Pelagia the name of one of the lesser known Catholic Saints, drives this action adventure from first time novel writer, Steve Holloway. Following the (mis)adventures of Ben Holden, an ex special force agent turned particle physicist, the novel pits a rather daring Holden against the might of a formidable foe in the guise of the New Caliphate who seem to stop at nothing in their hunt for Holden and, more specifically, the DNA he carries.
It’s a complex story line with elements of geology, forensic science, futuristic tech and, of course, particle physics, which flits around in a very nonlinear time frame that is a little challenging to keep up with at times. Every chapter skips back and forth, 3 days earlier here, 9 years later there. The majority of the action happens around 2066 and largely underwater in this imagined world of Pelagia. The ambitious approach with the scale of the narrative is impressive, as is the ability to weave together plausible scientific detail along the way.
Like a lot of spy action thriller novels, some of the escapes and feats of actions are a little implausible, and the dialogue feels a little stilted at times - particularly in the early stages of the novel. But it does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the text as a whole.
Within the genre of science fiction, it is a less common setting and that adds intrigue to the whole situation. There’s also the big set up for a second book, which would be a welcome addition based on the trajectory of the narrative in the first.
Holloway finds his straps about a third of the way into the story, the first part a little too far fetched and forced. However, it’s great to see the growth in the writing as it develops.
The tragedy of Ben’s life is the loss of his wife and child very early in the process, but it is through this loss that he finds himself in the company of Paul Whitestone, who almost steals the show with his intriguing personality and his connection with Holden’s character.
There is a religious narrative that dots in and out of the story along the way. It’s not an overtly Christian novel, but there are some Christian themes that are developed along the way. In no way does it force religion on to the reader, either positively or negatively, but it is a feature of the overarching premise.
Overall, this is a great page-turning novel which grows as it progresses. It’s wonderful to see the choices of language that so vividly present this rather futuristic world of Pelagia that does come to life through the pages of the novel. A sure to impress thriller for readers of science fiction.
Reviewer: Chris Reed