Sci-fi Novel Review–Aestus: The City by S.Z. Attwell

We’ve reached the finals of the second annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC2), and my team will be reading all four of the seven finalists that we had not previously reviewed in the semifinals. And what better place for me to start with a book that is simultaneously (1) the longest finalist, and (2) the only finalist that was on my TBR before the competition started? That book? Aestus: The City by S.Z. Attwell. 

Aestus stars Jossey, an engineer trying to ensure her underground home has enough solar power to sustain themselves with minimal trips to the surface—a land beset by boiling heat during the day and aggressive attacks from the cat-like Onlar at night. But with power failing, Onlar becoming more aggressive, and dissident factions threatening internally, Jossey finds herself joining the Patrol in hopes that the combination of scientific and military prowess can save her home. 

The first thing you notice when picking up Aestus (even in ebook form) is its length, coming in over 700 pages. But those are not difficult pages, and the reading is much faster than the page count would indicate–this one is easy to binge. Aestus just isn’t an especially streamlined novel, which may be good, bad, or indifferent, depending on the reader’s preferences. It builds up two potential love interests among the Patrollers, giving point-of-view time to both, and only slowly unveils the answers to the story’s driving mysteries. 

The result is a book that’s easy to read quickly and has some intriguing character drama alongside the main plot. But it’s also a book that keeps teasing reveals even after the secrets have become obvious, and it’s a book that doesn’t stand alone especially well. It’s clear from the first few chapters that the military brass is hiding crucial information and that one significant character is not what they seem. And yet so much of the book is dedicated to building those reveals, changing the landscape of the story and setting the stage for the sequel. When they come, they’re certainly satisfying, piquing plenty of interest for the next book. But at the same time, given such a lengthy investment, I wanted a little bit more than dramatic revelations that set up the next book. 

I expect opinions of Aestus will vary significantly, even among sci-fi/fantasy diehards, depending on specific reader preferences. Those who enjoy all those extra character moments that don’t necessarily push the story forward and who don’t mind settling in for the long haul will have a whole lot to love. Those who prefer tighter, more efficient storytelling may be frustrated at seeing the same elements established so many times. 

I come down somewhere in the middle. I think the story is hurt by telegraphing some of the twists and by not delivering enough closure, but I enjoyed getting to know the characters and easily devoured 700 pages. Even when I had a pretty good idea of what was coming, I was still on the edge of my seat. Perhaps it wasn’t efficient storytelling, but there’s something to be said for the ability to generate that emotional connection—it’s not an easy task. Ultimately, Aestus won’t be my favorite read of SPSFC2, but it will likely be in my top half among the finalists. 

Recommended if you like: uncovering secrets, long-but-easy reads, Muslim rep. 

Can I use it for BingoIt’s hard mode for Self-Published!

Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads. 

SPSFC score: 7/10 for my personal score. The official team score will be determined in concert with my teammates.

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