Welcome to the 29th century. Humanity has colonized the stars. And magic is real. Thanks to a special part of the brain known as the cardioid, humanity can draw glyphs, cast spells, and access magic-enhanced technology. Unfortunately, magic could not save the world of Clarkesfall, one of the first colonized by humanity. Now the remnant population of Clarkesfall is scattered across the galaxy. People like Elisabeth “Boots” Ellsworth, scamming a living by selling semi-bogus treasure charts. And Cordell, captain of the semi-piratical Capricious. And Orna, who lost her childhood to cage fights for food …. And then there are people like Nilah Brio, a powerful glyph-wielder and racer who grew up privileged on the green and wealthy world for Taitu. When Nilah stumbles onto a conspiracy involving the Taituan battlecruiser Harrow, she reluctantly gets pulled into the Capricious‘ quest to find out exactly what caused the fall of Clarkesfall …. And there are powerful people out there who will do anything to stop them ….
The tagline for A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe recommends the book to fans of Firefly. I totally get that. This is absolutely a “rag tag band of reluctant heroes must save the galaxy against impossible odds” adventure.
And it is an adventure. First, the characters are all wonderfully-realized, with all the quirks and strengths and weaknesses that one finds in real people. I fell in love with all of them (even angry Orna) once I got to known them; and they continually surprised me, right up to the last page. The universe they inhabit is fascinating, with both notable differences and unhappy similarities to our own. There is still poverty, apathy, and corruption; there is still oppression and wealth disparity. Nilah, who has only ever seen the beauty of the galaxy and human civilization, learns a very hard, very harsh lesson when she takes up with the Capricious crew. Orna, who hated anyone with enough food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in, learns that not everyone born to privilege is the enemy.
Then there is the combination of technology and magic. Such space fantasies are a rare treat, and I love how White organically worked magic into everyday life. Since most people can use magic, most technology has at least some magical component. Everything from body tattoos to navigation systems to defense grids all have magical elements. That, unfortunately, is a problem for people like Boots: as a minority born without a cardioid, she is considered defective or “dull-fingered.” She can’t use magically-based tech, at all. While she has by-and-large come to accept herself as she is, she hates the slurs thrown at her by the magically-gifted; and no one is more surprised or thrilled when (mild spoiler) her “deficiency” turns out to be an advantage their quest for justice for Clarkesfall.
That quest is one thing that I found really appealing about A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, and also really frustrating. White gives the reader no extra hints. As the crew of the Capricious uncovers clues, so the reader uncovers clues. I was utterly in the dark when I started the book, and didn’t even realize that there was a conspiracy until about the fourth or fifth chapter. By that point I was hooked, and more than willing to go along for the wild ride that followed.
A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is the first book in The Salvagers trilogy, all of which have been released. I highly recommend it to fans of Firefly and the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as fans of Lindsay Buroker’s Star Kingdom series, Blaze Ward’s Science Officer series, The Rogue Queen series by Jessie Mihalik, and Wayward Saint by JS Morin.
[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]