Pelquin’s Comet (Volume 1 of The Dark Angels) by Ian Whates (book review).

Ian Whates is well-known in the British Science Fiction and Fantasy community as an author, anthologist and publisher. He runs the award-winning small independent publishing house NewCon Press and has edited many anthologies including the highly successful ‘Solaris Rising’ series. He is, however, also an author in his own right, having already published two collections of short stories and two series of novels, the ‘City Of A Hundred Rows’ trilogy of fantasy novels and the ‘Noise’ duology of SF novels. ‘Pelquin’s Comet’ is a space opera that forms the start of a new SF series.


The story is set in the far future and revolves around Thomas Pelquin, the captain of an old Comet-class cargo freighter. His closest friend, Nate Almont, recently stumbled across a huge cache of valuable alien artefacts hidden on a planet at the edge of inhabited space. When the ship he was working on at the time tried to claim the booty, Nate was one of only two crewmembers to survive the automated defences left behind by the long-extinct ‘Elders’. Nate has now persuaded his friend to try for the cache but Pelquin is canny enough to realise that beating the booby-traps will need some serious equipment. So he books an appointment with the First Solar Bank, charms them for all he’s worth and comes away with the funds he needs to kit out the Comet with enough equipment for a small war. In return, the Bank is promised a share of the profits. To ensure they get it, they send their top agent, Corbin Drake, along for the ride, accompanied by his small alien pet, Mudball.

However, rumours about the size of the Elder cache have reached senior executives at the powerful Jossyren Mining Corporation, who decide to follow Pelquin’s Comet in the hope of stealing the alien loot once Pelquin and his crew have taken all the risks to collect it.

When the Comet’s engineer, Monkey, is injured in a drive-by shooting organised by Jossyren, Pelquin is forced to take on a temporary replacement. A young woman called Leesa shows him that she’s the best person for the job and he hires her, despite the fact that she’s clearly hiding something. What he doesn’t realise is that her memory has been wiped, so even she doesn’t know where she’s been or what she’s done previously. When things start to go wrong, though, it turns out that Leesa is much more than just a good engineer.

Can Captain Pelquin get his ship to the location of the alien cache without being followed? Will the expensive equipment he’s bought allow him and his crew to beat the cache’s deadly defences and collect the loot? Will Drake and Leesa turn out to be a help or a hindrance and will Jossyren’s thugs spoil Pelquin’s party and steal his hard-won treasures?

At one level, ‘Pelquin’s Comet’ is another in a long line of ‘Wild West in space’ stories, following in the footsteps of such well-known examples as Joss Whedon’s 2002 TV series, ‘Firefly’. However, to my mind, Ian Whates has produced something genuinely fresh and new here. For every genre cliché – the outwardly brusque captain who secretly cares deeply about his crew, the cargo ship that’s seen better days but still gets its crew where they need to go or the conflict between a small team of plucky independents trading on their wits and a large corporation unafraid of killing people who get in its way – the story also contains elements that are unexpected, including bank agent Corbin Drake, who seems to have a familiarity with weapons and fighting that you wouldn’t expect of a respectable employee of the financial services industry and Drake’s alien companion, Mudball, which turns out to be much more interesting than the harmless furball it at first appears to be.

The story has great pace, pulling the reader from one cliff-hanger to another as layer after layer of the complex plot onion is peeled away. The climax left me exhausted but also desperate for book two, so I could find out what happens next.

‘Pelquin’s Comet’ is classic space opera at its finest, a satisfying and enjoyable novel in its own right and an intriguing introduction to a story universe I want to visit again. Thoroughly recommended.

Patrick Mahon

April 2015

(pub: NewCon Press, 270 page paperback. Price: £12.99. ISBN: 978-1-907069-78-9)

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