Trident’s Forge is the second novel in the Children of a Dead Earth series by American author and stand-up comedian Patrick S. Tomlinson. While I once again didn’t realise an Angry Robot Books novel was a sequel and not a first book, I had no trouble picking up and following this interesting and engaging action-mystery. While it was just tropey enough to occasionally make me shake my head, the interesting world, the well-paced plot and engaging protagonist more than made up for it. A solid read, and one I definitely recommend.
The Ark and her thirty-thousand survivors have reached Tau Ceti G and begun the long, arduous task of building their new colony by the sea. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Tau Ceti G’s natives, the G’tel, are coming to grips with the sudden appearance of what many believe are their long-lost Gods. But the first official greeting ceremony between humans and G’tel goes catastrophically wrong, visiting death on both sides. Rumors begin to circulate that the massacre was no accident, and the Ark’s greatest hero, Bryan Benson is told to stop coaching his new love of American football and tackle the mystery. Paired up with native ‘truth-digger’ Kexx, against both of their better judgement, Benson finds himself thrust into the heart of an alien culture with no idea whom to trust, how to speak the language, and how to tell who wants to worship him from who wants to kill him. Together, Benson and Kexx will have to find enough common ground and trust to uncover a plot that threatens to plunge both of their peoples into an apocalyptic war that neither side is prepared for or can afford to lose.
It’s often actually quite enlightening to read a second book without the first, though in this case it was accidental. I’m generally of the opinion that if what you want to do is tell one large story and split it into smaller pieces, it had better be one hell of a story, or you should have just pared it down to one book. On the other hand, multiple fully contained stories that happen in sequence are super interesting and at least imply that you’re just interested in telling compelling stories and then, if people like them, telling more. Trident’s Forge didn’t even feel like a second book at all, which is definitely a compliment. What were obviously the events of the previous book The Ark were referenced enough that I knew what was going on, but not so much as to waste space. From context I assume that if I’d read the first book, I wouldn’t be annoyed to have things brought up again. It was definitely handled well.
One thing Trident’s Forge did really well was avoid the pitfall of high-tech humans just completely overpowering the low-tech ‘savage’ native species on a planet. It looked like Tomlinson might have been heading in that direction, which made me a little uneasy, and then the soldiers, with their impregnable body armour and machine guns ran out of bullets and started getting stabbed in the face. There was definitely what felt like a conscious effort on the part of the author to make sure we knew that even though the G’Tel never really stopped thinking of the Humans as Gods or at least so advanced as to be possibly worthy of worship, the humans weren’t, and thinking they were would have been a sure-fire way to get killed. Advanced tech only goes so far. Things break, numbers matter, and when bullets run out, the other guy actually knows how to use his spear.
It’s always interesting to see new even slightly non-human aliens, and how their culture and traditions and customs will interact with ours. The G’tel are about as un-human as Star Trek ever got, which is to say ‘basically person shaped but with more differences than just pointy eyebrows’. They have a whole system of communicating with bio-luminescence to muddy up the lines of communication, but both sides are at least capable of learning and pronouncing the other’s language. In general, they seem a pretty bog-standard Avatar-level society of slightly bendy people. But as the character of the aliens, especially Kexx, develops over the course of the novel, they really distinguish themselves as pretty advanced for their level of technology, and not too shabby a society either. Any culture where their equivalent of a police officer or detective doesn’t even need to carry weapons because it’s just impossible that anybody would interfere with their work seems like it has some good qualities.
Altogether, I rather enjoyed the story. Benson is a relatable and interesting character with a lot more going on than could have been the case. Kexx was a great look at what cops of another species might be like, and he interacted with the other characters very well. The story was well-paced, managed a few little twists and things, and definitely felt suitably epic and heroic when those things were called for. It feels like if this was intended to be a trilogy, I’m not sure what the third book would look like, and that’s also a good thing. This was a completely self-contained story with all the elements necessary to make it a good one. I will assume the first book is the same, and would expect the others to be similar. It’s a credit to Tomlinson’s creativity, and optimism that he’s telling individual stories in the same world, and not feeling like he has to milk one storyline across a whole series. I’d really enjoy coming back to this setting in even 4 or 5 years just to see how the place is coming along. There are implications of a terrible doom that might have been more fully explained in the first book, or might be a mystery still, as to just what happened to the humans, and some more on that would be great as well.
Dan received an Advanced Review copy of this novel from Angry Robot via NetGalley