. Cameron describes the advanced technology of the greatship in detail, but always adding a layer of beauty worthy of a luxury liner rather than a military vessel. His technology is carefully considered, mixing practicality and wonder. For example, Athens’ rail guns double as launching tubes for small spaceships and Nbaro lines the walls of her bunk with custom display screens, yet also hand-stitches the privacy curtains.

Likewise, the crew of the Athens are brave, competent spacers with good hearts. Having been introduced to Nbaro’s harsh upbringing, I was fearful that she would face similar challenges aboard the Athens, especially when she was paired with an aristocratic bunkmate. Thankfully, this is not the story Cameron chose to write. Instead, the young midshipper is blessed with loyal friends and supportive allies.

There is conflict within the crew during the course of the story, but this is not a return to the malicious environment of Nbaro’s orphanage upbringing. Nbaro faces genuine challenges, but her fellow officers are predominantly supportive. Cameron made me care about Nbaro and never punished me for feeling so strongly for his resourceful protagonist.

During the course of the book, Athens visits several colony worlds before heading out to the borders of human space. We do not spend long on these worlds, but Cameron vividly brings each one to life. The rich setting is a vibrant mix of Earth cultures with a dash of alien mystery.

Starships jump through artifact space to reach other worlds, requiring gravity wells to draw them back into normal space. Cameron’s descriptions of how jump drives work reminded me of C. J. Cherryh, with the added bonus of the details of astrogation becoming important to the plot.

For all the beauty and wonder in the magnificent setting, the plot kept me turning the pages. I will not spoil anything, but Cameron builds the book to an exciting climax, yet leaves plenty of questions to be answered in the sequel. Nbaro’s initial concerns with her orphanage upbringing seem abandoned by the middle of the book, but I would not rule out its reappearance in the sequel.

Artifact Space is easily the most enjoyable book I have received to review. Not only am I excited for the promised sequel, but I also want to track down Cameron’s earlier books. The plot, characters and the wondrous setting were all first rate. Trade paperbacks are not the cheapest of books, but Artifact Space is absolutely worth the asking price, even if it will not sit easily on your bookshelves. Very highly recommended.

Review from BSFA Review 16 - Download your copy here.

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