• Tina S Beier

Azura Ghost - Book Review

Azura Ghost

Essa Hansen

Science Fiction

2022 (forthcoming)

Orbit


I received this ebook as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.


Azura Ghost is the sequel to Nophek Gloss, a book which I initially gave 4 stars but upon further reflection, and how much I talk about it, I’ve bumped it to a 5. It was one of my top 12 reads of 2021.


This review will contain spoilers for Nophek Gloss but not Azura Ghost.


Azura Ghost is a balancing act between complex topics and engrossing fight scenes. It’s both a rumination on how we develop trust and, much more intricately, how it’s the alienation that too much power provides that can corrupt a person even more than the desire to control.


Caiden has been on the run for ten years with his unique starship in order to keep his adversary, Threi, imprisoned. But when an old friend he'd once thought dead reappears, he is lured into a game of cat and mouse with the one person whose powers rival Threi's: Threi's sister Abriss.


Now with both siblings on the hunt for Caiden and his ship, Caiden must rescue his long-lost friend from their clutches and uncover the source of both his ship's power and his own origins in order to stop Abriss's plan to collapse the multiverse.


Nophek Gloss is as much a learning curve for the reader as it is for Caiden. It’s a complex novel with an overabundance of technology and flowery language, so it takes a while to understand how the world-building functions. Yet, Azura Ghost, because we have learned all of this background in book one, doesn’t have that kind of mental hurdle to deal with. You know what the invented words mean and what you’re getting into (it’s not a novel you can read while tired or distracted though, as it requires concentration). As such, the novel moves at a steady, fast pace the entire time, needing almost no space to sit back and explain stuff to us.


When it comes to the plot, it’s pretty simple. Caiden has been on the run for ten years, despite having Threi captured in a mini, contained universe, and Leta, his “sister”, as we learned at the end of Book 1, is alive and living with Abriss, Threi’s sister, who is the ruler of Unity and a descendent of these forerunner-type people called the Graven. The story starts with Caiden being attacked by a woman who claims to be Leta with her consciousness inhabiting another body, and the story goes from there.


The story is great - it’s not overly complex (it honestly couldn’t be with the number of concepts and tech words thrown around in this novel), but it’s easy to understand and the characters’ motivations are clear. There are several really cool fight scenes in this novel, including a badass one at the midway point that goes on so long I started to feel like I had bruises (in a good way though! It was awesome).


In truth, the novel is less about a twisting story than twisted people. It focuses on the duality of human nature; every character is complex and has at least two sides to their personality. Caiden is extremely strong and resilient, and you’d think he’d be a brooding jerk, but, instead, he’s sweet and overly compassionate. He cares so much he’s almost self-destructive in his martyr complex. Leta, literally inhabiting two bodies, is a shy thing who revels in her proxy’s ability to fight but also fears losing the person she is in her real body. Endiron, one of the side characters, can change their body shape and gender identity at will, and the two other main characters (whom I’ll get to in the spoilers) are also at war with themselves in different ways. Like the first book, this is not a novel about evil villains and white knights - it’s about people put in a pressure cooker and emerging changed but also maintaining a core that yearns for what they once had. It’s very easy to sympathize and understand all four characters because we can see from both sides of their own perspectives. In this regard, it’s a complicated story in truth, because the people are not one-dimensional. While the novel has a ton of action, it’s a story rooted in people.


The entire point of the novel is about perspective. How we can feel and understand something so strongly, but looking at it from another point of view can change that. And when this view comes into conflict with what we’ve decided is the truth, we either adapt or we resist.


Back to the characters, one thing I was slightly at odds with in the first book that carried into the second is Caidan’s attachment to his found family. It didn’t feel to me that he was with them enough in the first book, and definitely not the second, to have such a strong connection (especially after ten years!). Maybe I’m just a jaded person, but like last time we didn’t get enough downtime with Caiden and the other crew to really get to know them aside from little quirks. Granted, if we did, there would be less room for action, and the book is already a hefty one as is.


I did like the focus on Leta’s character - it was great to get a second perspective as book one was all Caidan. It brought a freshness to the worldbuilding and helped round out Caidan as well. I really liked how there wasn’t a forced romance between them.


While Threi is still my problematic crush, my favourite character of the novel was C, the nophek pup. Caiden refers to him once as a “sweet nightmare” which is so fitting.

I will say, I still have no idea what any of the aliens really look like. Even after reading the glossary I still could have used a bit more in-story description of them. This was something I had trouble with in Nophek Gloss too, though it’s a minor consideration.


There’s also a great deal of coincidence in this novel but it doesn’t feel preposterous. A lot of time when you have a few characters involved in events affecting entire worlds, it feels like plot armour that keeps them all linked together. But this book clearly thought this out beforehand - there isn’t a paltry explanation at the end as to why they all involved all the time, or a throwaway comment, but numerous references to how the situations are foretold or orchestrated somehow by certain forces. Whether this comes into play more in book three, we’ll have to find out.


This was an ARC, so some things might change somewhat, but there are some great bits of prose in this novel peppering the action with elegance, for example, “...[it] had long ago taught him he could bridle despair with rage and take it into battle.”


Overall, Azura Ghost is not only a worthy follow-up to Nophek Gloss but surpasses it in many ways. I very much enjoyed it and it was a great book with which to start off 2022.


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