Cover Image: The House of Styx

The House of Styx

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Member Reviews

Thank you NetGalley and Rebellion for a the eARC of The House of Styx by Derek Kunsken. 

The House of Styx is a fantastic slice of life novel of the D'Aquillon family's struggle living on Venus,a planet that is constantly trying to kill them. 

George-Etienne is the patriarch, His daughter Marthe is their government liason, Pascal, the youngest,  is struggling with his identity, Emiele is the black sheep, Alexis is his grandchild. a
Jean-Eudes is the child the government told the family shouldn't keep and the impetus for the division bergen the family and the government. 

The story is rich in detail on the difficulty of living on Venus and the struggle to mine enough resources from the clouds of Venus to live and keep their floating habitats functioning. 

The government is about to take more from the D'Aquillons, but George-Etienne has a secret that could elevate the family out from the governments influence.  He must bring his family together, along with others, to investigate his secret further.  

The House of Styx is part harrowing, part exhilarating, part freeing and part heart breaking. The research Kunsken poured nto this book makes life on Venus possible. Oh, and there are jetpacks.
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The House of Styx is a complex sci-fi that relishes in scientific details as much as it does socio-political ones. The D'Avillons family has been spurned by the Venusian government, an independent colonization of Venus by Québecois families, and are struggling to survive in oppressive systems: the oppression of a banana republic controlled by corrupt Banks, and the oppression of an angry, unpredictable, vengeful planet. They may have a solution when they discover something new, absolutely incalculable in value, beneath the surface of Venus, but getting their hands on it is a lot more dangerous and complicated than even surviving so far has been.

The start of the book, say the first 50-70 pages, are difficult to wade into as they are rife with scientific descriptions of how things work more than comprehensible ones about what it looks like living in the clouds above Venus. There is very little hand-holding; it's like being dropped onto the surface of Venus without a parachute. However, the impressive part is how this book layers; by the time I reached 75% of the way through the book, I had a complicated and thorough understanding of living in adapted Venusian plants in the sky. More importantly, it wasn't just a still image, but full of movement. Künsken, via multiple POVs of the D'Avillons family and its enemies, creates the strangely intricate and shifting character of Venus.

Throughout the book, Künsken seamlessly interlocks the gears of mechanical engineering, political machinations, and personal relationships. Most importantly, one of the lead characters is a sixteen-year-old realizing she's trans and how she deals with that in terms of admitting it to herself, to her family, to her potential new beau. Künsken clearly took a lot of good sensitivity editing to heart for this queer, trans character, because it's a beautiful, painful, aching blossoming of faith in herself and figuring out how to not be lost. It resonated deeply, the grappling with her dysphoria and the steps she takes to be able to live in her body. And that this blossoming, this transformation, is happening in the atmosphere of Venus, a planet whose face can change at any moment, makes Venus the perfect companion to her story.
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Let me tell you how I thought this review would go. As I began reading The House of Styx (which I received free via NetGalley and publisher Solaris), I thought that I would enjoy this book, for sure. Derek Künsken had, after all, reignited the faint embers of my love for posthumanism with The Quantum Magician and then fanned those flames with a dose of time travel in The Quantum Garden. However, I also thought that the thesis of this review would be, “This is a fun SF book that I liked but did not love as much as The Quantum Evolution books.” I prejudged it based on its being a planetary romance rather than a space opera.

I am so, so wrong. The House of Styx surpassed my expectations in every conceivable way. Not only does Künsken deliver another excellent, diverse science-fiction future, but he does so with humour and grace—and he just drops a trans character in my lap like oops no big deal. More on that at length, I promise, in a bit.

Trigger warnings in this book for portrayal of gender dysphoria/gender incongruence, as well as scarification.

In the future, humans have colonized the upper atmosphere of Venus. More specifically, Québécois have colonized Venus—yes, Künsken, Canadian, reaches into his Québécois heritage for some cultural inspiration here, exposing a wider audience to the glorious, sacrilegious profanity of Québécois French. La colonie, in debt to a powerful bank, barely scraps by, and the D’Aquillon family is even worse off. That is, they make a discovery, in a cave on the inhospitable and nearly unreachable surface of Venus, that could change everything. It could certainly alter the fortunes of the family, not to mention all of la colonie—if this monumental discovery doesn’t fall into “the wrong hands.”

