Assassin's Orbit


John Appel


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

November 17, 2021

ssassin's Orbit is another book I plucked from the library display of New In Paperback. Once again, I read a book by an author unknown to me, simply because the cover caught my eye, and the description on the back piqued my interest. And once again I am rewarded with an entertaining, well written story.

Assassin's Orbit is primarily set on a space station that is in orbit above the planet Ileri. Ileri is about to have a vote about whether their planet should join the Commonwealth. The novel opens when a meeting of high ranking political officials is assassinated in an obvious attempt to disrupt the vote. This massacre brings together a number of characters: police commissioner Toiwa (I am not sure that she had a first name), private investigator Noo Okereke, and off world spy Meiko Ogawa. Each of them get involved in trying to track down the criminals that are responsible, each has their own motive for wanting to bring the assassins to justice.

The story is narrated in third person format, with each short section focusing on one of the characters. One of the things that confused me was that when the story is told from Noo's point of view (for example), the story refers to her as Noo. But when the story is told from a different point of view, such as Meiko Ogawa's, then the Noo character is refered to using her formal name, M. Okereke. It made me think that Noo and Okereke were two different characters. I had the same issue with the spy being called Meiko and M. Ogawa. I was also confused because too many characters have names beginning with the letter O - in addition to Okereke and Ogawa, there is also a blind super-hacker called Okafor (each time the story shifted to Okafor, I kept thinking I was reading about Okereke.)

Each of the short story sections starts with the name of the character whose point of view is about to be narrated, but it also tells the reader the location, such as in orbit on-board a particular space ship, on the surface of Ileri, or in one of the rings of the space station. I could not get a clear mental picture of the Ileri space station - different locations include the forward ring, the trailing ring, the north ring and the south ring - how are all of these joined together? Presumably, the rings are all spinning to create gravity. (The characters use high velocity projectile weapons on the space station, which bothered me - why aren't they worried about explosive decompression if one of those bullets punctures the space station wall?) Are these spinning rings attached to the giant rock that anchors the space end of the space elevator that reaches down to the surface?

The strength of this novel is Appel's descriptions of different scenes. There are space battles and shuttle chases and other exciting scenes, and Appel paints a picture that is clear and exciting. I liked the way Appel uses advanced technology - AR (augmented reality), djinns (personal AI assistants), bots used everywhere, clothes that modify to new colors or design, advanced medical healing technologies - these ideas are just mentioned in passing rather than laboriously described - of course everyone has a djinn! It made the story seem authentic.

What I didn't like as much was the overall plot. The original premise was to catch the assassin that want to disrupt the Ileri vote. But then the SanJu space cruiser Iwan Goleslaw shows up, threatening force to prevent the Ilerians from using proscribed technologies (anti-matter). Meanwhile, a coup attempt is launched to overthrow the Ileri government. Then a secret weapon called the Unity Plague shows up - any infected human will lose their free will and blindly, happily, follow the orders of a master. I couldn't figure out who the villains were in this story - was it the coup plotters that brought the Unity Plague? Who brought in the anti-matter? The end of the novel seemed so open ended that I am not even sure if the Ileri vote to join the Commonwealth actually occurred, nor did I know if a vote for or against joining was the preferred outcome. It seems like this book is meant to be the first of a series, though I see no mention of a subsequent book. But given such loose threads such as the fate of Okafor, it seems that there is more to this story to tell.