Every so often I’m going to post reviews of books I’ve read, and here’s my review for Rohan and Alex Healy’s debut sci-fi novel, now available to download on Amazon Kindle.
Gyaros: The Mice Eat Iron is a science-fiction/dystopian thriller novel by brothers Rohan and Alex Healy. For a debut novel it’s remarkably assured, confident and accomplished. If I didn’t know better I’d think these guys had been writing novels for years. They’ve crafted a detailed, textured and immersive world that in many ways could pass as a slightly more futuristic, dystopian version of our world. Carthage is a dreary, corporate-run world in which you can live a reasonably comfortable, if uninspiring life, by keeping your head down and playing your part as a mindless cog in the wheel of society. Early chapters set the scene nicely and in some ways reminded me of the sobering vision presented by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. Outwardly everything is pleasant enough and society runs in clockwise fashion, but it’s a somewhat robotic existence and beneath the shiny exterior, there are some very nasty things lurking.
Key to the novel’s success is getting the reader to immediately empathise and form a bond with the protagonist, Miles Stanton. Miles is very much an ‘everyman’, which makes him easy to relate to and his motivations, feelings and reactions are clearly conveyed throughout. Miles is a good guy who has a run of terrible luck, culminating in his exile to the dreaded prison moon of Gyaros. If you’re unlucky enough to be sent to Gyaros, you won’t be seen or heard of again — in fact, you’ll be lucky to survive your first day. The early chapters have a certain foreboding, as the reader knows that Miles is going to end up with a one-way ticket to Gyaros. When he arrives, the writers do a good job bringing this fearful penal colony to life, with all its ramshackle towns, vicious gangs, monstrous creatures — and yet there’s also a surprising amount of variety, too. Like most things in life, there’s a mixture of good and bad people (with some very, very bad people thrown in to tip the scales a bit).
The central theme of the novel appears to be Miles’s struggle to retain his humanity in an inhuman environment. This is a question that’s always intrigued me. It’s easy to be a good person when you’re in pleasant surroundings and circumstances. But how would you respond when you’re basically thrown into hell? How long would you be able to retain your own moral code? There are a few instances where Miles is in danger of losing his humanity just because of the extreme situations he finds himself in.
As the story unfolds, Miles makes some allies and these characters are nicely-drawn and lend the book a kind of archetypal balance. There are plenty twists and turns along the way, with some surprising revelations about some of the characters that kept me wondering throughout. One of the most striking qualities about Gyaros is the tight pacing: it’s an action-packed adventure, with some very neat set-pieces and the action is adeptly-written and exciting. Fortunately the authors know when the take a breather as well, so the pace isn’t too top-heavy. I’d say the pacing and structure is well-judged. There are some familiar tropes but they’re well utilised and nicely incorporated into the story. The use of language and expletives seems appropriate for the environment and characters, although occasionally Miles ends up slipping out some profanities, which I’m not sure quite fitted him as a meek, polite, slightly uptight character. But given his desperate circumstances, it still works.
I’m normally quite a slow reader but I got through Gyaros quickly, hastened on by the exciting set-up, cliffhangers and the action-oriented nature of the plot. The ending didn’t quite have the level of resolution I was anticipating, but that’s perhaps because I often forgot it’s the first of a trilogy! The epilogues do a neat job of throwing in some twists and new elements that set the scene for book two, which I am now eagerly awaiting. This is definitely a novel I can recommend; well-written, the plot, pacing and characterisation are accomplished and skilled, with some interesting themes and reflections on society, culture, morality and human nature. A very enjoyable, fun, engaging read.