Book review: Shattermoon - Dominic Dulley

Shattermoon: The Long Game Book 1 - Dominic Dulley ***

There are promising aspects to Shattermoon, the first book in a SF series by new writer Dominic Dulley, but originality is not one of them. That's perhaps not as important in an opening book as establishing a strong team of characters and providing a thrilling adventure that brings them together, reveals aspects of their backgrounds and personalities and places them into a dangerous situation that gives some insight into the universe they are operating in and highlights potential for future conflicts. On those points Shattermoon certainly delivers.

Orry and her family of grifters have managed to pull an elaborate scam on the Count of Delf, an important family at the heart of the Ascendancy. In addition to her fee for some antique collector's books, Orry has managed to trick the count's grandson into giving her a green pendant, an ancient heirloom that has been in the Delf family for a long time. Orry is unaware of the value or the nature of the pendant, taking it on a whim, but it seems that others know more about it. When it is discovered that the pendant is missing, Orry, her father and her brother on the spaceship Bonaventure find themselves pursued not only by the authorities, but by a notorious and ruthless raider known as Morven Dyas.

Despite all the trappings of the genre there's a feeling that the essential character of Shattermoon is not so much a SF novel as a ripping Bond espionage adventure set in space. There are no real science-fiction themes explored here as such, the space setting used as little more than a colourful background for the situation that develops, the pendant no more than a maguffin that draws Orry and her crew into a larger developing military conflict. The fact that it is between different alien races is beside the point; the Kadiran could as easily be Russians seeking to obtain a secret document that could exploit the military weaknesses of their enemies.

At this stage all that involves is having Orry, Mender and Harry rush from one place or planet or moon to the next, either being chased or chasing someone else, getting into a repetitive cycle of gunfights and traps, bearing losses and injuries and moving on, the pendant passing from one agent to another. There is some science-fiction behind the nature of the green pendant and its importance to the forces at work in this universe, but none of this is particularly imaginative or original. There are elements of Iain Banks (who wasn't beyond resorting to the same kind of long chases from one planet to the next) or Alastair Reynolds, but without the deeper vision of either of those authors.

On the other hand as a first novel there is potential here, not least in the colourful characters that Dulley creates. True, some of them - Roag, Dyas and his AI memetic heavy Jericho - are no more than stereotypical Bond villains, but the make-up of Orry's crew - Mender and Harry both being contrasting personalities with very different backgrounds - leaves plenty of room for further development, and there is perhaps even room for some real science-fiction ideas to be developed. What is most pleasing about Shattermoon however it that it works as a standalone book, wrapping up the storyline and not leaving you stranded waiting for the next book, but intrigued enough to want to read more in The Long Game series. And if a long game is what we are looking at here, Shattermoon isn't a bad start.

Shattermoon: The Long Game Book 1 by Dominic Dulley is published by Jo Fletcher books on the 14 June 2018.

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