It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to get round to this review, but let me tell you: Chaos Vector is an excellent sequel to 2019’s sci-fi delight Velocity Weapon!
Book: Chaos Vector by Megan E O’Keefe
Publication date: 28th July 2020
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Orbit Books. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: violence, injury, and death; medical experimentation; discussions of warfare and genocide.
Sanda and Tomas are fleeing for their lives after letting the most dangerous smartship in the universe run free. Now, unsure of who to trust, Sanda knows only one thing for certain — to be able to save herself from becoming a pawn of greater powers, she needs to discover the secret of the coordinates hidden in her skull.
But getting to those coordinates is a problem she can’t solve alone. They exist beyond a dead gate — a Casimir gate that opened up into a dead-end system without resources worth colonizing, and was sealed off. To get through the dead gate, she needs the help of the enemy Nazca. But some Nazca are only interested in the chip in her head — and they’ll crack her open to get to it.
If you saw my review of Velocity Weapon you’ll know I absolutely adored the first book in this trilogy – to the point that I actually put off starting Chaos Vector for almost a year because I was nervous I’d hyped it up too much for myself. On the one hand, I’m kicking myself for leaving it so long, but on the other, I’m so glad I can continue straight on to book three, Catalyst Gate, which has just come out – the ending has left me desperate to continue. This is definitely a series with a lot to take in, so I highly recommend reading them all back-to-back so you’ve got as much info as you can at the front of your mind. Even so, whatever you think you know is going to be flipped on its head multiple times! As always with sequel reviews, I’ll try not to spoil anything, but it’s impossible to discuss the book without at least mentioning which characters are still around, so if you want to go in completely unspoiled, maybe read the book first and then come back to me.
Honestly, I found the first half of the book slow going. Several of the elements I’d adored from Velocity Weapon were missing, most significantly the first book’s main plot of Sanda, alone on an unfamiliar spaceship with a snarky and possibly dangerous AI. I had loved this setting, and the growing friendship between Sanda and Bero, as the AI called himself – it was sci-fi that worked on the tiny personal and the huge galactic scale. Most of all, I missed Bero’s character – I understood why he wasn’t present, but he was my favourite! Due to the events of Velocity Weapon, things are necessarily different here, and the first half of this book not only has Sanda interacting with a lot more characters in a very different environment, it’s also a lot more action-packed and I found myself a little disappointed to have lost some of the quieter, more speculative elements amid all the battles and chases – still fun, but just not quite my flavour of sci-fi. That being said, there’s a point at which this all clicked together for me, around half way through, and the second half of the book delivered everything I could possibly have wanted, including all the character work payoff I’d been hoping for. It’s not that it went back to that quieter state, but it just all suddenly seemed to work, with previously disparate and confusing threads snapping together into a net that tightened around me until I was literally saying ‘no no no’ out loud as I turned the pages.
If you’ve read the book, and you want to talk in detail, my Twitter DMs are open, but in the name of not spoiling anything, I’ll try to talk through a couple of things vaguely here. Chaos Vector gets big. Huge revelations are made that reminded me of the feelings I had about the last few chapters of The Ruin of Kings – I described that in my review as realising “you started off standing on a twelve-foot tower of rugs, and your entire life has become Jenn Lyons whipping them out from under you one at a time until you don’t even know your own name.” The twists and reveals here come just as thick and fast and sweepingly, but while The Ruin of Kings has you realising things about its characters, Chaos Vector raises issues that have you realising things about the very state of humanity. It’s the kind of perfect science fiction that has you thinking you’re following a fun plot, but sneakily forces you to look at the heart of what it is to be human – there’s a revelation so chilling in here that I had to put the book down for half an hour and think about the implications. It’s magnificent stuff. Even now it’s making my stomach twist when I think about it!
I’m still not sure I totally understand all of the plot, and I think this will be a series I need to reread at least once after finishing to try to piece together all the hints that have been dropped. These are books that expect you to pay attention, and unless you want to sit down with 1500 post-it notes to try to keep track, you do need to let some things wash over you until they are more fully explained. For example, I continue to be slightly underwhelmed by the character of Jules – I feel like her actions are confusing and don’t quite seem to make sense with everything else we’re seeing – but I say that with every confidence that this is my fault for missing something that will click for me later. I suppose we’ll see shortly – I’m about to dive into Catalyst Gate straight away to get some answers! So yes, you have to have your brain in gear and even then, you may not get everything, but my goodness, will you have a great time anyway. It’s just such gorgeously clever, complex plotting.
I suppose by rights I shouldn’t give this five stars, given the shaky start I had with it, but that second half was so thrilling, and the whole book works so well as a unit, that I’m going to do it anyway. I was going to do my usual “if you like your sci-fi to be X, Y and Z” conclusion, but nothing will sum it up well enough so instead, how about this: if you like your sci-fi excellent, read this series. Five out of five cats!