In Spalsbury’s (The White-Haired Buffalo Hunter, 2016, etc.) sci-fi novel, an interplanetary ambassador’s mission to explain the stalled delivery of energy crystals may entail tracking down a never-before-seen species.
Solar One Ambassador Plenipotentiary Judith Woeberry is sure her negotiations on planet Tanfourit prevented a civil war. But it seems assassins have followed her and her security team to Zorkon, where she hopes to find Negotiator Thomas Haddly, who’s been missing for months. Judith likewise wants to know why shipments of energy crystals have inexplicably stopped—the same mystery that drew Haddly to Zorkon. No one’s ever seen the energy crystal–providing Conundrums, whose presumed domain is past the point of ZIP (Zone of Impossible Punishment), a precarious energy field. Judith enlists Antonio Vesuvius Albero; he and his one-eyed, four-armed adoptive brother Arc are the only individuals who’ve safely traveled ZIP. They plan to brave the energy field, which can make people see things or creatures that aren’t there, to meet with the Conundrums and rescue Haddly. Meanwhile, Tanfourit factions join forces and are planning an attack against the Zorkon city, Freedom. The unstable ZIP may also be shifting, which would necessitate the evacuation of another city or possibly the planet’s entire population. Though the overwhelming majority of Spalsbury’s novel consists of dialogue, the author keeps the conversation lively via diverse characters who use assorted manners of speech. Arc uses electric sparks from his hands to communicate in Morse code (signified in text with all-caps), while perpetually nervous Zorkon Councilor Jerome Nichols relies on repetition and long pauses. Spalsbury’s descriptions solidify the environment, especially within ZIP, where Judith and others witness a “large energy devil tornado filled with mummified bodies [that] zoomed out of the sky.” Much of the plot’s resolved, but a cliffhanger paves the way for a second book, with plenty left to explore—perhaps further Zorkon back story.
Eccentric, chatty characters fortify this spry, futuristic tale.