Arden was raised to be the Autarch of space station Eden. Well, more correctly, he was created, designed by his mother to be the next in a long line of elite leaders. Not for the first time, Arden finds himself wondering if he’s doing any good for the people of Eden. For generations, most of the people on Eden have lived as thralls, held in essential servitude due to debt and the massive divide between the haves and the have nots. But now, critical systems and services on Eden are beginning to fail and, without real change, Eden could crumble.
Rhys, a thrall and Arden’s right hand, has been slowly pushing for change — for improvements to those in bondage, for an end to the archaic class system, and more. Arden is torn between doing what he knows is right and challenging the status quo. And whatever choice he makes, someone he cares about is bound to be hurt.
Penumbra was an interesting look at how elitism and poverty can trap generations in the same vicious cycles. But the book had some serious pacing issues and the primary characters weren’t always the most compelling.
I want to address the pacing problems first with Penumbra because I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that spent so much time trying to get where it was going. It felt as though half of this book could have been trimmed away and the core story would have remained intact and the general purpose achieved. So much of the book read as rambling and lacking in focus and more than once I set it aside and almost didn’t pick it back up.
The characters in Penumbra are well developed and multi-dimensional, but in many ways they’re all broken people. None of them are quite what they wish and the rigid structure of their society traps them all. That said, Arden seems excessively immature for someone in his position and while this does make him more realistic, it also makes his character somewhat grating. And that got old after awhile. The other characters have some similar issues. So it was an odd balance of appreciating the believable natures of Arden and the others in his life and being ultimately annoyed by them.
The author did a good job of setting up the basic structure of Eden, but I really wanted to know more about how the station came to be and how it evolved. I don’t think the book suffers from its lack, it was just something as a science fiction fan I wanted more of. There is plenty of romance here for those who want it, though again these characters aren’t necessarily the healthiest, so they have a lot to work through and I enjoyed that aspect of their development.
Penumbra has a lot to offer readers, but is ultimately bogged down by some serious pacing issues and characters that aren’t always easy to connect with. Even with these issues, I think if you’re a sci-fi fan, you’ll find something to enjoy here, but be prepared for it to take some effort.