It is really hard to find creative, almost fantastical science fiction stories — stories that blur the lines of what people view as hard science fiction, soft science fiction, science fantasy, as well as political and social speculation.
It's harder still to find novels that break through the barriers of the genre and push its way to the front of the pack.
I want to say Leap of Space (Space & Time #1) by Sharon T Rose is that sort of book, but it didn't quite make it for me. It got close; there are so many good things about this book, but I constantly had a sense that it was being held back, reined in by numerous factors that didn't quite allow it to become that truly stellar novel that it could be.
The TL;DR Version: If you're a really big fan of character stories, you'll like this book. If you're a fan of hard-hitting plots and development, you might want to be wary — plot is not a strength of this novel.
Leap of Space is the story of a slave girl and her attempts to best her Master. It is the story of the people she knows. It is the story of her Master, too, as he realizes he has been outmaneuvered by the slave belonging to him.
I want to say I loved this book. I certainly enjoyed reading it, but it just wasn't quite there yet. Before I begin on the strengths and weaknesses of this novel, and who I think this book is best suited for, I do think it's a book worth reading — with a few caveats.
I view this book as a 3.0* novel with a leaning towards 3.5* for unique species, fairly strong characterization, and creative world building.
I think anyone who likes reading about characters will enjoy this book. However, if you're looking for something to keep you on the edge of your seat, you may find this book lacking. This isn't a story involving a complex plot or many events at all, for that matter. It takes place in very limited locations, offering glimpses of the world through the characters' eyes infrequently. We get most of the world building through inner monologue and dialogue.
If you're the type of reader who wants to explore worlds and learn about them through the character's interactions with them, you might find yourself disappointed. While the various species do interact frequently, the book is extremely restrained in terms of where the characters go.
Most of the progress of the book is on a personal level with the characters, rather than a blend of characters and experiences. Most of the challenges are emotional ones, albeit there are some physical elements as well. There is a plot, but the plot isn't a focal point of the story. It can be condensed into several short sentences without losing anything at all.
In short, the stakes and the conflicts are mostly emotional. The goals of the characters feel small, with some characters having everything and doing what they do out of spite and little else. Other characters are fairly passive about their goals and motivations. A few other characters almost seem to exist to give a contrast for what the main character has versus what the main character might want, if she manages to break out of the chains of her upbringing.
There is a lot of room here for huge stakes, and a great deal of reasons — and worries — for these characters. But, as I read through, I couldn't help but feel there was a certain amount of safety inherent within the novel. The edge of doubt and fear of a character truly meeting a bad end — be it emotionally or otherwise — just wasn't there. When the characters did finally encounter those risks and pay the price for their decisions, it lacked the punch I was hoping for.
The novel just didn't have the sharp, cutting edge that should be present in a book dealing with a main character that's considered a child who is also a slave. This book has so much potential to be strong, but it wasn't.
There are a few reasons for this, in my opinion. Originally, this novel was a web serial. It was posted in shorter chunks, and then converted into a novel after the fact. This can work, but I don't think the publisher (Curiosity Quills) restructured the novel in such a way where it could really work as a book. They left it in the original structure of a web serial.
The chapters are brutally short, creating a jarring feeling as I read through this book. The sense of pacing the short scenes and chapters provided didn't enhance the tension or pacing for me. It made me feel like I was reading while riding a bucking horse. Just as I would settle into a scene, it would end. Just as the tension started to pick up, the story would shift to the next ‘episode' of the serial.
I can understand how this would work well for web fiction. In a novel format, however, it didn't come across as strong. By the end, I felt that the scenes were too constrained by the limitations of its original formatting to really have the strength needed to make me love this book.
This book has potential, and a lot of it, but I think it lacked the heart-rending punches it could have had. It spends a great deal of time rehashing emotions and subjects we've already learned.
By the time it gets to the end, the impact of the changes the characters do go through don't hit as hard.
One thing that did bother me a great deal about this book was the ending sequence. I'm not keen on spoiling anything, but if you're looking for a strong climax, be wary. It's one of those arcs where if you blink at just the wrong time, you might miss it. Even if you don't miss it, you might reach the last page with the expectation to keep reading. This is potentially good for a series, but at the same time, there is no sense of closure to this book. It's obviously meant to be paired with a second half — or even multiple volumes — but as a standalone novel, the ending just wasn't satisfying. There was no real triumph to the end of this book.
I think the lackluster ending, where it felt like the book should keep going but puttered out, disappointed me the most.
I think the main reason for this is the plot. Because this is a story more about the interaction of characters and the speculation of behaviors of interspecies interactions, the plot fell short of what I was hoping for.
To shift gears, I want to take a few minutes to delve into the production of this book. This novel was produced through a publishing house, so when I went into reading it, I had higher expectations for quality.
If you're someone who doesn't want to see any errors in a book produced by a publishing house, this book may cause some problems for you. I stopped counting errors after ten. There were enough of them scattered throughout the book for them to be really noticed, interrupting the process of reading as I tried to make sense of missing punctuation, a few spelling errors, and some formatting issues. While errors in a novel aren't a complete deal breaker for me, there were enough issues in this book I did notice them more than I should have noticed them.
Still, despite the errors and the lack of real driving plot to match the stronger characters, this book was worth the time to read it. Because of the short chapters, it does feel like a short read, which does help to mitigate some of the problems — if you don't mind the jarring sensation of the abrupt chapters and scenes.