Satan’s Reach (Weird Space book 2) by Eric Brown (book review).

‘Satan’s Reach’ is the second novel set in the ‘Weird Space’ universe created for Abaddon Books by Eric Brown. It follows on from ‘The Devil’s Nebula’, also penned by Brown, which I reviewed for SFCrowsnest in August 2012. Although there don’t initially appear to be any links between the two novels, other than being set in the same story universe, characters from the first book soon start to appear in this one, too.


The story revolves around the adventures of telepath Den Harper. Five years after absconding from his job with the illiberal Expansion, once he could no longer stomach scanning the minds of murderers and rapists, Harper has set himself up as a cargo trader. He flies a stolen spaceship around the libertarian free-for-all of Satan’s Reach, an area of space adjacent to the Expansion but not run by them.

We join Harper on what should be a routine job, delivering an engine to a customer on the planet of Ajanta. Things go horribly wrong when the customer insists on meeting Harper at a local bar, then spikes Harper’s drink. When he wakes up, he finds that he’s been sold to the indigenous Ajantans, a race of child-sized aliens resembling tree frogs who like to get passing humans addicted to dhoor, the local narcotic, before enslaving them and using them for cross-species orgies. The slaves invariably die within months as repeated exposure to the Ajantans’ poisonous skin is fatal.

Harper is rescued from a fate worse than death by Zeela, a young singer he befriended in the bar. She sees him being drugged and follows him, then rescues him when the Ajantans have their backs turned. After a furious chase, they manage to get back to Harper’s ship and he flies them away from Ajanta. However, the Ajantans do not take kindly to Harper ‘stealing’ Zeela, who is legally Ajantan property. They send a spaceship after Harper to get Zeela back, so the trader finds himself unexpectedly on the run.

Unbeknown to Harper, the Ajantans aren’t the only ones after him. The existential threat posed by The Weird, a species who live in a universe parallel to ours but who have decided to invade this one and take it over, has forced the Expansion authorities to take desperate measures. They need every trained telepath they can lay their hands on so that they can hunt down those humans who have been infected with the Weird’s mind-parasites, an infection that only telepaths can detect. Such people will have to be killed before the Weird take them over and use them as fifth columnists. As a result, the Expansion have sent out two bounty hunters, a woman called Janaker and an alien called Kreller, to find Harper and bring him back alive.

Will Harper be able to evade not only the Ajantans but the bounty hunters as well?

‘Satan’s Reach’ is an enormously enjoyable space romp. It takes place in a rich setting featuring several different races of aliens, numerous spaceships, lots of interesting planets, including a fascinating one whose highly elliptical orbit means that it has a century-long winter followed by a ten year summer and much more. Brown has done a good job of creating a universe that should keep him and anyone else who writes a ‘Weird Space’ title fully occupied for a long time to come.

I particularly liked the double act of Janaker, a female bounty hunter who can match any man at fighting and drinking, and her alien colleague Kreller, who suffers from a superiority complex so extreme that it makes him laugh out loud funny at times. Despite hating each other, they actually make a pretty effective team.

The one aspect of the story that I found less convincing was Harper’s seemingly inconsistent personality. Most of the time he is a generous and kind man who goes out of his way to help others. However, having helped Zeela to escape from Ajanta, there are several occasions when he is wilfully cruel to her just because she tries to find out whether he has feelings for her. It becomes clear that this is a defence mechanism that he’s using in an attempt to avoid getting romantically entangled with the young woman, following a previous relationship that went tragically wrong. However, the way he rejects her seems unnecessarily brutal and, for me, didn’t really fit with what else we’d seen of his personality. I would have expected him to find a kinder, less aggressive means of letting her down. The fact that he didn’t made it difficult for me to work out where he was coming from.

The ‘Weird Space’ universe is turning out to be a very interesting place indeed. ‘Satan’s Reach’ is a barnstorming adventure story which develops the broader narrative in exciting new directions. I look forward to seeing what the third book in the series brings.

Patrick Mahon

September 2013

(pub: Abaddon Books/HarperCollins. 281 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK), $ 7.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78108-130-3)

check out website: www.abaddonbooks.com and www.ericbrown.co.uk

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