★★★★ Slaves of the Island Planets by Ryan London is the second book in the Lockwith Chronicles series, a science-fiction series about a mysterious group of immortals who subjugate local populations all across the universe, and the rag-tag assortment of rebels who seek to overthrow them. Atrayjen lives on the planet Egalomiscus, where she works as a river boat taxi driver. Part of the river caste, Atrayjen has been taught that her life is set out before her in an unerring, uninspiring path. But when a pair of passengers from an upper caste enter her boat, they extend an invitation to Atrayjen to meet the clandestine “night caste,” a society of representatives from various castes who have been awakened to the realities of their enslavement. After having the truth revealed to her, Atrayjen has no choice but to embark on a truth-seeking journey that will take her across countless planets and into direct contact with horrors and dangers she cannot begin to imagine.
A fluid brew of sci-fi and fantasy, London uses vivid and lurid language to bring his gorgeous, out-of-this-world landscapes to life. Slaves of the Island Planets blends the expansive storytelling of epic fantasy series like The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson with the planet-hopping pep and moral fortitude of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel, A Wrinkle in Time. Amid all the heart-pounding conflict, there are some quietly beautiful scenes that speak to powerful themes like self-determination and the universality (or lack thereof) of morality. Setting his series on such a grand scale allows London to examine the very feeling of helplessness that plagues so many of our species here on Planet Earth. While his writing seems to posit that none of these answers are easily won, London’s novel leaves the reader with the impression that the battle for truth is always worth the effort.