Azura Ghost is a magnificent space opera

Essa Hansen’s first novel Brilliant Nophek has become a cult hit since its release a few years ago. There’s plenty of passion for the multiverse she created in this book, but due to the chaos of 2020, it’s flown a little more under the radar than it should have. Hopefully all of that is about to change with the second volume of The Graven trilogy, Azura Ghostwhich hits the shelves today.

With Azura Ghost, Hansen returns to the multiverse for a far grander tale than anything she attempted in the previous volume. Caiden and his sentient ship the Azura are back, and they’re off on a far more dangerous adventure than the last. (And given the sheer brutality Caiden endured in Brilliant Nophekit means something.)

We’ll keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but know that there will be plenty spoilers for the first book in the series below. We could hardly discuss anything else!

“Azura Phantom” by Essa Hansen. Image courtesy of Orbit.

Azura Ghost review

Azura Ghost resumes days after the end of Brilliant Nophek…type of. The first book ended with a jaw-dropping twist as it jumped forward 10 years for its final chapter to reveal that Caiden’s childhood friend Leta had in fact survived their fateful encounter with the nophek (space lions) at the beginning of this book, and was now apparently happy in the care of Abriss Cetre. Abriss is one of the last descendants of the Dynast line of Graven and rules the Unity star system, which is believed to be the original star system from which the multiverse sprouted.

Abriss has the Graven signature ability called gravity, which allows him to exert his will over others. She doesn’t even need to speak – just being in her presence or seeing her on a screen is enough to send most species in the multiverse into a servile stupor. So, although Leta never felt that Abriss was cruel to her, the climactic moments of Brilliant Nophek ask about consent.

This question hangs over much of Azura Ghost. Unlike the first novel, which is told almost entirely from Caiden’s perspective, the second book jumps between him and Leta. Leta has a bunch of characters that fill out her plot, people she’s come to know and care about over the past decade, and they’re just as intriguing as Caiden’s found family. The addition of a second point of view is welcome and helps keep things fresher than in the first book, which had a few places in the beginning where things were hanging out.

There are basically no places where Azura Ghost dragged. While it took me a while to get into Brilliant Nophek, Azura Ghost hooked me from the first paragraph. Much of the first book was devoted to Caiden’s processing of a singularly traumatic event that ended his childhood. Hansen did a great job taking his time with this; she gave those heavy emotions their due and handled it all in a way that felt well-deserved and true to the type of subject she was dealing with. Azura Ghost still has all that, but the author’s writing has matured so much that this book is immediately more gripping. Of course, that’s partly because we already know the world and the characters and can jump right in, but I can’t underestimate how much the prose has improved. Azura Ghost wastes no time getting readers into the action, and that action is written with pinpoint accuracy.

The book begins with Caiden fleeing bounty hunters, who need the Azura in order to release his sometimes enemy Threi from the prison where Caiden left him in Brilliant Nophek. Caiden’s development is much nicer in this book, his struggles more intricate and well done. Because he spends large parts of the book alone or actively avoids his newfound family in order to keep them out of harm’s way, it elevates things when these characters seem to pull him out of his shell. Add to that the slow resolution of the mysteries behind Caiden’s past, and he goes from a sometimes annoying hothead to a much more compelling and likable hero over the course of this novel.

But where The Graven has always shone the brightest is in its incredibly imaginative world-building. There are tons of alien races, pocket universes, rival factions, ancient space beings, crazy technologies and weapons, the aforementioned space lions, and other world-building features all both pages. something i liked Azura Ghost This is how Hansen expanded on the multiversal concepts she introduced in her previous novel and made everything much clearer. There were things I didn’t quite understand about the multiverse in Brilliant Nophekand by developing them into a much larger story, Hansen made it all seem like part of a much more cohesive whole.

The multiverse that Hansen has built for this series is very different from other sci-fi worlds. There’s a lot of science in the pages of Azura Ghost, and that plays a crucial role in the story… but it’s the science that feels rooted in the imagination. As such, it’s one of those rare books that seems like it could appeal to science fiction and fantasy readers. If you like your sci-fi to be firmly rooted in real-world facts, you might find this series takes it a bit too far. But if you’re more concerned with a grand adventure in the vein of star warsyou are in good hands.

Like Brilliant Nophek, Azura Ghost is a book that does not pull fists. There’s quite a bit of violence and brutality, so if that’s a problem for you as a reader, you might not like that aspect. It should also be noted that there are many long made-up words; it can take a bit of getting used to the vocabulary and nuances of Hansen’s multiverse.

That said, I found many of these elements to be more engaging than distracting. Azura Ghost delivered in a way I didn’t expect, and was a far more ambitious and powerful book than its predecessor.

The verdict

In short, Azura Ghost is a magnificent space opera filled with heartbreak and shifting loyalties, interstellar conflict, and revelations as powerful on a personal level as on a grand scale. Hansen has totally surpassed his previous work with this book. Any fan of Brilliant Nophek find plenty to love, and series fans like star wars will feel right at home in the wild and strange multiverse created by Hansen.

Azura Ghost is available now online and in bookstores.

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