The planet Venus is home to a fascinating but intensely hostile atmosphere where immense heat tries to cook you, tremendous pressure tries to crush you and the perpetual acid rain will burn you.
Deep in the clouds of Venus we find la colonie; a collection of families operating as scrap-merchants-come-space-farmers, whose only hope of survival is to salvage and harvest the dregs of what they can find… from an environment intent on killing them.
Crushed by poverty and a lack of opportunity, there is almost no hope of ever escaping life within la colonie. In fact, most inhabitants are too focused on surviving to even consider living. So when the D’Aquillon family uncover something on the surface of Venus that could potentially rescue them all, it becomes an opportunity not to be missed, no matter the risk.
Set 250 years before his previous series, The Quantum Magician, Derek Künsken’s new book, The House Of Styx does not feel like a prequel. It is a brand new, rich and complex story of a dysfunctional family who must pull together against all the odds to try and build themselves a better life. The story itself feels timeless, and echoes themes traditionally seen in gangster-esque novels like Mario Puzo’s classic The Godfather.
Künsken’s injection of sci-fi provides a fresh take on those themes. Against a backdrop of space travel and jet packs, we see a family fall apart and struggle to come together simultaneously and organically. Conflict creates drama but there are no grand space battles here. Instead, characters wage war on the personified Venus and her cruel and unrelenting atmosphere. At the same time, they must wrestle with their own selves – be that the challenge of addiction and personal hubris, or discovering that the body they inhabit is not actually who they are inside.
What is perhaps most enjoyable is the sensitivity of the writing. Künsken throws a lot at his characters and does not shy away from granting them honest reactions, even though it could potentially taint their appeal. In fact, it’s this ability to sensitively and sincerely translate the actions of these characters that really sell the complex dynamics of family life.
The novel also shows a remarkable balance in its pacing. The initial slow burn of the world-building provides time to comprehend and enjoy the political machinations that underwrite the plot. High octane action sequences are smartly paired with genuine heart-wrenching revelations that leave you reaching for a tissue to dry your eyes and stem the barrage of paper cuts from the speed of accelerated page-turning.
The House Of Styx is a stunning new sci-fi family drama that admirably shoulders the burden of two heavy genres and distills them into an exhilarating and heart-breaking journey of discovery.
The House of Styx by Derek Künsken is out on eBook now and in hardback in April 2021.