Star Splinter became an exercise in reading outside of my usual sci-fi zone. One reviewer on Goodreads called it ‘The Famous Five in space.’ Try as I might, I can’t put it better than that. It’s a fun-loving book, with an intriguing mix of daft humour and serious plotlines surrounding the destruction of Earth and those who are left thanks to being aboard spacecraft. If this mixture is your sort of thing, you’ll like this book. It’s a slightly backhanded compliment, but I finished the book despite it being far from my usual taste, and the second half of it was a lot stronger than the first.
John Cressey can certainly write – even though certain scenes are far too long and there’s some narrative explaining that I thought unnecessary, the narrative does have a nice flow to it, and has clearly been well edited. The descriptions in places are strong, especially when it comes to new locations and space craft. Star Splinter is a debut novel crafted with much attention to detail and polished in a way that so many self-published novels neglect to bother with. There’s one terrific line close to the end involving a (spoiler hidden) being compared with an oak tree. As someone trained in tree-felling and who’s had the life scared out of them by one splitting down the centre as it went down, I got that familiar ‘wish I’d thought of this’ moment. Star Splinter has enough of these moments of descriptive brilliance to redeem it of some its weaker points.
Being a first publication, the feeling I was left with at the end of it was that the author’s best work is ahead of him. The biggest problem I had with Star Splinter was that a lot of the time it was caught between two different styles of story writing that never quite complimented each other. It could have been written as YA, with the emphasis being more on the ‘Famous Five in space’ idea, or for an older audience had some of its slightly juvenile humour and character interaction removed, certain characters aged up or arguably removed altogether (some scenes did suffer from having too many people present, simply because the author seemingly couldn’t escape from his character-heavy setup). Cressey was brave enough to attempt a mixture of both, and for me it didn’t quite come off. The dialogue is at times very YA and doesn’t read like natural conversation, then at other times does the job when it comes to pacing the action scenes.
I found it hard to empathise with any character in this book, even though the soldier protagonist Calum made a commendable effort as the most sympathetic of the bunch. Strangely, the one character whose development hit nails on heads for me, namely Laurence Decker, got very little time in the overall spotlight. The idea of a gambling city with an incompetent villain who thinks he’s brilliant would have worked better if his speech had been refined and relied less on constant insults – his actions were already talking and then the author’s words took over in too many places. The decision to call one character Toker and another Jumper didn’t work for me either – odd names are a risk (and some people will be waving hypocrite flags at me for this sort of comment already) but on this occasion they didn’t work for me. The Toker-Eddy playoff dynamic wore thin for me by about halfway through, and later I decided Toker was actually a character who would have been better removed from the mix altogether. Star Splinter didn’t win me over with its characters, but more with the unravelling of the mystery behind Earth’s end, and the space travel spanning several well presented and imaginative locations.
The Caracarrion people are beautifully described and the premise behind their involvement in Earth’s final moments was well thought out. When the main characters join the antagonists and the two stories interlock, the whole story concludes in a battle worthy of any space opera. Even though some of it could have been edited down more for pace, I couldn’t stop reading once I got to the last quarter. It sets up room for the forthcoming book nicely (no spoilers) and I like to think that a sequel might be more focused down on the characters who really make things happen on a space-wide scale.