Book Review: Adrift by Rob Boffard

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By Jacob P. Torres

Find my spoiler-free review of Adrift by Rob Boffard.

Cover Description: “Overview

Adrift by Rob Boffard

“An edge-of-the-seat epic of survival and adventure in deep space.” – Gareth L. Powell, BSFA Award-Winning author

Sigma Station. The ultimate luxury hotel, in the far reaches of space.

For one small group, a tour of the Horsehead Nebula is meant to be a short but stunning highlight in the trip of a lifetime.

But when a mysterious ship destroys Sigma Station and everyone on it, suddenly their tourist shuttle is stranded.

They have no weapons. No food. No water. No one back home knows they’re alive.

And the mysterious ship is hunting them.

What is the book about?

Led by a brand-new historian turned tour guide, a shipful of tourists find themselves stranded in space with no hope of rescue after the luxury resort hotel they’d been staying at is reduced to its constituent atoms by a surprise attack of a mysterious warship.

The narrative hops viewpoints between several characters but predominately rests with Hanna Elliot, a recent history major graduate who took a job as a tour director at the Sigma Station in the hopes that this job would lead to something better. The other main viewpoints are from the eyes of Corey Livingstone a child obsessed with spaceships who inexplicably becomes our clue bat for almost the entire novel, and Jack Tennant a very, very drunk writer who reviews hotels for a living. There are a couple other viewpoints for the story, but chiefly it’s these three.

Very quickly the novel establishes that we’re in a time of relative peace between the Frontier government and some breakaway colonies. Sigma station is a luxury resort that’s adjacent to the Horsehead Nebula, and said station gets blown up by the end of chapter two. Hannah had taken a small group of people out on a tour of the nebula and the tour group in their tiny shuttle become the only survivors of the station after it gets destroyed. We’re immediately left with two big mysteries: why was the station destroyed and how will they survive?

What Did I Like About the Book?

Despite being a SciFi novel set in the far-flung future there is very little world building. The focus is tight on our characters and their quest for survival, and largely the characters are very well done. The immediate worldbuilding Boffard does is focused on relating these far-flung future folks to us. Hannah is living with a degree that might not get her anything and demanding parents that want her to do more. Jack is clearly an alcoholic, estranged from the only person he’d ever loved, angry at the world and everyone around him while he stumbles through a mediocre life. Corey is a bright child who has two parents that are clearly edging towards divorce and a brother who has become suddenly distant, he’s lonely and bored and loves to read about starships.

In a very real sense, you could’ve placed these exact same characters in modern day or two hundred years ago, and the plot would’ve worked. So, the story really isn’t as much about the SciFi setting as it is about the mysteries and the characters. In that regard it succeeded much better with the characters than it did with the mystery. I was also a big fan of this not turning into a sudden relationship for Hannah, unlike in action movies there is no surprise love from characters just surviving a traumatic life-or-death experience.

Who was my Favorite Character?

Hannah won this book over for me. She very much is out of her depth and in no way prepared for the situation she’s in. She has to learn to rely on passengers in the ship and most importantly herself as the story goes on. Like it or not she’s suddenly in a position of leadership and she’s living through a moment that will completely change her life if they can survive. She was, to me, the most relatable character in the book and was definitely the one with the most character growth.

Corey gets my second place for being a really well-drawn character of a child. Kids in writing can often be very hard to nail down. But Corey acts a lot like I’d expect a nine-year-old to do in similar situations.

What Did I Not Like?

In any mystery, your characters have to be smacked upside the head with a clue bat every few chapters to advance the plot. In most ensemble mystery novels you expect these discoveries to be spread among the whole cast. In a Harry Potter novel you expect your clue bat to be Hermione, and those novels struggle as mysteries because one character is providing all the revelations (even when she’s unconscious). This novel struggled a bit in a similar way because most of the big revelations came from Corey, starting with him being the first to witness the destruction of the space station. He makes a fair chunk of the revelations and some of those feel like Boffard saw that line of Yoda’s from Attack of the Clones, “Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.” And thought I can make a whole mystery out of this.

Mysteries are really tricky things. Narratively, a good mystery is one of the most difficult things for a writer to craft. Too simple and it’s obvious for all of the readers. Too complicated and people don’t get the joy of “figuring it out.” Mysteries in fantasy and scifi settings are even harder because there literally is a million different bizarre staples of the industry that you can rely on to make the twist sudden and shocking. But when the answer is “aliens,” or “he was actually possessed by the ghost of the victim’s ex-girlfriend,” you step far, far afield of believable and solvable, which are the two key components of any good mystery. The trick then is having enough plausible theories, enough red herrings, that you can put all of the clues anyone needs to solve the novel in place without spoiling it for the readers. This is one of the things that makes Agatha Christie’s novels so enduring. All that said, the mystery elements here fell a little flat. Strip away all the Scifi elements, and the mystery felt pretty obvious. Boffard had plenty of red herrings and his characters really did make for an enjoyable read, but if felt like he was aiming for Murder on the Orient Express and got Prisoner of Azkaban. The other mystery how they survive is just solved at word one, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter, they will, or most of them. You’re reading to find out how and who lives to the end. It’s a very rare author/story that just goes, “nope, everyone died at the end.”

The Verdict!

I’m giving this 3.5 out of 5 cups of tea. From the stand point of a SciFi novel or a thriller, this was a fun adventure with well-drawn, relatable characters that had me hoping for their survival. All the set pieces for a good mystery where there but the execution of those elements and the final twist fell a bit flat. I wouldn’t mind reading Hannah’s next space/mystery adventure, but only so long as she doesn’t bring any children along to be the only clue bat in the story.

3.5 of 5
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 cups of tea. From the stand point of a SciFi novel or a thriller, this was a fun adventure with well-drawn, relatable characters that had me hoping for their survival.
Pros Cons
+ Characters were really well done, Boffard uses well established archetypes in a way that doesn’t feel like he’s retreading old ground. – Corey was a well-constructed child character but a massively over used clue bat.
+ The setting for a scifi/mystery had the right amount of blend between minimalist worldbuilding and solid story and characters. – All of the set pieces for a great mystery where there but the execution of those pieces and the final twist fell flat.
+ No weird, awkward tension/adrenaline driven romances! – Mystery didn’t really use all the elements of science fiction it could have. Change the setting and the general plot would’ve worked 100 years ago…

 

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