SPSFC FINALS: Iron Truth by S.A. Tholin

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So, I read the blurb for this and I got super excited. I tried this out right after the comedy which gave me a nice fresh breath of air before diving into this expansive chonk. This was picked by FBC whose other semifinalist was my favorite of last round! (Steel Guardian – even though it wasn’t in my batch) I was even more excited to see what their top ranking book was like.

This is epic in scope, and follows a more traditionally fantasy-style pacing with a large build up for a payoff later down the line… like 350-400 pages down the line. This will not be for people looking for a quick sci fi read. This is not that. However, I love fantasy just as much as sci fi so I don’t mind something a little longer.

Our first POV wakes up on an architect ship meant to carry her into her future and a new colony. But she wakes up falling out of a pod onto a hard metal floor when she was expecting classical music and cinnamon scented air or some shit. Well, no. Sorry lady, no deluxe treatment. It’s 100 years over the expected wake-up date, most of the crew is likely dead, and it’s just one weirdo and you alone on a spider infested ship. She wasn’t even really supposed to be there in the first place, she admits internally that if it weren’t for her brother pulling strings she wouldn’t have made it based on her credentials alone. So not only has everything gone to shit, she’s also unqualified. This was my first impression at 7% and I was totally sold.

The architect ships are now forbidden because as humanity explored space they found demons, or that’s what Joy is told. Whatever is actually going on, demons or aliens, people go crazy in space and kill one another. The golden age of space exploration, the age of hope that Joy was born into is gone. Space is now a hellscape in certain places and it’s how the protectorate came into power, they make the laws that keep humans safe from the demons. To have impure thoughts is to let them in, and so things are very strictly controlled.

So, the other POV is from someone who’s born in the lady’s future, his name is Cassimer and he’s part of a protectorate government group. He’s a soldier, he’s brutal, and he’s unflinching in his beliefs. If you go against his doctrine he really has no sympathy for you. He’s also a super soldier capable of doing shit humans shouldn’t be able to do or heal from. All of that said, he is still kind of an insecure person and he’s written in a way that’s meant to be somewhat sympathetic. He’s definitely grey where Joy is just a “good” person, believing in the best in people, wanting to do right by others, and an abundance of sympathy and empathy. They were polar opposites and most of the time that works for me, it somewhat did here. I think things actually moved a bit *fast* even with the length in terms of how quickly Joy and Cassimer became close, there was really no reason at all for Joy to like him as quickly as she did, and many reasons to hate and fear him and that kind of thing always rubs me a little weird – it’s a very common trope, though.

I really loved the world building in this, although some of it was delivered via infodump which… I get really annoyed with long paragraphs of the history of this country or the backstory to this character. There was a moderate amount of it but given the length of the book and the breadth it was covering I actually would have expected more. Although a bit extreme in nature, the villains/antagonists didn’t feel like caricatures or something so exaggerated I’d say it felt “mustache twirly”. I don’t like it when the villains have no depth or believable motivations it just sort of rips me out of the moment.

The prose was excellent, one of the strongest I’ve seen out of the competition. I’m terrible at describing prose, so work with me when I say it’s a little flourishing. It’s definitely what I would call elegant and graceful as opposed to a more straightforward style like Sanderson. There were some instances where it didn’t work for me, though. Like, I kept forgetting that Finn was not a romance interest and was actually her brother she was searching for. The way she thinks of him is a little weird… it’s not quite sexual but like, “my brother’s smile shone like the sun” is not something I’d ever think about my brothers — sorry bros. During a romance scene there was a line akin to, “this is what his hands were meant for, she knew that now” in regards to running his hands through her hair or something — it’s not verbatim but the general gist of the tone and writing. I just don’t connect to scenes like that. I find it too — flowery isn’t the right word. But, I’m just not a romantic like that so I don’t connect to overly impassioned scenes. This is all personal taste, you might love it.

Overall, I was super impressed with this. It has a lot of ambition, really big concept ideas and it also had personal relationship drama going on to keep the reader interested on many levels. This had a lot of heart and I can recommend it to anyone looking for an epic scifi adventure.

Ratings:

  • Plot: 12/15
  • Characters: 13/15
  • World Building: 13/15
  • Writing: 12.5/15
  • Pacing: 11/15
  • Originality: 12/15
  • Enjoyment: 7/10

Final Score 80.5/100