A spectacularly imaginative space opera from a new indie author. Highly recommended.
Title: Hollin’s Heir (Sentinel Dawn #1)
Author: L.G. Ransom
My Rating: 5/5
Categories: SF, YA, Space Opera
(Note: A regular search will lead you to the 2013 paperback edition, which is a different, and shorter, version of this story. Use the link above to go to the new Caffeine and Ink edition.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I know the editor of this book, but that’s just how I heard about it (I saw his post on Facebook). I was not provided with a copy in advance and I paid for the ebook from the link provided above.
Hollin’s Heir is a young adult (YA) space opera that promises to develop into a fascinating series. This is easily the most imaginative work I’ve read this year, pulling out absolutely all the stops. That’s a difficult attribute to pin down clearly, so let me take a short step back to explain.
Most YA novels today strike me as grounded in reality, with just a touch of magic or high technology here and there to provide an SF&F setting. Often post-apocalyptic in nature, these stories can typically be categories as zombie, vampire, or what I like to call “social scifi” stories, where the main point seems to be categorizing people into social structures against their will (see Divergent, Hunger Games, etc).
Hollin’s Heir is exactly the opposite. What it reminded me of more than anything else was Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, and that mostly because of the no-holds-barred creativity of the setting and society that it took place in. Many fantasy authors are known for grand-scale worldbuilding, but in Science Fiction today it is not very common at all.
But the comparisons with fantasy literature didn’t end with worldbuilding. Indeed, specific plot elements were clearly borrowed from that world. Gods who participate actively in the universe of human beings, for example. And yet this is clearly a science fiction story. Technology in abundant display, and plays an important role in the story, including culture shock between planetary societies. The reader is deliberately lead to wonder why they know so little about the origin of their own species, or how humanity came to spread across galaxies.
But most importantly the story itself is highly entertaining, with complex politics, a rapidly-changing plot, and a well-paced action story. If I had to pick a nit, the bad guys here certainly are of the sniveling-and-mustache-twirling variety. But that can work well when combined with interwoven political dynamics and cleverly-twisted reader expectations. Put another way, it’s okay if the evil mastermind has a temper tantrum and complains about “thirty years of planning gone awry” IF by that time the reader actually has an investment in discovering and understanding those plots. That’s using emotional drama as a means to an end, not to cover a weak story. And it’s nicely done here.
Ransom combines complex storytelling with a fast-moving, entertaining action story. Her style is unique, clearly influenced by many sources, ranging from classic “hard” SF to modern fantasy and all the way to Japanese anime.
Hollin’s Heir promises to be “Book One of the Sentinel Dawn” series, and indeed ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. I hope we don’t have to wait too long!
Update: The publisher responded to an inquiry last night to let me know that Book Two in the Sentinel Dawn series is currently in editing, and is expected to be published in the Summer of 2017.