ARC Review: The House of Styx (Venus Ascendant #1) by Derek Künsken

NB- I received this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own.


 “Künsken’s vivid worldbuilding is a knockout…This is a must-read.”  –Publishers Weekly starred review

The first installment in a ground breaking, action-packed and exciting new science fiction seriesVenus Ascendant, from the best-selling author of The Quantum Magician. 

Life can exist anywhere. And anywhere there is life, there is home.

In the swirling clouds of Venus, the families of la colonie live on floating plant-like trawlers, salvaging what they can in the fierce acid rain and crackling storms. Outside is dangerous, but humankind’s hold on the planet is fragile and they spend most of their days simply surviving.

But Venus carries its own secrets, too. In the depths, there is a wind that shouldn’t exist.

And the House of Styx wants to harness it.

The House of Styx creates an incredibly detailed, immersive world with well-thought out science, technology and social norms. The story was an interesting family and technology driven one, and I enjoyed the LGBTQ representation within the novel. Derek Künsken brought to life a world where soaring through clouds of acid rain is the norm, and social friction and corrupt banks undermine the safety procedures that keep everyone safe. The world-building is impeccable, and while at times the science seemed overly technical for my tastes, I know there will be plenty of sci fi fans that will find this work exactly to their taste.

The tension between settlers, coureurs, the government and the bank provided a constantly shifting political backdrop that was fully-realised and all too relevant in today’s political climate, and I thought in particular the fatalism of the artistic members of the colony was a facet of world-building that truly added to the world.

I loved the focus on family that grounded and motivated the D’Aquillons, and provided friction for a good number of the sub-plots too. I loved the contrast of Emile and his father, and the Quebecois-space-farer culture of the deeps was a fascinating touch. Marthe was incredibly well-written, and I look forward to learning more of Alexis, Jean-Eudes, Gabriel Antoine and the rest of the House of Styx in future books. Even Gaschel was well-motivated and developed, and she only appeared in a handful of scenes.

The lack of sexism in this novel was refreshing, and without spoiling anything, I thought the trans-subplot of one of the characters was incredibly sensitively-written. I was glad to see in the acknowledgements that the author made sure to research this thoroughly. The representation of characters with disabilities was also handled well.

The political situation presented in The House of Styx was frighteningly realistic, and the grim calculations of who ‘deserves’ health care was genuinely moving. Emile’s poet’s outlook was a welcome touch to the novel, providing a less scientific approach to the problems and solutions of living in a world so alien from our own. Drawn out paragraphs of imagery are not usually to my taste, but the strong emotional undercurrents of Emile’s personal challenges seeped into every observation he made, allowing for some beautiful parallels to be drawn.

I do wish the conclusion of this novel had closed the chapter more fully on a certain situation, and I refuse to accept the major development that occurs towards the end of the book. I haven’t read a hard-science sci-fi book in a long time, so I don’t really have many books I can think of that reminded me strongly of The House of Styx in tone or content; however the focus on family and the cultural undercurrents are somewhat similar to Ilona Andrews’ The Edge novels, though those books are fantasy, rather than sci-fi, and much lighter reads.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys technical, believable sci fi with a strong technology focus, and a dose of political and social commentary to boot. This book releases in hardback on the 13th of April, 2021, and I’ll post a reminder then too. However it is already available as an ebook.


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