Ten Low – Stark Holborn

An excellent sci-fi adventure that mixes and matches genre elements from sci-fi fantasy and horror and has a great time doing it. All opinions are my own

RELEASE DATE: 01/06/2021


SUMMARY: Ten Low is an ex-army medic, one of many convicts eking out a living at the universe’s edge. She’s desperate to escape her memories of the interstellar war, and the crimes she committed, but trouble seems to follow wherever she goes. One night, attempting to atone for her sins, she pulls a teenage girl – the sole survivor – from the wreck of a spaceship. But Gabriella Ortiz is no ordinary girl. The result of a military genetics programme, she is a decorated Army General, from the opposing side of the war to Ten. Worse, Ten realises the crash was an assassination attempt, and that someone wants the Ortiz dead…

The pair bury their hatreds and strike an uneasy deal to smuggle the General off-world. Their road won’t be easy: they must cross the moon’s lawless wastes, facing military hit squads, bandits and the one-eyed leader of an all-female road gang, in a frantic race to get the General to safety. But something else waits in the darkness at the universe’s edge. Something that threatens to reveal Ten’s worst nightmare: the truth of who she really is and what she is running from.

OPINIONS: I picked up this book because I’d heard Holborn describe the premise on a panel and knew instantly it was something I wanted to read. It’s been described as Dune meets Firefly and on a surface level, this is true. Certainly, it shares with Firefly a galaxy-wide war where one side has been crushed, Core planets with all the wealth and rim planets barely noticed by the ruling power. It also incorporates lots of different elements of genre. While the setting is Sci-fi by way of westerns (complete with saloons and general stores) there’s magic – by way of the Ifs and the horror of Seekers – groups who will strip down ships and corpses down to harvest whatever’s valuable whether this is metal or organs. 

Each of these elements is used to good effect and the pace is constant – moving from one crisis to another but never dragging out the encounters or explanations too much. Because of this though the world can feel like a familiar one, although this is not a complaint as it gives more space for the characters and plot to shine. It’s also not a cookie cutout setting either there are plenty of small details that don’t detract from the pace but still create a living breathing world.

Ten is a great character to follow. As she’s a healer her first instinct isn’t always to reach for a weapon, although there are plenty of others around who do so. Instead, she finds a way around and this plays well against the General and Falco who are both more of the shoot first ask questions later.  The dynamic between Ten and the General is also a highlight of the book. Whilst for most of the book co-operation is grudging and there’s a great deal of suspicion some of the amusing moments are when Ten nudges the General to act as the child she appears to give them cover – although the General isn’t above playing that card for her own benefit which can make for an effective dichotomy in some scenes.

Ten Low is around 320 pages and it crams a lot of story into them. In between the dynamic and frenetic action scenes, the story explains how and why Ten has ended up where she is and what will be her purpose moving forward. It’s a good balance with a strong resolution. Things aren’t spelt out in precise detail but nothing feels unresolved or left hanging which can sometimes be an issue.

I really enjoyed this and would recommend it for those who like fast-paced action, two opposites being forced to work together, and love sci-fi western fusion. If however, your focus is deep lore and extensive worldbuilding this may not be the story for you. 

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