In one of my last posts you would have seen me raving about Becky Chamber’s debut novel The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet. I actually really love sci-fi but it’s a genre I never seen to pick up as much some as others, so delving into this series has been great for making me remember just how much I enjoy it. This actually worked so well in fact, that I wasted no time in delving straight into Becky Chamber’s second book.
Whilst A Closed and Common Orbit is a sequel of sorts, it doesn’t follow the same central characters that we meet upon the Wayfarer in the first book. Having said that, it does follow two main characters that we were aware of in the first book, shifting the focus here to follow these much more intensely. The novel actually picks up pretty soon after the final events of the first book, with the AI Lovelace having entered her kit and agreed to go off with the engineer Pepper as she acclimatises to her new situation. Lovelace’s exists threatens everything, her new life strictly against the Galaxy laws. If she were discovered it would mean the end, but Pepper is determined to stop this from happening. Pepper understands what it’s like to go against the rules, being born into a slave class created by a rogue society. She will stop at nothing to give Lovelace the start in life she deserves.
One of the most different yet also most enjoyable aspects between this book and the first is the shift in the narrative structure. Like the first book this one switched between different characters perspectives, allowing us to move quite freely between different people. What’s different here though is that we also move between time frames, following Pepper from the age of ten as she lives life firmly held by her slave cast in society. Personally I think this was a really clever technique from the author. We learnt to love the characters from the first book so much that it was always going to be problematic leaving them behind. By giving us this detailed history of Pepper’s we are able to grow closer to her character in this book, understanding the hardships she has endured and how far she has come.
Additionally whilst we may not be directly linked to the characters of the first book its truly interesting to learn more about the world they inhabit. In A Closed and Common Orbit we get to experience many different and unusual parts of this world, such as the dark society which created Pepper. It gives us a fuller and more detailed sketch of what we’ve already encountered in new and exciting ways, without needing to rely on what came before. Likewise, there are also small little elements which link back somewhat to the first book in very subtle ways which was really nice to encounter.
The thing which probably took me by surprise the most was just how emotional this book was in its entirety. It’s almost as if the book builds this connection with you subconsciously, feeding you these scenes bit by bit which are all adding up into this grand overarching story which will take your heart by surprise. I don’t think sci-fi is necessarily synonymous with emotion and heart so it was really refreshing to get a novel which manages to capture this. Of course learning the history of Pepper was a massive reason as to why we feel so strongly as a whole, but even with the character of Lovelace, who doesn’t have this sort of history, it is still incredibly emotive by the end.
I think a big part of this is because of the ways in which the novel explores the idea of family and how it can be made. We see time and time again in this book that family means far more than blood, that you are capable of creating your own familial bonds through the experiences and feelings you have shared. By the novel’s conclusion I was practically sobbing in certain scenes, and this was all because I was so vividly aware of the extreme connections that existed between two characters and how much they meant to each other.
Another aspect of this novel which I think has been done very successfully is the way in which it makes us question the world around us. The novel focuses on key themes such as morality and society, screaming at us to question what we see and how it works. We find ourselves considering what it is which truly makes someone human. What gives something the right to life? How can some lives be worth more than other? How much should we be able to control others? Although these are all considered in the context of this sci-fi world in space, they are also questions which are extremely relatable to our earthen society. The novel explored the idea that the masses in society aren’t always right and that it’s good to question those in power when the need arises.
Much like the first book this novel doesn’t focuses primarily on being plot heavy. Whilst there are continually different plot points and the characters are always busy doing something, it is still a much more subtle plot arrangement than many other novels. I didn’t spend the entire time I was reading this wondering when the big climactic moment was going to happen because I was simply enjoying being along for the ride. This meant that when something exciting or momentous did come along I was pleasantly surprised.
Second books in a series are always a problematic deal, frequently never quite achieving the same momentum as the first book. This was most definitely not the case here. I can whole heartedly say that this matches, or even succeeds, Becky Chamber’s first novel.
‘This novel puts extreme emotion into a genre not typically associated with it. This is a scorching read which matches both plot and connection, giving us a cast of characters more vivid than any movie. My imagination worked nonstop whilst my heart followed suit. Stunning.’