Ten Low (Book Review)
by Stark Holborn
Science Fiction, 2021
5 / 5 Stars
I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
Ten Low is an adrenaline rush! It is a quick-paced, exciting, and fun adult sci-fi with a western flair that kept me engaged the entire time. I loved it.
What’s it about? Ten Low is an ex-army medic who lives on a desolate, barren moon called Factus. She is wracked with guilt over her part in a recent interstellar war (humans vs humans). One night she pulls a young girl from a ship crash, only to discover she is a decorated Army General, from the opposing side of the war to Ten. That’s all I’ll say, as the less you know going in the more fun it is.
I was so invested in the characters. Ten is complex without being melodramatic, with a dualism to her that was realistic and understandable. She is driven but questioning, and tough yet vulnerable. She was easy to identify with and her motives made sense. I also adored the other character, the General. The blurb makes it seem like she’s a teenager, but in truth, she’s a child, which was even better. Snarky teenagers with chips on their shoulders are less interesting than child soldiers with tragic backstories. And because she’s a child, her actions and remarks turn from irritating to almost endearing, as you know it’s self-preservation and not just … puberty.
The other minor characters, Falso, her G’hals, and Silas were very likable, quite awesome really, and the villains were few but worthy of the title. I must say, I enjoyed the female-driven cast quite a bit. It’s very diverse in terms of LGBTQ+ representation and these aspects were normalized and not forced.
What I particularly loved about this novel is the gradual exposition of the setting and world-building. I’m so glad this is a trend now in sci-fi because one thing I hate is an info-dump. This novel drops you in media res and forces you to learn as you go as if you were a new arrival to the moon Factus yourself. The setting itself is very fun - it has a real Firefly-like setting, very Western in the sense of small towns struggling to survive in the dust. It also reminded me of the game Borderlands a bit, with the various raider-like gangs and overlords. The fight scenes are more reminiscent of Mad Max Fury Road, as they are a lot of fun and I was never bored. While I am listing comparable media, Ten Low doesn’t feel like parsed-together pieces of other things - it is its own story and setting and characters.
The plot is one conflict after another, but the story doesn’t feel rushed. The novel provides the characters with a few moments of downtime, which helps to broaden their personalities and dynamics. This allows for small bits of humour, usually with the General, and it served to build their relationship. The mystery around Ten is both what you expect but also not, which was a nice twist.
The writing is also as lovely as it is visceral.
Overall, the novel is a raw, exciting ride that deals with how far a person will go to redeem their conscience if that’s even possible.
I recommend it to anyone who loves gritty sci-fi, especially those fond of the game Borderlands and the show Firefly.