As much as I think the finale of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might be one of the best TV finales ever, I do wish we had seen (canonically, on screen) what the aftermath of the Dominion War brought. It’s one thing to tell a war story—and DS9 told it well—and another to talk about after the war. About picking up the pieces, rebuilding, and healing wounds of all varieties. Aftershocks is exactly that kind of book. Marko Kloos drops us into a solar system five years after the last official shot was fired and, through a select cast of characters, asks us to consider how we would rebuild trust, empathy, and our own personal lives. Thanks to 47North and NetGalley for the eARC!
Perhaps the main character, because we meet him first and get the most pagetime with him, is Aden. At the beginning of the book he is a prisoner of war, because he was on the losing side. He is soon released, time served, and finds himself adrift in that way released prisoners often are. Aden is in no rush to return to his home planet of Gretia, to be found by his estranged father of means, yet he doesn’t know where else he might belong. Kloos introduces other perspectives: Dunstan is the commander of a Rhodian battleship that witnesses some very unusual activity; Idina is a Palladian infantry sergeant who loses her entire squadron in a devastating ambush and then gets put on peace patrol duty; Solveig is the heiress to a Gretian family business suffering under sanctions and war reparations.
Each of these characters is trying to move on in some way, to some degree, although you will grow attached to them by varying amounts. For example, as much as I liked Dunstan, we don’t learn as much about his backstory as we do some of the others, so I’m not entirely sure what his deal is. Idina might be my favourite. She goes through a lot in a short amount of time in this book, yet she remains true to herself and still develops as far as her character goes.
Kloos makes it clear that there is something untoward happening in this system, hints at a conspiracy or Xanatos gambit behind the scenes. From strange piracy behaviour to mystery attacks and the destruction of mothballed fleets, it’s as if someone is trying to stir up trouble—but to what end? If you’re looking for answers, without spoilers I’m going to tell you that you won’t really find them. Aftershocks doesn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, but it’s definitely not a standalone book. Indeed, my major grip with this novel is just how little Kloos ties together the characters’ stories. There is definitely some overlap; don’t get me wrong. Clearly the connections are there. I just was expecting the storylines to converge towards the end, and when that didn’t really happen, it left me disappointed.
I’m willing to cut Kloos a lot of slack, however, simply because I enjoyed the sandbox we got to play in. Lots of tantalizing hints about the origins of this system without anything along the lines of a huge infodump. The technology is handwavey at times, yet also fairly familiar—commtabs and artificial gravity, etc. Oh, and do you like naval-inspired space battles? Because have some good naval-inspired space battles happening here, particularly in Dunstan's chapters. Great combination of AI and human responsibilities, really intense and suspenseful scenes of stalking a target, deciding when to go hot, etc. This isn’t the main focus of the book by any means; I wouldn’t call Aftershocks military SF per se—but it’s just enough to satisfy me without being more than I really want in a book.
So on balance, I liked Aftershocks. It’s good without being particularly great, and you know, that’s really all I want in the end. I’ll take great when I can get it, and I’ll wax poetic and reread it and talk about how it changed my life. But this is a nice science fiction adventure full of intrigue and both interpersonal and intrapersonal drama, and I am totally here for it. Give me more!