Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen

November 20, 2020

Caiden’s planet is destroyed. His family gone. And, his only hope for survival is a crew of misfit aliens and a mysterious ship that seems to have a soul and a universe of its own. Together they will show him that the universe is much bigger, much more advanced, and much more mysterious than Caiden had ever imagined. But the universe hides dangers as well, and soon Caiden has his own plans. 

He vows to do anything it takes to get revenge on the slavers who murdered his people and took away his home. To destroy their regime, he must infiltrate and dismantle them from the inside, or die trying.

Enter a universe of daring space battles and impossible technology, a world where planets can be destroyed in the blink of an eye, and where the galaxy’s most valuable substance – nophek gloss – is in the hands of one young man who will tear it all down.

I don’t read a huge amount of science fiction as a rule, so when I choose to it needs to be a cut above. This year I’ve only read Goldilocks by Laura Lam, The Saints of Salvation by Peter F Hamilton and the Escape Pod 15th anniversary anthology. They were all uniformly excellent, feel free to check out the reviews. Just before the end of 2020, another title has managed to earn a spot on this very select list. The debut novel Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen was published this week and it’s great.

Before we begin, I should mention the title of this book will likely appear many more times than a title normally does in one of my reviews. While reading I realised, I really like the sound it makes as it rattles around in my brain. Try it…Nophek Gloss. Great isn’t it?

When we first meet Caiden, he is an innocent living a tough but simple life on a backwater planet. Sadly, that innocence does not last long, as he is ripped away from everything he knows. Caiden is forced to grow up quickly and go on the run when he becomes a target for the authorities. The stresses of this fundamental change to his life are one of the things that fascinated me most about his character. Caiden’s emotional journey is just as interesting as his physical one. There is a sense of inner turmoil that is perfectly captured. That jumble of emotions – teenage angst, sadness and the rage of loss all vying with one another for supremacy.

Every good hero deserves a suitable adversary, and Caiden is no exception. The thing that struck me about the main antagonist, Threi, is he blissfully inhabits a morally grey area. His motivations remain shrouded in mystery throughout, we only see glimpses of his end game. Initially, Threi reads like little more than a self-absorbed bully boy but, unsurprisingly, there is far more to him than that.

It turns out that in the multiverse things can get epically brutal. Hassen doesn’t shy away from violence, and Caiden is often on the receiving end. Fortunately, technology has progressed significantly from what we are used to now. Augmentations, replacements and whatnot ensure violence can at least be treated relatively easily at a physical level. Restoring mental health is a far trickier goal, but the author doesn’t shy away from that either. Caiden suffers and the exploration of that suffering allows us to better understand how his experiences are shaping him as his grows.

I think that if you strip away all the intergalactic multiverse-based action, Nophek Gloss is ultimately a story about family. At first glance, Caiden appears to be driven solely by a desire for revenge but there is more to it than that. There is a need to belong to something bigger than himself. Caiden is exposed to so much trauma, physical and psychological, he needs someone other than himself to rely on. He can’t function without the sort of support network that we all need. On his travels Caiden falls in with a group of passengers*. This rag-tag bunch are a bit rough around the edges but perhaps they could be exactly what Caiden needs.

In Nophek Gloss the multiverse is filled with a colourful plethora of races, none more enigmatic than the Graven. Long since disappeared, The Graven have left their mark everywhere. Every branch of society is tied to Graven heritage in one form or another. and ancient Graven tech is still more advanced than anything that has appeared since. Graven science also remains unsurpassed, but only tiny remnants remain. The cultures that have grown up since still view the Graven with envious eyes. Experiments in genetics and conditioning taking place to try and replicate what has been lost. There is a power struggle to control all things Graven and the multiverse along with it. Caiden finds himself right at the heart of this conflict.

Gosh, I haven’t even mentioned how the nophek gloss fit into this vast intergalactic arms race. You know what? I’ve decided I’m not going to. You can discover the importance of nophek gloss yourself.

Nophek Gloss ends on a perfect little coda. How these events affect Caiden, and his surrogate family, have guaranteed my interest in the next book in The Graven series. I’m looking forward to it already.

Nophek Gloss is published by Orbit and is available now. Further books in The Graven series are set to follow.

My musical recommendation to accompany this novel is the blistering soundtrack to Mass Effect 3 by Clint Mansell, Christopher Lennertz, Sascha Dikiciyan and Cris Velasco. It is about as intergalactically epic as you can get. If that’s not a good fit for this novel, I’ll be honest, I dont know what is.

*The free folk of the multiverse. Traders, explorers, mercenaries and the like.

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