SPSFC Finalist Review: Aestus–The City by S.Z. Attwell

The end of the second annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC2) is within sight, with the winner to be announced in mid-July. My team advanced three of our semifinalists to the finals, before being given four more books to read on the way to determining an overall winner. Today, we’ll be looking at the opening entry in a sci-fi epic, Aestus: The City by S.Z. Attwell.

Jay’s Review and Rating

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.

Jay has rated Aestus: The City 7/10. For more detail, check out his full review.

Josh’s Review and Rating

The characters are very likable, even when they’re doing something the book has revealed is foolhardy or wrong, as they try and do what’s best for the people they care about. And the book uses its plot to throw these characters for a loop with some reveals that change things up in how the characters and the reader sees this world. The reader should expect most of these twists for a while before they’re revealed, because the book teases these ideas relentlessly, but the twists work and deal with some strong themes – themes of how the City’s seeming to be the last bastion of humanity on a way too hot planet allows it to hide secrets and enforce an autocratic rule; themes of how the City secretly oppresses various groups and individuals and may in fact be choosing one group of humans as being worth more than others; and hell themes of how certain minority groups are not even allowed to be considered humans at all. None of these themes or how they’re presented here are original, but they work generally really well and the themes are well traveled because they’re very relevant to today’s world.

Alas, the book does all of the above so well….and then kind of ruins it a good bit with its ending. The book’s middle hints that the book’s plot will be heading towards a climax and confrontation over a certain event….but then the book’s last thirty page throw in a new twist reveal that prevents the book from getting ever to that event. The fact that this twist reveal isn’t really foreshadowed well if at all doesn’t help, but even worse is the fact that the book then abruptly ends on a cliffhanger after that twist reveal, which doesn’t allow the book to try to actually show off the implications of this reveal, leaving all of that for the books’ sequel.

Josh has rated Aestus: The City 7.5/10. For more detail, check out his full review.

Matt’s Review and Rating

Matt was not able to read and score Aestus: The City before the completion of the round. His score will be listed as Did Not Attempt, which does not affect the overall rating.

Sarah’s Review and Rating

While Aestus was the longest book in the SPSFC, it was the fastest read. The overall pacing and story structure kept me turning the page and wanting to find out what happens next. That helped counter certain elements that pulled me out of the story at times, including some basic character tropes, repetitive foreshadowing, and reveals that felt a bit disjointed. That said, it was still very immersive, even in a world underground where we’re literally in the dark. I can easily go back there in my mind and wonder what the sequel has in store.

Sarah has rated Aestus: The City 7/10.

Official Scores

Jay 7
Josh 7.5
Matt DNA
Sarah 7
Team 7.17


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