Fiction Reviews

The Last Crucible

(2021) J. D. Moyer, Flame Tree Press, £9.95 / Can$19.95 / US$14.95, pbk, 311pp, ISBN 978-1-787-58586-7


This is the third (and presumably last) volume in the 'Reclaimed Earth' series and continues adventures and plotlines from the previous two volumes. I haven’t read the other two books, but they’re not essential for this one, mainly because the writer lobs in frequent expository paragraphs to give us all the minute details we don’t really need.

This is science fiction but reads, often, like fantasy. It’s based on a far future Earth which is on the verge of being repopulated after global catastrophe where most of humanity decamped onto orbital ‘worldships’, though some isolated communities remained, descending into varying levels of savagery. One community is based on Norse myth and another in Sardinia, and these small settlements are where some of the point of view characters are from. There are many – its hard to pinpoint whose story this is – but the essential plotline is that a returning worldship – the ‘ringship’ Michelangelo and its would-be Emperor Maro, is back in Earth orbit refusing to speak to the other worldships and intent on domination. On Earth, a Sardinian woman, Jana, houses a ‘crucible’, which gives her longevity and super-strength in return for housing numerous past consciousnesses (she’ll join the collective when she dies and another person will host). Mara finds out about the Crucible and sees it as way to achieve immortality.

He's also kidnapped a couple of Jana’s friends and is subjecting them to a total immersion experiment, essentially entrapping them in a simulated version of ancient Rome. Plus in order to consolidate his power on the Michelangelo, he’s begun to resort to murder. So Jana and her Crucible-identities hatch a plan…

There’s also: a returning starship with a (mostly) dead crew, a psychopathic Viking, a love triangle or two, and an increasingly sentient android with an extremely healthy sex-drive. It’s an interesting world with an eclectic cast of characters, almost someone for everyone, but there are too many narrative nods to previous books for my liking (For instance, I think I’m supposed to care more about briefly-reintroduced returning astronaut Shane than I do and this book gives me no reason to do so).

The scattered narrative is surprisingly easy to follow and it’s all mildly engaging, but the stakes seemed underdeveloped and the characters neither empathetic nor entirely credible. Aina the android is by some margin the most interesting character in the story, which doesn’t say much for the humans.

It all feels like gamer world-building and will enjoyed by those that that appeals to, but there was too much peripheral activity and not enough central action for me. Maybe I should have read the other two volumes first?

Mark Bilsborough


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