In Retro Review: Perdition

If you want thrills, you want to read this book. Highest possible recommendation.

Perdition by Ann Aguirre

Published by Ace, September 2013. Paperback of 337 pages at $7.99.

The cover: “Dred” Devos looks upon the reader emotionlessly, one hand whipping her weapons of choice, chains, around. She looks tough and ready for action. This image by Scott M. Fischer was enough to peak my interest to have me looking on the back side for the premise, so it did its job. The design of this frontpiece comes from Lesley Worrell. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “Welcome to Hell. The prison ship Perdition, a floating city where the Conglomerate’s most dangerous criminals are confined for life, orbits endlessly around a barren asteroid. Life inside is even more bleak. Hailed as the Dread Queen, inmate Dresdemona ‘Dred’ Devos controls one of Perdition’s six territories, bordered on both sides by would-be kings eager to challenge her claim. Keeping them at bay requires constant vigilance as well as a steady influx of new recruits to replace the fallen. Survival is a continual battle, and death is the only escape. Of the newest convicts, only one is worth Dred’s attention. The mercenary Jael, with his deadly gaze and attitude, may be the most dangerous criminal on board. His combat skills could give her the edge she needs, if he doesn’t betray her first. Unfortunately, that’s what he does best. Winning Jael’s allegiance will be a challenge, but failure could be worse than death…” I’ve read two other books by Aguirre, so I was looking to find another by her to read and this is the first in a series. I like the idea of prison ship run by the inmates, so I jumped on this. Overall grade: A

The characters: The novel is split between two characters’ points of view: Dred and Jael. Both are outstanding characters. Both recognize their criminal pasts and have to become stronger, more ruthless, individuals in order to survive on Perdition. Each is also reluctant to share any details of their past with anyone, as that would give another prisoner a possible advantage over them. Episodes from their pasts are given, but not completely, allowing Aguirre to reveal more in future novels. However, enough is stated to create empathy with them. Dred is a terrific lead who does what she must for her people to survive and she sweats every decision. She doesn’t expose her thoughts to many, though the reader knows what’s she’s feeling. Jael is the reluctant ally. He wants to survive, but having been burned in the past by so many, he doesn’t know if he can trust Dred, let alone follow her. Aguirre has so crystalized these characters so well that when she cuts between the two every other chapter, readers will become suspicious of the other, feeling the doubt that one has for the other, and start to believe it. This made for some great tension and great storytelling. The three most important characters after this pair of leads are seen little, but spoken og constantly. They are the leaders of the other three zones on the ship: Priest, Grigor, and Silence. The first two are rumored to be in a pact to destroy the Dred and Silence. Silence is also a woman, but she is most frightening character of all: she and her people worship death and come and go like shadows. They kill just to kill, and do so silently and elegantly. Any appearance by any of her people, let alone the mention of her name, brings fear. There are several other characters brought up, the majority being in Dred’s clan, but to reveal who they are and what they do would spoil the surprises. Needless to say, this is an amazing group of characters. Overall grade: A+

The settings: The entire novel is set on Perdition: a prison without guards, slowly turning to ruin. Sections of the ship are without power and water. Some sections have been forgotten, because those who investigate them never return. There’s also an alien section of the ship where xenos rule, and no human has a chance of survival there. Forgotten robots blindly follow their programing, protecting areas for reasons unknown. If a character strays too far into another’s zone, the differences are notable. Every turn brings something new, good or bad, wondrous or terrifying. I haven’t come upon a novel in a long time where the setting is as much a character as those that populate it. This literally was a country in space where the environment could be hostile with any turn of the page. Perdition is a fantastic locale. Overall grade: A+

The action: I was hoping for some action between the warring zones and I got so much more than that. There’s infighting between the people of Dred’s group (and why wouldn’t there be?) that gets physical, Dred has to show her people that she’s tough enough to lead them by taking on any challengers, exploring the ship leads to all kinds of dangers, Jael has got some fighting abilities, and, naturally, when the zones fight it’s amazing. Aguirre writes action sequences that will more than please those craving them. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: Things wrap up nicely, though there are two books, so far, that follow this novel, though one could stop here and be completely satisfied with its ending. I have to admit, this left me hungry for more from this cast, so I’m pleased she continued. Overall grade: A+

The final line: A fantastic adventure full of characters whose loyalties readers will question. The setting is fantastic and the horrors around each corner are outstanding. If you want thrills, you want to read this book. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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