Monday, January 11, 2021

Space Virus Cult

I've mentioned that I'm terrible about advance copies. In an effort to be less terrible, I'm reading books that came out last year that were given to me for early review. Retroactive responsibility for the win!

One that I'd been really excited about was Salvation Day, by Kali Wallace. The cover just screamed "space action movie" and the premise--"A lethal virus is awoken on an abandoned spaceship in this incredibly fast-paced, claustrophobic thriller"--promised the same. And it delivered very precisely on that promise.

In addition to "space action movie," we also get a layer of "heist" and "cult" in the plotting--again, all in space. Just catnip. Our two narrators are both on a shuttle that is hijacked in an attempt to board a floating relic--an enormous research ship that has been adrift in the solar system for a decade, since everyone aboard succumbed quickly to a virus believed to have been released by an angry, discredited scientist. One was the lone survivor of the virus as a child; the other is leading the hijacking on behalf of the Family, a group of outsiders searching for a permanent home.

This book would make an amazing movie. The flashbacks to Jas's memories of his childhood trauma; Zahra's determined loyalty to the wrong cause and moral struggles; the dorky tech nerd, the creepy, haunted ship. A lot of the strokes in the story are a little broad, especially the characterization of the other members of the Family, but in my mind, Zahra in many ways makes up for that. So many books about people in cults are about them being full of doubt, but Zahra believes in her mission. She's had a hard life, and the Family has genuinely saved her. But she's also smart, and when things start happening that require her to improvise, she starts thinking faster and faster. 

Jas was raised by his very powerful aunt and lives a life of privilege, but his relationship with his best friend, whose immigrant family suffered a great deal to get him everything he has gives Jas important perspective. He's got a lot of suppressed issues around, you know, his parents dying horribly. Being back on the House of Wisdom is bad news, especially when it looks like the virus didn't die with the crew.

This is all backstory, but I think the richness of all the details as they unfold really makes the story. It's fast paced, with chasing and hacking and fighting and parasites and explosions. The entire backstory unfolds as the plot does, which keeps the pacing from being too breakneck or too info-dumpy. There are some very cool action set pieces, and the virus is super creepy, but I think that the character and history unfolding are really what make this an above-average read.

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