Featured Review | Planetfall – Emma Newman

About the Book

From the award-nominated author Emma Newman, comes a novel of how one secret withheld to protect humanity’s future might be its undoing…

Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.

More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.

Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.

The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart

336 pages (paperback)
Published on November 3, 2015
Published by Ace/Roc
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I will freely admit that I have a love/hate relationship with Emma Newman’s books. When they are good, they are so very good. When they don’t quite work with me for some reason, I tend to be unable to overlook whatever it is that didn’t work. It’s a thing that colors the way I read the book. I don’t know why, it’s probably a stylistic issue, but it makes her books tough for me to review.

Planetfall is a book I really looked forward to. It was far different than anything else I’ve read by the author, and I enjoy seeing what an author is capable of when they veer a direction I didn’t expect. Planetfall is a character based colonization novel taking place on a far flung world where a religious zeal has overcome the inhabitants and colors just about everything.

By this point in time, life has reached a sort of equilibrium. Things have normalized a bit. Routine has been established, but there is still a lot that is unknown, so when a lone individual shows up at the colony, things get stirred up a bit. How is it possible for someone to survive alone in such a strange world, and how did he get there? This person’s arrival puts some stress on a mysterious past and buried secrets, which puts more strain on a protagonist that is obviously almost at the breaking point already.

Renata is an interesting character, and I both loved her and had a very hard time connecting with her. Renata is a fascinating window into the world of someone with mental illness, and the mental illness plays a big role in the plot. She is one of the most intense characters I’ve read, purely for the huge secret she is hiding if for no other reason. It kind of hangs over her and colors her whole life. Everything she does, she does with that secret in mind and all of its weighty implications. However, there was a gap between me and Renata that she never really managed to bridge. While I do think that part of this was on purpose, to help the reader understand and feel her absolute isolation, it did make it hard for me to fully connect with her on the deep level I wanted.

Renata is interesting, and jumps off the page in part due to how well she’s crafted, and in part because she’s so intense and that intensity is captivating. She’s the perfect person to tell the story she tells. However, she slowly reveals everything that happened in bits and pieces, and that slow pace might drive some readers nuts. However, I think most people will find themselves hooked despite all of that. Yes, the reveal is slow, almost painfully slow, but due to that slow pace, Newman packs in so many details, and develops her society, past, and present so incredibly well.

In fact, that’s what I loved the most about the book. There is so much here, so much depth and detail, and while it takes so very long to figure what happened and what is happening, the structure of the novel, the world, and the culture that Newman has developed managed to keep me hooked in a situation where, otherwise, I probably would have put the book down.

Newman is a master of atmosphere, flooding this book with a sense of tension and mystery that was almost overpowering. It was quite interesting to see just how well she could create a world, culture, and characters, while slowly and methodically leading readers along with perfect plot reveals. Though this was paid for with a rushed ending that left me a little underwhelmed.

As I mentioned above, Renata has some mental illness. I have to applaud Newman for how well she portrayed this mental illness. The anxiety was so real I felt absolutely crippled by it. The desires, thoughts, drives that all worked to create this were likewise well done. While I did, at times, feel like the mental illness was used a little ham-fistedly to advance the plot in certain directions, the actual creation of a character who suffered with this problem was so incredibly real and raw, I had to give Newman a standing ovation for it.

At the end of the day, this novel is chalked up with the rest of Newman’s novels. When it worked, it really worked well. When it didn’t, the issues nagged me enough to color my overall enjoyment of the book. Planetfall was incredibly strong, and gave me a lot to chew on. No, this is not a perfect novel, but I decided that it was the imperfections that kept this one interesting, and kept it relatable despite some of it’s far-flung ideas.

This is a character driven science fiction novel that is far different than any other science fiction novel out there right now. It’s tense, mysterious, and full of emotion and surprise. It takes its time to flirt with you before it reveals all of its secrets, but that just sweetens it up a bit. This is a book you’ll want to savor rather than devour.


4/5 stars


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