I guess it’s the summer of Kara reading sequels to books she read 3 or more years ago! I just barely remember Nyxia, but the good news is that most of that memory is of how excited I felt after reading the book. It was good young adult science fiction. Scott Reintgen balanced an anti-corporation message with adventure, teamwork, the bonds of friendship and family. There was a lot to recommend about it, and because it ends with a cliffhanger, I was eager to read Nyxia Unleashed. But you know how it goes….
This story picks up where Nyxia left off. Emmett Atwater’s drop pod has made it to the surface of Eden—although we soon learn from the indigenous inhabitants that it is more properly called Magnia. Similarly, even though the Babel corporation named the indigenous people Adamites, they prefer to go by the Imago. We learn a lot about them as Emmett and his fellow miners settle in on the tumultuous, dangerous continent of Grimgarden. Expected to mine nyxia and also make nice with the Imago, Emmett and the others have another goal: find a way home. Disgusted by how Babel treated them, they have no trust in Babel’s promises of bonuses. But before they can go home, first they need to survive.
I like how Reintgen wastes no time in introducing conflict, threats to their survival, and moves and countermoves. This is a book that does not stand still. More importantly, there is a lot of agency here. Emmett contributes, Morning contributes—most of the main characters have some kind of say, some kind of stake in the action and decisions that unfold. So even though Emmett is our viewpoint protagonist for most of the book, the group itself feels like it is run by consensus. This is very much the antithesis of a Lord of the Flies situation wherein one or two people emerge as the strongest voices. Instead, the group decides that it will stand “shoulder to shoulder.” But the hardest part of survival isn’t avoiding the big, scary alien monsters. It’s deciding whom to trust.
Babel is so clearly devious and untrustworthy that it’s almost cartoonish. Which is fine; I’m willing to give Reintgen that one because the methods that they use do feel realistic. I appreciate the little glimpses we get into how their propaganda machine operates at full tilt back on Earth. If Bezos actually takes Amazon into space, this is pretty much how it would operate.
The Imago were super mysterious in Nyxia. We only met the one who killed Kaya (still super mad about that btw), who is imprisoned on the Babel space station. Now we get to learn much more about these people and their culture. There are echoes (albeit not quite parallels) here of other “first contact” books like The Sparrow: two very different species getting to interact more deeply for the first time. I like that the Imago aren’t presented as all-knowing, wiser beings than humanity. They are flawed, perhaps just as flawed as humans. They have their own agenda as well, and Emmett smartly doesn’t want to trust them completely—at least not right away.
If Nyxia Unleashed stumbles anywhere, it’s in the last act of the book. As everything comes to a head, the pace shifts into ludicrous speed. We go from touring Sevenset to betraying Babel and Babel launching a full-scale assault. There are submarine chase sequences and fights, nyxia duels, etc. It’s a lot of violence, bloodshed, combat all at once—a little overwhelming compared to the fast-but-steady pace of the rest of the book.
Once again, we’re left with a cliffhanger ending (boo) that sets up the final book of the trilogy. I liked this one enough to read that one, but my 3-star rating is largely based on this fact that Reintgen is chaining his stories instead of delivering more complete works that, if they don’t standalone, at least have very discrete identities.
Oh, and as much as I think Emmett and his paramour are cute together, I am still incensed that Reintgen chose romance over friendship in this way! Nope, not going to let that one go.