Despite its long history there is still plenty of new and interesting space opera emerging. Series like Arkady Martine’s Telixcalaan books, Megan O’Keefe’s Protectorate series and Linden Lewis’ First Sister trilogy. Into that mix last year came Essa Hansen’s debut Nophek Gloss, which at least took the prize for weirdest title. That book used a range of space opera standards – multi-species empires, lost civilisations, eldritch powers, genetic modifications – but added in a few twists including manipulation of the multiverse. She now returns to that world in the high energy sequel Azura Ghost.
Nophek Gloss introduced readers to genetically modified supersoldier Caiden and his found family alien crew. The book ended with Caiden on the run with a nophek pup and on his unique ship the Azura. The epilogue for that book jumped ten years into the future and Azura Ghost picks up at that point. Caiden has been on the run from the forces of Threi, once his ally now an enemy who he has trapped in a pocket universe. And Caiden planned to stay on the run except that he learns that his adopted sister Leta may still be alive and in the hands of Threi’s sister Arbiss. Arbiss wants Caiden and his ship and uses Leta successfully as bait. Caiden is then forced to fall back on his old connections as he tries to thwart Arbiss’s plans and all hell breaks loose.
Hansen’s scenario lends itself to high energy action sequences. Many of the characters have artificial bodies or are alien or in some other way enhanced so can take plenty of punishment allowing for lengthy chase and battle scenes. There is also the capacity to create and jump between multiple different universes in which the laws of physics differ slightly. And in amongst all the sturm and drang are the questions of family and loyalty. Caiden still struggles with knowing whether his companions support him because the has the power to coerce them or because he really is part of their found family. Arbiss and Threi have very different visions for the future but also have a shared history as brother and sister. And Leta has a deep connection to Caiden but now has her own “found family” who have very different ideals. Unfortunately much of the emotional action of this book gets buried under the big set pieces making it hard to really connect with any of the characters, Caiden in particular.
Azura Ghost is a worthy follow up to Nophek Gloss. Hansen deeply understands her weird multiverse and is able to render her vision in a compelling way. Readers who loved the characters and concepts of that first book will be delighted to get more and bigger. But while the action is epic, Hansen is not quite able to capture some of the deeper emotional and character beats that make some of the other recent space operas more compelling. She is definitely though a science fiction author to watch.