The novel “Satan’s Reach” by Eric Brown was published for the first time in 2013. It’s the second book of the Weird Space series and follows “The Devil’s Nebula“.
Den Harper is a telepath who ran from the Expansion because he no longer wanted to be used to do the regime’s dirty work. He’s wanted, also because his starship is stolen, so he has to watch his back from bounty hunters willing to travel to the worlds beyond the frontier of the Expansion.
During one of his journeys on a planet for a business not exactly legal, Den Harper meets Zeela Antarivo, a girl who is likely to end up as a slave to members of the native species. He manages to save her but the two of them get chased even off the planet and as if that wasn’t enough, it seems that new bounty hunters are targeting him.
The Weird Space series is set in a future where humanity has colonized various planets, organized in a political structure called the Expansion. Over time, humans have encountered several alien species including the Vetch, with which a peace treaty was signed after a period of war.
This series is mainly a classical space opera, in which characters live great adventures among the stars encountering various alien species. Eric Brown provides very limited explanations on the various technologies existing in the future to focus on the development of the plot with a lot of action.
“The Devil’s Nebula” introduced an alien species literally coming from another universe called only the Weird. “Satan’s Reach” is a sort of half a sequel, in the sense that it develops some elements of the first novel’s plot but has different protagonists.
Through the adventures of Den Harper and partly Zeela Antarivo, this novel further expands the fictional universe introduced in the first one. A number of references reminds the reader of the important elements of “The Devil’s Nebula”, so much that all in all you can skip it without losing much.
If you already read the first novel you already know what to expect and even concerning the new protagonists there are not many surprises. It seems that for the Weird series Eric Brown favors protagonists who live at the limits of the law and often well over with some cliches in their development and especially in the relationship between Den Harper and Zeela Antarivo.
In some ways, the bounty hunter Sharl Janaker and Helsh Kreller, a Vetch with whom she must collaborate to capture Den Harper, are the most interesting characters. They’re among the antagonists but they’re not exactly villains because of their motivations. Their actions and their difficult collaboration are perhaps the best-developed part of “Satan’s Reach”.
The plot is made more complex by the presence of other aliens whose intentions are really not friendly. The result is a story where you can’t have a trivial separation between heroes and villains but you need to assess the motivations of the various parties involved. In essence, there are different shades of gray but not black and white.
This complexity translates into a story more sophisticated than the one in the first novel. In retrospect, “The Devil’s Nebula” appears to be a sort of great prologue for the Weird series that Eric Brown used to introduce that fictional universe and start the big story to be developed in the course of various novels.
In “Satan’s Reach” the pace is perhaps even faster, also because the introduction of the new protagonists is made in situations where there’s tension and, in the case of Den Harper and Zeela Antarivo, of danger. There are several twists in the course of a number of interstellar trips with various armed clashes both in space and on some of the planets visited by the protagonists.
“Satan’s Reach” is not particularly original either but overall seemed to me better than “The Devil’s Nebula”. It’s not a masterpiece but it’s a novel you can enjoy reading, especially if you’re a classic space opera fan. The novel has a sort of ending but is very open to further developments so I recommend it especially to people who appreciate that genre and series of novels.