Ardulum: First Don by JS Fields is not only a brilliant space opera bursting with intergalactic politics, epic space battles, and wonderfully realized planets and species, but it is also an incredible exploration of perspective as it applies to ethics and morality.
The story takes place in the Chartered Systems, an alliance of several inhabited planets connected by wormholes. The Mercy’s Pledge is a ramshackle smuggler ship of Terran origin. The motley crew is comprised of a Terran Captain, a young Journey (a citizen completing a two-year mandatory cultural exchange) and a Neek pilot. During a regular run, they find themselves adrift in a wormhole, completely out of fuel. Coasting helplessly, the ship finally exits the wormhole smack dab in the middle of a space battle between the Mmnnuggls and the Risalians. Caught in the crossfire, the crew of the Mercy’s Pledge is forced to fire upon one of the attacking ships in the interest of self-preservation. As luck would have it, they end up disabling a Risalian control ship rendering the remainder of the fleet powerless.
As a reward for saving them from destruction, the Mmnnuggls offer a gift to the crew of Mercy’s Pledge. A gift that turns out to be more than the crew bargained for; a stasis pod housing a girl resembling the Ardulan gods worshipped by the Neek. The girl is empathic and possesses incredible abilities but is alone and afraid. She forms an instant bond with Neek that grows steadily deeper every day. But the child had been taken from the Risalians and they will stop at nothing to get her back. Neek and the crew of the Mercy’s Pledge are now in the battle of their lives to protect the girl who could very well be a god.
Michelle: Neek is a Neek. Upon reaching adulthood, the Neek forgo the use of individual monikers and become simply Neek. She is an exile from her home planet for heresy. Her lack of belief in Ardulan gods represents the perspective of science over religion as a progress over stagnancy argument. Throughout the novel, we bear witness to the inner turmoil she endures over this belief which has cost her her career, her home and her family. I admire her strength in her convictions even when faced with mortal danger.
Initially, Neek acts as a protector and mother figure for Emn but as Emn evolves, their relationship deepens. Throughout the relationship’s progression, Neek struggles to reconcile her theological stance with the potential reality that Emn represents and struggles with the feelings she is developing for her. Is Emn in fact a god? Can Neek be falling for her? It is such an amazing arc!
Emn is introduced as a child, innocent and inquisitive, she is trapped in a cage with her mother unaware of the dire nature of her situation. Her story begins with a powerful and heart wrenching scene that immediately drew me to her. The power and emotion of the scene elicits such a deep empathy while reading that you develop a similar bond to the girl as Neek. It completely hooks you into her character and invests you in their relationship. It is an amazing accomplishment! As the story unfolds, we witness her slowly evolve from an innocent and inquisitive child into a physically and emotionally stronger person with the help of Neek.
The Writing Style
Michelle: I should begin by mentioning the fact that this is primarily a science fiction novel and not a romance. There is very little mention of the characters’ sexuality and the book falls more into the incidental lesbian category Sheena extols. What the book does do is establish a very deep bond between the two female leads and sets the stage for its potential evolution into something more.
There are a couple of sections that are a little slow and I stumbled over some of the names, but overall the pacing is steady. Each chapter begins with an excerpt referencing an historical, cultural or current event. I enjoyed this technique as an effective method of providing background information and increasing my understanding of the political landscape without seeming like an info dump.
The world building in this book is incredible! Fields has created such an incredible variety of planets and species in this book. Each species represents a different perspective. One race is mired in a religious stasis, not progressing, waiting for spiritual guidance from a long-disappeared species they believe to be gods. Another species is depicted as tinkerers, determined to improve, innovate and progress technologically and biologically. There is also a species of zealots, bent on destroying that which they perceive as defying the will of their gods. What I love most about this book is how Fields presents a species’ actions as moral from their perspective while it is clearly not from another perspective. The complexity of belief systems and how they drive thought and actions, as well as how these actions are perceived depending on individual beliefs is mind blowing! The book is brilliant in its ability to present the reader with other points of view. You may not agree with them, but the rationale is there for you dissect. It is an exercise in critical thought completely applicable to our own world.
As an avid traveler I love exploring different environments and enjoy when an author can make me feel as though I have just been somewhere new. Fields delivers some stunning settings of the different worlds and ships using wonderfully vivid imagery. All senses are appealed to enabling me to easily experience the environment on multiple levels.
Sheena: Lynn Norris was a good choice for this audiobook. There are some amazing names that needed pronouncing, the voices of aliens, women, men and non binary folk. The audiobook needed to feel epic while also being accessible. And Norris managed all of that.
Michelle: What I enjoy most about science fiction is its propensity to make me think, to take an extraordinary concept and use it to understand the real world. This book evoked a lot of questions. It really made me evaluate perspective, the complexity of belief systems and what happens when they clash with an individual and with another belief system. Add that to the world building, incredible characterization, and the action, and this book is truly an experience I will not forget!
Sheena: I would definitely recommend the audiobook. It’s fun to experience something epic like this in audio.
Michelle: There are some very violent scenes with graphic imagery in the book which merits warning. In addition, the story covers difficult topics such as genetic engineering, war, abuse, death, slavery (including that of a child) and genocide, providing differing perspectives on these themes.
Sheena: For those looking for a complete story, know that you will be in for a long journey because you are only going to get the conclusion by finishing the series.
Michelle: If you are looking to transport yourself to an imaginative, extremely well-realized universe abounding in fantastic characters then you will want to pick this book up! If you are looking to gain a better understanding of perspective and the possibilities that can arise from the interactions of belief systems, then you will want to pick this book up. And if you just want to read a story about a female spaceship pilot navigating through intergalactic politics, space battles and personal feelings, then you will want to pick this book up!
Sheena: This is a fun romp through space with wars brewing, politicians at work and delicious trees that are going to make your mouth water. If like space operas then this is a good one.
Excerpt from Ardulum: First Don by JS Fields
A loud POP filled the cargo hold, and a blast of putrid air and smoke blew out from the cylinder. Neek fell back, knocked off her haunches. Yorden and Nicholas took several steps backwards as well. When the air cleared, Neek could see a large, burst seam running across the cylinder. The indicator lights had ceased functioning. The entire unit appeared to be dead.
Placing a hand on either side of the seam, Neek slowly pulled the two edges apart. The metal seemed to give way easily, and a rush of sparks accompanied a pre-adolescent female as she tumbled unceremoniously out of the tube and onto the floor.
“What the-“ Neek fell backwards, scrambling away from the child, certain her eyes were deceiving her.
Before the pilot was a little girl. Her translucent, white skin showed a patchwork of purple veins running just underneath the surface, the mass so thick that her organs couldn’t be seen. Her body was also, Neek noted in horror, covered in a substantial amount of blood and nothing else. Her hair was long, chestnut-colored, and pulled back behind her neck in a rough tail. A small, black triangle, roughly the size of Yorden’s pinkie nail, showed through the skin just under her left eye. She was completely unconscious.
“I thought I heard Lug mention Ardulans,” Yorden commented. “You okay, Neek?”
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Ardulum: First Don
Ardulum: Second Don
Ardulum: Third Don
Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781945952654
- Publisher: NineStar Press
- Narrator: Lynn Norris
JS Fields Online
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