Review of Aestus Book 1: The City by S. Z. Attwell

I put off reading the first book in the Aestus series until I had finalized books one and two of my Cygnus series because the two series share several themes. I wanted to make sure that any similarities between the two series were coincidental.

Happily, Aestus book 1 was worth the wait. The characters and plot of the first Aestus novel evoke elements of Dune, Ender’s Game, The Time Machine, and influential episodic sci-fi television such as The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror. At the same time, it is timely in addressing the consequences of global warming and the splintering of society as a result of ecological collapse.

The story centers on Jossey (rhymes with “glossy”) Sokol, an Engineer in an underground community who lost her brother in an attack by the mysterious Onlar (a name that, despite a different cultural origin in the story, evoked Dr. Seuss’s Once-ler for me).

Jossey’s uncle is the Minister of Intelligence for the city, a staunch defender of The City against enemies foreign and domestic.

After Jossey defends her colleagues against an Onlar attack, she joins the city Patrol. Alongside veteran fighters like Gavin Tskoulis, a childhood friend of her brother, and the mysterious Caspar Savaş, Jossey learns to fight and takes on the Onlar.

Jossey’s journey tests her wits, puts her in physical peril, and forces her to confront her past and the hidden past of the only home she has ever known.

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

What I Liked About Aestus, Book 1

The Post Climate Change Atmosphere

The sunbaked world of Aestus is a subtly frightening vision of the world that awaits us as global warming accelerates. The citizens are virtual prisoners of the colony that sustains them. The Patrol fights with knives and swords, presumably because ammunition is hard to come by. The struggles for daily necessities like food and solar power occupy the citizens’ waking lives.

Close-Quarter Tension

I have seen reviews comparing Aestus to Dune, but Aestus has no sweeping empire, vast trade routes, or deep ties to ancient cultures. Even the Patrol rarely ventures beyond the nearby canyons, roads, and ruins. In classic space opera, aliens light-years apart share a common language. Here, your neighbors down the road might as well be another species.

Aestus Book 1 reminds me more of the worlds that Captain Kirk often visited in the periphery of Star Trek’s Federation. They were provincial, isolated, sometimes desperate places. Here, there is no Captain Kirk to fly in with easy answers. Humanity struggles on.

Creative Commons 0, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Nepotism

Nepotism is a trope with a glorious history that probably predates the written word. The closed society of Aestus makes kinship and family connections stand out. Jossey (and other characters that the reader can discover later) benefit from their family connections, but being the golden child can have its price.

Active Characters

The people of Aestus take action. Like many present-day closed societies, the threat of the barbarians at the gates, the hated and feared them, drives the characters. They move with the intensity of rats in a cage, always on guard for the next threat.

On the internet, I often hear writers ask how to handle exposition without boring readers with info-dumps. This is not a problem in Aestus. The characters themselves perpetually lack crucial information. Consciously or unconsciously, they yearn to understand the hostile world around them and squirrel away every scrap when they can. Then they get back to work.

What I Would Like to See More Of

The Bigger Picture

As a natural consequence of this novel’s isolated setting and xenophobic population, we know little about the world beyond The City (a colony that seems to be in modern-day Greece or Turkey). While this has its good aspects, it can also feel confining at times.

Rick,, in Casablanca, points out that the lives of three people aren’t worth a hill of beans. He says this because he knows that larger struggles overshadow his personal losses. In Aestus, we see a gradual awakening, but I hope to see the characters stretch out further beyond their hill of beans.

Aestian Culture

I don’t know if Aestian is the right demonym, but the struggle for security and supremacy takes up so much of the characters’ time that we don’t get to see as much of their lives outside that struggle.

In nearly 700 pages, I was hoping to get to know the city’s founders, a bit more of its history, and how the characters give deeper meaning to their lives. The characters mention God and faith at times, but it is hard to know what the characters believe in besides the city itself.

The characters have innate values and a keen sense of duty and loyalty. They defend their territory with ferocity and persistence. In Book 2, I look forward to learning more about the foundation for their strong feelings.

Overall Impressions

The first book in the Aestus series was a very good read that promised more intrigue, action, and character development. The scenes of training and moving around through tunnels sometimes blurred together for me a bit, but I think that was merely a natural result of the setting and the characters’ priorities.

S. Z. Attwell did a great job of bringing to life a fragment of a shattered Earth in an unnervingly plausible future. Its dynamic and distinct characters. I look forward to the sequel.

I hope you enjoyed the review. Until next time, happy reading and happy writing!

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