Monday, February 10, 2020

Review: Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner

Title: Steel Frame
Author: Andrew Skinner
Pages: 478
ISBN: 9781781087053
Publisher: Solaris
Published: 27 August 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Epic tale of giant-robot battles, built around a personal story of redemption and healing.

Rook is a jockey, a soldier trained and modified to fly ‘shells,’ huge robots that fight for the outer regions of settled space. When her shell is destroyed and her squad killed, Rook is imprisoned, left stranded, scarred and broken. Hollow and helpless without her steel frame, she’s ready to call it quits.

When her cohort of prisoners are sold into indenture to NorCol, a vast frontier corporation, Rook’s given another shell – a near-decrepit Juno, as broken as she is and decades older – and sent to a rusting bucket of a ship on the end of known space to patrol something called “the Eye,” a strange, unnerving permanent storm in space.

Where something is stirring...
Rook has two choices: she can either rot in jail or she can become an indentured conscript in a war where corporations battle for the rights to reclaim alien artifacts from a mysterious region in space. Only one option would allow her to fly again...

Andrew Skinner's debut novel, Steel Frame, can best be described as Pacific Rim in space, but that would do it a disservice. Steel Frame offers far more than just giant robot battles, it delivers a nuanced look at loss, the aftermath of trauma and finding the strength to fight back from the brink of despair.

The walls keep a roll of who has come and who has gone, a century's history scratched by hand, into paint that covers untold years more."

Skinner's prose evokes a sensory overload which brings his unforgiving world to life. You can almost smell the oil and hydraulic fluid and feel the immensity of the shells looming over you as you turn each page.

Rook and her squad of fellow jockeys, Hail, Lear and Salt are fascinating characters. Being convicts they are  treated as disposable, as something lesser than the real corporate employees. It's this shared history and outcast status which makes them such a formidable team. While out on patrol they encounter an ominous warning - DON'T LET THEM TOUCH YOU - sparking a devastating chain of events.  Still reeling from loss, they find their strength in each other and rise to the occasion to fight a foe unlike any they've encountered before.

The best part about Steel Frame is definitely the growing bond between Rook and her shell. There is just something so touching in their unusual relationship. Both are broken and hollow, but they find each other and become something more. Melding together into something greater than their individual parts.

Steel Frame is one heck of a ride. There are tense, high-octane battles, mysterious alien artifacts and a seemingly unstoppable foe. The story never drags and as things head to a nail-biting conclusion you lose all sense of time until you turn the last page and discover that it's all over. The ending is completely heartrending, but very apt. The steel frame remembers. I might have teared up just a little bit...

Andrew Skinner is definitely a rising talent to keep your eyes on. If his debut can do this to me, I can't wait to see what he does next.

The Verdict:
Steel Frame is one heck of a ride! Tense, fast-paced action with giant robots battling it out, but behind the giant steel facade it has so much more to offer - a story filled with nuance and a gigantic heart to match.  Giant robots have never been this heartbreaking before. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very Good)

Thanks to Solaris for providing me with a review copy.

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