The novel “From Ice to Ashes” by Rhett C. Bruno was published for the first time in 2017.
Kale Drayton has been a thief for most of his life but to avoid jail was forced to change his life. After being arrested following a theft, the only alternative for him was to serve on a spaceship, a difficult job for a Titanborn who must work for Earther superiors.
When his mother falls ill and needs an expensive treatment, Kale Drayton has to get the money in any way. Kepping his job on the spacship wouldn’t make sense but a mysterious contact offers to pay for his mother’s care if he will load a program into the spaceship’s computer.
“From Ice to Ashes” isn’t the first novel by Rhett C. Bruno set in a future in which part of the solar system has been colonized but is self-contained. Malcolm Graves, the protagonist of the novel “Titanborn”, is mentioned a couple of times: if you read that novel it’s a kind of “Easter egg” otherwise it might make the reader curious but doesn’t create any problems.
In this fictional universe, the Earth was devastated by the consequences of an asteroid impact and the planet’s inhabitants scattered around the solar system. Many colonies had already been created previously and in places where gravity is very low over the generations the natives have developed physiological adaptations.
The natives of Titan, a moon of Saturn, are among those who developed physical differences from the Earthers but that also makes them vulnerable to their diseases. However, the worst problem is that in the solar system the Earthers have a significant economic power that allows them to decide the working conditions for the Titanborn.
In the society described in “From Ice to Ashes” there’s a racism by the Earthers towards the Titanborn, who get the worst jobs. In this situation, Kale Drayton is one of many victims of that discrimination and, growing up in poverty, ends up becoming a thief.
Forced to a honest life even if hard after getting arrested, Kale Drayton ends up involved in a story much larger than him to pay for his mother’s treatment. The story of the ex thief who must participate in another heist then discovers that the situation is quite different from what he was proposed may sound like a cliché but it’s used just to start a plot that gradually expands far beyond the protagonist’s personal story.
All these social and political elements in which the reader can see parallels with the Earth’s history are mixed in “From Ice to Ashes” with others more typical of classic space opera. Most of the novel is set in space in an adventure with lots of action and twists in the form of events and revealed secrets that go on until the epilogue.
The novel is almost fully narrated in first person by Kale Drayton but through his eyes the reader can see good pictures of the other important characters. This allows Rhett C. Bruno to develop complex characters who are not necessarily good or bad. It’s the kind of story in which various characters are not exactly what they seem and the reader slowly realizes it progressively getting to know their personalities and their motivations.
These characteristics lead to a plot development with a generally very fast pace for a novel that is rather short by modern standards. Rhett C. Bruno is clever in putting a lot of details with a few words placed here and there that give depth to the characters and to the whole fictional universe in which “From Ice to Ashes” is set.
The result of all this is a novel I found really intriguing. It lays the foundations for further developments but has its own end so you can read it without being forced to get any sequels. For these reasons I recommend reading this great mix of various subgenres.