Wednesday 13 September 2017

Nyxia (The Nyxia Triad #1), Scott Reintgen

Babel pushes us over cliffs and expects us to fly. Sometimes we do.
Emmett Atwater isn't just leaving Detroit; he's leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family. Forever. 

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden--a planet that Babel has kept hidden--where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe. But Babel's ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won't forever compromise what it means to be human.

* * * * *
5 / 5

Wow. This book completely blew me away. It reminded me a little of Ender's Game - kids recruited for some mission in space by a vaguely nefarious company, set against each other in a series of games, always loomed over by a massive scoreboard - and whilst Ender's Game does have a massive twist near the end, I enjoyed Nyxia a heck of a lot more. Reintgen crafted such excellent characters, there's so much emotion in this book, but also so much badassery, and I was even rooting for the romance! I can't even remember the last book I read where I wanted the romance to work out.
"Friend," I plead. "My friend. I need you today. Will you help me?"
"One more time," he says. "And the next time you ask? I'll say one more time again. And the next. And the next. Forever."

We meet Emmett Atwater as he boards a lightship and signs his contract with Babel Corporation. He's going to fly to Eden to mine a substance called Nyxia, an inky black substance that can be manipulated by the mind of the user. The natives of Eden, the Adamites, are vicious but value children and have agreed only to allowing young people on the surface of their planet; Babel has recruited ten youngsters to board Genesis 11, mine Nyxia on Eden, and in return they make an absolute fortune. The catch? Babel only needs eight people, so the teenagers will be pitted against each other in competition - tests of strength, fighting ability, tactics, Nyxia manipulation, swimming, running - and those who fail will be sent home with a small cash prize.

"When he thinks no one's watching, his shoulders always slump. The weight of years, of never being able to rise. It's not his fault, but that kind of weight's been passed down my family for generations"

Emmett is a young black guy from Detroit, his mother has cancer and his father can barely make ends meet. His family has worked themselves to the bone, generation after generation, for a better life, sacrificed chances over and over for family, until now. When Emmett might finally be able to shed the chains the Atwater family has borne since slavery, and lift them out of poverty. Emmett's an imperfect, human character. He's driven and kind and wary and angry and he's got duty carved into his bones and family written in his blood. He needs to beat these other kids, these nine other kids with their own tragic stories and their own lost lives, but he doesn't want to harm them - until he does want to harm them, but Emmett Atwater will be damned if he lets Babel turn him into a monster, even as they're chased by wolves on a giant treadmill, even as he becomes a wolf with a battle cry on his lips and Nyxia created knuckle-dusters on his cracked hands. He's an angry boy with a gang in his past and sick mother he wants needs to live, and I loved Emmett.

Then we have Kaya, Emmett's roommate. She's a clever girl, she doesn't need to beat the games she just needs to change them, and when she extends an alliance to Emmett he takes it. They come home each night from battlefields and tutorials and quizzes and brawls and they put their rivalries behind them, curl up on a chair and read each other stories. Lots of books try to write two non-related characters with a brother/sister relationship but always end up putting a weird sexual twist on it, but Kaya and Emmett have such a great connection. We have Bilal, possibly the kindest and most forgiving guy but who is by no means weak, and Azima who wears her heritage proudly and declares that no man here is worthy of her because they aren't but it's written so kindly, and Jaime who is aloof and proud but will bend, and we have Roathy, angry and wild, and Isadora and Jazzy and Katsu and Longwei. Reintgen did such an amazing job with the characters.

"Forgotten," she says. "We're the people the world wants to forget." Her words hit so deep and hard that it's all I can do to release a breath. She reaches out and pats my leg, like she know exactly how it feels to be this lost in yourself

I loved this book, but those looking for something involving aliens are going to be disappointed. The entire novel takes place on board the ship, only to arrive at Eden at the very end. The Adamites themselves barely feature in Nyxia, I assume that they will have a much more prominent role in the next book; Nyxia is more Hunger Games in space, without any killing (but still lots of violence), and more intrigue. It's about human nature, about needing something and how far you will go to get it, about how far we are willing to change before we look into the mirror and no longer see ourselves. It's about loyalty and loss and love, and it's beautiful and passionate and made my heart race, but Nyxia isn't really about aliens at all. Consider yourself forewarned.

Some other minor criticisms I have is that I would have like to know more about the actual mining process - Red Rising has some great and dramatic mining scenes that were really interesting, whereas Nyxia sort of skips past what is, I would think, quite an important part of their training. Speaking of training, that's what most of this book is. In a way, it reminded me a bit of Mark Lawrence's book Red Sister, which I also adored, in that there's a lot of training sequences, a lot of character development and exploration of the ties between characters. Reintgen did a fantastic job of making all ten character distinct, not only in terms of nationality, but in terms of personality. Ten main characters is a lot and they all felt different, with their own vibe, which I consider to be an impressive feat. Normally this sort of book will pick out three or four to be prominent, and the rest are an unimportant conglomeration; whilst Nyxia does have some characters that are more important - Bilal, Longwei, Kaya, Roathy - the rest still feel real.

I will recommend this book to absolutely everybody and anybody. The writing was superb, the characters well crafted, the context convincing. It was imaginative and brutal and raw with emotion.

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of this book. 

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