Ruabon (Lost Tales of Solace) by Karl Drinkwater #BookReview #BlogTour

Welcome to Tecant.

Nothing ever happens here.

Until today.

Ruabon Nadarl is just another low-ranking member of the scan crew, slaving away for the UFS which “liberated” his homeworld. To help pass the time during long shifts he builds secret personalities into the robots he controls. Despite his ingenuity, the UFS offers few opportunities for a better life.

Then Ruabon detects an intruder on the surface of a vital communications tower.

He could just report it and let the deadly UFS commandos take over, while Ruabon returns to obscurity.
Or he could break UFS laws and try to capture the intruder himself. For the UFS, only the outcome matters, not the method. If his custom-programmed drones can save the day, he’ll be a hero.

And if he fails, he’ll be dead.

I'm delighted to be hosting the blog tour for Ruabon today, many thanks to Karl Drinkwater and to Rachel Gilbey from Rachel's Random Resources for inviting me and for my digital copy of the novel.

Coming hot on the heels of the third Lost Tales of Solace novella, Clarissa, Ruabon is a testament to the diversity of this excellent series. As always, it can be read as a standalone as each of the Lost Tales books are self-contained stories but those who have read at least one of the full length novels, Lost Solace and Chasing Solace will probably feel a stronger emotional connection to what happens here.
Tecant is the main and largest planet in what is described as a backwater solar system. It's a mining planet and has been incorporated into the all-powerful UFS. However, it's less the planet's mining riches which make it a desirable conquest than its position as a vital link in The Cordon, an invisible surveillance web that surrounds and protects UFS space. A high-tech space station built within the same planetary system ostensibly protects miners from space pirates but as has become disturbingly clear in this series, the UFS demands unswerving loyalty and it is also believed to be a deterrent designed to prevent Tecant from even contemplating breaking away. 
The vivid scene-setting at the start of the book continues as we learn that atop the station is an Ellond structure, a giant tower which works as a receiver allowing those who live and work there to communicate with the next station and to monitor the scan glitter which ripples when unauthorised craft attempt to enter UFS space. Senior Cadet Ruabon Nadari works in Ellond Control Room 23 where he runs trace resonance sweeps of the scan glitter areas assigned to him. A chapter headed, 'Nothing Ever Happens' brought to mind the Del Amitri song and it's a fitting comparison. It's a mundane, monotonous job and despite the role itself being different there are obvious comparisons to the dubious business models of certain global conglomerates in our time who unfairly raise productivity quotas and impose penalties and sanctions on those who fail to meet them. Of course, the wording from UFS - 'You have Been Terminated for Inefficiency' is far more ominous...
Ruabon originally welcomed his system joining the UFS but as is so often the case, their promises haven't matched the reality; there has been cutbacks of workers, an increase in poverty, Tecant resources are now taken rather than bought and most chillingly, natives are expected to be loyal to the UFS and any public criticism would be very unwise. However, Ruabon's great-great-grandfather had been a revered, heroic miner and it becomes evident that he wants to emulate his ancestor, even wondering whether he possesses the special sense said to have been developed by miners which gave them an ability to detect hidden structural weaknesses. His work doesn't provide him the opportunity for the same sort of heroism until he detects an intruder on the tower.
It's interesting to realise that Ruabon's actions here place him directly against the more usual protagonists of the series. Readers are left in little doubt that the UFS is an oppressive regime and that those who are declared terrorists by the state are more likely to be brave resistors. Despite this, he is actually a likeable character whose determination to apprehend the infiltrator comes more from a desire to be somebody important rather than any violent, warmongering tendencies. Throughout the book, there are short interludes which reveal the various personalities he has secretly given the AI drones he works with. It means the drones become distinct individuals, bringing some humour to the proceedings - although we are sharply reminded that they remain disposable tools. However, there is a scene towards the end which shows that Ruabon, at least is more aware of their sentience and although he does come across as having been rather closed off, it's quite poignant that up to this point, the drones have perhaps the closest thing he has to friends. His growing closeness to his fellow cadet marks a change in him as he grows in confidence but will his risk-taking strategy eventually prove to be his undoing? 
The identity of the alleged terrorist will be familiar to those who have read the full-length Solace novels with some surprising and enlightening revelations about their plans. What this eventually means for Ruabon is both intriguing and concerning but it could be argued that however briefly his act of heroism lasts and whatever the consequences, he would take it over the soul-destroying boredom of his regular life.
It's a fascinating premise, ensuring Ruabon is another intelligent, thought-provoking addition to the Lost Solace series. It goes without saying that the sense of place in this imaginative, inventive world is as authentic as ever  - I almost need convincing that these space stations and solar systems aren't real. As always, a highly recommended treat for science fiction lovers and indeed, anybody who enjoys well-crafted, thoughtful stories.

Purchasing links for Ruabon can be found here.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
Karl Drinkwater writes thrilling SF, suspenseful horror, and contemporary literary fiction. Whichever you pick you’ll find interesting and authentic characters, clever and compelling plots, and believable worlds.
Karl has lived in many places but now calls Scotland his home. He’s an ex-librarian with degrees in English, Classics, and Information Science. He also studied astrophysics for a year at university, surprising himself by winning a prize for “Outstanding Performance”.
When he isn’t writing he loves guitars, exercise, computer and board games, nature, and vegan cake. Not necessarily in that order.