A promising debut of a grimdark science fiction series by C.T Phipps and Michael Suttkus, this a narrative that blurs the boundaries of right or wrong.
The story is told from a first person perspective of Cassius Mass, a legendary star pilot from the Archduchy of Crius whose nation lost in a final big battle with the massive forces of the Commonwealth. Our main protagonist, desperately trying to escape or bury his past, was shoved right into the face of rising new threats and perpetual conflicts that the human race is so adept at propagating.
“Evil is evil. Big. Small. Grand. Petty. Well-justified or just because. There’s no lesser or greater of it. Choosing between them does not make your soul any less blackened."
The world, or rather cosmos-building, evident in this narrative was intricate and quite remarkable. This is a far-future science fiction of humans who after destroying Earth, conquered and colonised space and eventually developed into various nations or 'races' of humanity. These comprise of the larger interstellar organisation called the Commonwealth and the smaller one being the Archduchy of Crius whose nobility dabbled into cyber-genetics, cloning, and human experimentation. Then we have another 'race' altogether who have evolved and adapted to space life so completely that they can dwell in zero gravity and appear more alien than human.
No science fiction is ever complete without the mention of aliens and their far superior technology and the authors weaved this aspect of worldbuilding into the narrative without these beings ever making an appearance. But instead it told of their influence and shaping of these races and their technology, and of even more mystical beings controlling or directing the fate of humanity in space. I personally found this to be well-executed while maintaining a mysterious air to these highly intelligent alien beings.
Whether it was for a matter of survival or merely an extension of dominance, battles were a constant affair. Arising from the fall of Crius, there were new factions arising within the Commonwealth which resulted in plots within plots, conspiracies within conspiracies, and twists and turns that occurred so often that one has no inkling which side can be trusted nor which side is right or wrong.
"If you can’t be with the side you want, work to fix the side you’re with."
Aside from the intricate plot and worldbuilding, the cast of characters was diverse and interesting with an impressively large proportion of female representation. In fact, aside from Cassius, all the more notable characters were women. The best part of all was that they were compelling and three-dimensional characters which did not fall into the horribly cliched form of femme fatales just to satisfy the mould of 'strong and dangerous female'. Cassius himself was fascinating in his internal struggle between who he was born to be and had been, and who he will want or wish to become.
The main issue I had with this book was that there was just too much for me to absorb on the political narrative over the length of the book. As one who sometimes prefers slower or longer books to draw out the plot or character development, I actually will like more pages to better understand the background of all these conflicts and the various factions and organisations a bit better. Perhaps I'm just too dense to grab all that at the first instance. The other was more around expectation. The initial space battle scene in the first chapter was very well-written and I hoped to see a bit more of that but the tone of the book turned to more social commentary on war, slavery, cloning, transhumanism, artificial intelligence and a mothership-load of political intrigue.
Notwithstanding, Lucifer's Star was well-written with solid worldbuilding and character development that I will gladly partake in the future books of the series.