Incitatus - Book Review
Sci Fi Thriller
I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. I 100% choose this book for the cover. C’mon, it’s super cool!
An action-fueled sci-fi with a heavy emphasis on world-building, Incitatus is a terse, slow-building thriller.
Shao has two choices: live and die the boring corporate life her father demands she live OR go on an adventure searching for space pirate treasure.
Shao hates her boring, corporate-driven spaceship pilot job. Living up to her father's vision for her hasn't been easy, but she's been a dutiful daughter. Until she discovers a data chip leading to a pirate treasure. Suddenly faced with a new path, she convinces her crew to ditch their corporate responsibilities to go on a treasure hunt instead.
Shao has no idea she's made a huge mistake and that her crew-including her girlfriend, Mai Wren-will wind up paying for.
With forces beyond her knowledge at play, Shao stands to lose everything she holds dear. Her decisions will be her downfall and she'll have to make tough calls that'll forever alter her future and the lives of her crew. Some of them might not survive, but that was a choice Shao made, and she must live with the consequences... no matter what they may be.
Like the slow crawl of Tantive IV at the start of A New Hope, Incitatus is a novel that builds gradually. Yet, this isn’t a bad thing if you have patience. The last thirty percent of the book is absolutely addictive (I told myself I was only going to read for twenty minutes, and the next thing I knew, I was an hour past when I wanted to go to sleep, and I’d finished it), and once you wrap your head around all the characters and their goals, it all comes together. What I’d call this book, most of all, is ambitious. It’s complex, like an Ian Banks or Kim Stanely Robinson novel, with a large focus on crafting this corporate-run universe (no aliens, surprisingly, given the cover). It’s quite frankly impressive in its scope and details (both in terms of technology and how the universe functions) and leans a bit harder into hard sci-fi than space opera, though I wouldn’t classify it hard sci-fi.
The name is a reference to political ineptitude, stemming from a favourite horse of the Ancient Roman Emperor Caligula (whom he claimed he wanted to be a senator). This fits the book in a sense, as the Incitatus in the novel is a poorly run prison barge.
If you’re a fan of action and don’t mind violence, this book is full of it, especially the last sections. Despite the blurb only really talking about Shao, there are a few other main characters, including a mercenary who really walks that line of morally gray, a space cop, and Shao’s hot corporate daddy. Unfortunately, each of these stories - while they do intersect at the end - have their own complex exposition that we needed to be filled in upon, so that no one, not even Shao, feels fleshed out. We get that she’s a bit risky and that she’s young and spoiled, but that’s about it. All the characters are distinctive, but we get no backstory on anyone, and sometimes we go so long between seeing characters that I forgot who they were and it took me out of the story. In truth, it felt like the Ranger’s side-plot and hot daddy’s were competing for space in an otherwise already full cast and plot, though it’s clear they’re there because of book two.
Had the characters had more time together or perhaps had their backstories been disseminated in flashbacks or in dialogue rather than their own chapters, they could have played off one another and given us more character development. The best bit of dialogue between the characters is at the end when Milosh and Lederman exchange quips. Then again, I am also a very big fan of character-driven stories, so if you’re more of a plot-driven person, you will enjoy this quite a bit! This is more of a preference on my part than a failing of the novel. The ending of the novel is just bonkers - in a great way. It absolutely doesn’t go where you expect and I am intrigued enough to check out book two. Highly recommended if you like corporate intrigue, no-holds-barred action, and the movie Escape from L.A!