SERIES: “Hidden Worlds” series, #1
WHY THIS NOVEL: I’m not completely sure but I think I read a comment on The Galaxy express a few weeks ago that sounded intriguing so I took a closer look at this series.
The back blurb:
“After the Earth was destroyed by ruthless machine intelligences known as the Cold Minds, the remnants of the human race sought refuge on far-flung planets. Humanity was saved by a hereditary guild of jump pilots who now control all travel and communication among the Hidden Worlds…
Nineteen-year-old Linnea Kiaho lives on a backwater hostile planet, one of the poorest of the Hidden Worlds. To save her family, Linnea does the unspeakable: She accepts an indenture on the godless, decadent home world of the Pilot Masters, hoping that she will be able to barter an old family secret into a future for her loved ones–and perhaps for her planet as well.
Linnea’s unwilling master, the pilot Iain sen Paolo, knows nothing about her secret. But to spite his father, he joins her in uncovering a truth that could throw the Pilot Masters into chaos at a time when they can least afford weakness. For after six centuries, the Cold Minds have discovered the Hidden Worlds…”
The Hidden Worlds is a science fiction novel. There is a romantic thread in the story but this novel is definitely science fiction and not romance. It’s there in the setting, it’s there in the world building, it’s there in the main concern of the story. I would also say that the pacing is different than in most romances and that there’s less dialog.
The novel begins with the people of a small village on one of the nearly forgotten planets of the Hidden Worlds awaiting the return of their only source of livelihood: the ship on which nearly all the men of the village work. But instead of the return, they see prove that the ship is no more and that the men won’t come back.
Linnea is one of those people. She isn’t married so she didn’t lose her husband as nearly every other women in the village did. But married or not, the loss of the ship means doom to her as to all the other villagers if they don’t move to the town. And so they all do, even knowing that life in town won’t be much better with all the people seeking work there and fewer and fewer jumpships docking on their planet with supplies.
It’s there Linnea first really realizes the power of the Pilot Masters when she is told:
“The Pilot Masters, the men of the Line–they decide, and the decision is final. They control all the communications, all the cargo, all the passengers that come in and out of every world. No one else can do what they do, run their damned ships–excuse me. That gives them total power.” (15)
The power of the Pilot Masters is one of the most important elements in this novel.
When Linnea learns of a secret concerning the family of one Pilot Master, she concocts a dangerous plan to save her sister and her sister’s children and – if she can – to save her home planet from being abandoned by the Pilot Masters. She doesn’t know the exact nature of the secret but nevertheless, sets off to the world of the Pilot Masters. She’s fulfilling a contract her family was offered long ago to become a servant in the household of the Pilot Master who keeps the secret (at the end, this part still seems a bit too convenient).
Linnea’s home planet Santandru is a backward planet with barely any technology. It’s a planet of hard manual labor and no amenities. The society is traditional and women who were not at least once married (which would probably be “all unmarried women” if there weren’t all those losses at sea) are regarded as an oddity. Sexually open relationships between men and women are strongly disapproved of.
The home planet of the Pilot Masters, Nexus, is totally different. It’s an all-men, decadent, sexually depraved world where hard manual labor is not existent, at least for the families of Pilot Masters, and women are shipped in for breeding or pleasure (though male lovers are quite common, too). Houses are intelligent and capable of taking care of everything so having servants is not a necessity.
Given all that, it’s really no wonder that going there means becoming an outcast in Linnea’s world. Even Linnea’s sister won’t speak with Linnea again after she knows of Linnea’s plan, no matter that Linnea does it to save her sister and her sister’s children from starvation.
And so the story begins. And the bleak beginning sets the tone of the novel.
The Hidden Worlds tells a dark and gritty story, a story where the action is driven by the villains, where the main characters can only react rather than act and are at a disadvantage (nearly) all the time, where the power of a few is set against the welfare of all, and where an inhuman threat is on the rise. It’s a story of lies, pain, loss, vicious cruelty and torture and rape. And that’s just what the humans are capable of; it leaves out what the cold minds do and are. That is even more chilling (though there are similar concepts in some horror movies).
But it’s also a story of hope and truth, rare as it is, and it’s Linnea who isn’t willing to accept fate, to lie down and die. And secondary as it is, it’s a story where love overcomes all differences between a Pilot Master and an ordinary human and this is possible:
She blinked hard, as if to keep back tears. “And what if I can never let you touch me–what if it never happens again?”
His heart ached for her. “Then it never happens,” he said. “Eat. It’s best if we think only about today. Tomorrow will keep.” (343)
And what began as a story to save Linnea’s family, and her planet, turns into a story to save the whole galaxy from a lie and from the cold minds. The ending of The Hidden Worlds is just the beginning – a few people taking up the fight against inhumanity in all its forms.
Verdict: I wavered between 4/5 and 4,5/. In the end, I decided on going with 4,5/5 because I thought the look at power and corruption in this novel interesting. The Hidden Worlds is a dark and gritty novel around complex moral and political questions. If I had the second book here with me right now, I would be reading and not writing.