In a nutshell: I enjoyed this book, the writing is good, the characters memorable, the images and ideas suitably fantastic for space opera. It’s only $4.99 for the Kindle, what are you waiting for?
Brian Niemeier’s first book, Nethereal, is the story of the adventures of 4 friends, two humans and two not-so-humans, who live as pirates in a world ruled by the evil Steersman’s Guild. Jaren, the half human, half Gen captain, seeks revenge on the Guild that exterminated his race, but has been forced to live as a pirate on the fringes of the Middle Stratum; Nakvin is a human-looking renegade Lady Steersman of unknown origin who pilots Jaren’s ships and took in Jaren as a boy over 100 years ago. She is now his best, perhaps only, friend; Teg, quick-witted muscle-for-hire who, despite his professional aloofness from the causes he is hired to protect, has become devoted to Jaren’s quixotic adventures, and Deim, a young Steersman being trained by Nakvin. Together, they adventure around the Middle Stratum and to Hell and back.
Nethereal is an exercise not so much in world-building as in universe-building. Niemeier creates a universe only superficially related to ours, and then explores the differences. This universe is laid out with great care throughout the book, so I won’t spoil it by describing it here – part of the fun here is not knowing what is going on until later events reveal it. The Nethereal universe is intricate and imaginative, and provides an engaging backdrop against which the drama and personalities unfold.
After much travail and derring-do, the story’s climactic battle is mind-blowing – and a good set up for the next book in the series. Nethereal is well worth the read.
A couple caveats: I suspect I’m not exactly the target audience for this book. I’ll confess I’m not much for super-cool mind powers, which abound here. The advanced enough science/indistinguishable from magic deal seems like so much hand-waving when what you really want are Merlin-equivalents in your sci fi. This is just a personal quirk, traceable, perhaps, to my never having played RPGs – an obvious shortcoming on my part. I know many people enjoy this kind of stuff, but for me it takes some getting past. But given that, the magic/technology is well done.
One other curiosity, also just a personal thing: much of the action takes place in a Hell unique to the Nethereal Universe, but roughly structured after the Nine Circles in Dante’s Inferno. Now, I’m as big a Dante-freak as you’re likely to find outside a university Dante department, so, naturally, I’m mapping Dante’s Hell against the Nethereal Hell – and, I ended up reading the book three times, and couldn’t make sense of it. Sure, there are points of contact and shared imagery, but I ended up thinking it was just for drama and color – I could not find any of Dante’s sophisticated sense of morality, which is the true structure of his Hell, in Nethereal’s weird and evocative afterlife. But again, rare is the reader who will find this an issue.
So, all in all, a fun read. Go buy and read this book!