So the book quickly turns into a race of against time: how does the family recruit enough trustworthy allies to capitalize on this discovery before the executive powers that be complete their political de-clawing of Marthe, the family’s representative in l’Assemblée? It’s going to take a combination of political and social negotiation as well as good ol’ engineering know-how! Along the way, Künsken gives us these amazing scenes of what he conjectures life in the Venusian clouds could be.

From herding, modifying, and even bio-engineering the “trawlers” (gigantic Venusian life forms that live in the lower clouds) to flying with wing packs while wearing survival suits designed to resist the corrosive and toxic atmosphere, The House of Styx is replete and resplendent with a fantastic imagining of what life on (or at least, above) Venus might entail. I haven’t read much fiction concerning Venus; Künsken lampshades this in the book by reminding us that the major exploratory nations kind of wrote Venus off as a dead end after their few probes. So I love that Künsken looked at this planet and said, “No, there is so much more to talk about here,” and then turned that into reality. While this imagination was present in The Quantum Evolution books, it was spread across the numerous settings within those novels. Here, Künsken deploys it in a more concentrated way. There are exciting, cinematic scenes that would be incredible to reify on film if anyone ever wanted to adapt this series. After the success of The Expanse I could easily see this working as a TV show.

Beyond the poetical vistas and musing on the stark, brutalist beauty of Venus’ surface and atmosphere, The House of Styx also features excellent characters and relationships. First we have the interplay among the D’Aquillon family themselves. Künsken invests each character with such an interesting, three-dimensional personality, from the steady, dependable Marthe to the black sheep of Étienne. There’s the relentlessly warm Jean-Eudes, who has Down’s syndrome, and then of course, there is my personal favourite character, Pascale.

I was not expecting a trans character in this book, and I think that says something important about our expectations for trans representation in literature. There is this misconception sometimes, I think, that for books to feature trans characters then their coming out/transition/journey must be the main focus of the story. That’s all that’s important about us, right? So the fact that here it’s not the main plot, and that feels unusual, is so important. Künsken’s portrayal of Pascale’s journey—the questioning, the agonizing over the questioning and her dysmorphia, the acceptance she receives from the people in whom she has confided so far—is excellent. Yet it all happens as a subplot within a book that is, really, more about exploration and the power struggles within a small colony.

Other cis authors, pay attention: this is how you do it. Normalize trans people existing against the backdrop of your larger story. Pascale is far from the only character who grows and undergoes challenges in this book. Each of the main characters struggles with the responsibilities that the D’Aquillon discovery foists upon them, as well as their own flaws and fears. And of course, there is a truly heartbreaking event at the climax of the story that no doubt will set up some intra-family conflict in the sequels.

Indeed, the character dynamics in The House of Styx are just great. There are very few one-dimensional characters here—even the nominal antagonist, Présidente Gaschel, gets some page-time from her third-person limited perspective so that we can understand why she’s acting the way she does and avert the idea that she is a bumbling, maniacal villain. Meanwhile, the people who ally themselves with the D’Aquillons do so cautiously. There is no automatic, trite pledges of loyalty here. There is careful discussion of the economic and political ramifications of what they plan to do. There are also other power dynamics at work: sex and attraction, resource management in a resource-scarce environment, etc. Künsken carefully layers all of the rich ingredients that together form our spheres of human motivations.

So, in the end, what do we have here? The House of Styx is a science-fiction novel set on/above Venus but with the potential to open up into so much more in the sequels. It focuses on a core group of characters who are diverse in personalities, sexualities, gender identities, etc., including an excellent portrayal of a young trans woman. I do want to be clear: I’m not giving this book 5 stars just because there’s a trans character here (though that helps); even without such a character this novel is an excellent story in every respect. But Künsken’s attention to so many aspects of characterization truly elevates it. After the clunky, sexist read that was Foundation and Earth, this was such a refreshing contrast from the tunnel-vision of so-called “classic” science fiction. The House of Styx is exactly what I want from modern-day science fiction: it is imaginative, inclusive, and incredible.
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Thank you Solaris and NetGalley for a copy of this book in return for an honest review. 

After seeing the title and reading the premise, I was pumped to read this book. I have always loved Greek mythology so the title was super intriguing. The River Styx, in Greek mythology forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. I liked the homage to that in the title, since life on Venus sounds incredibly hard and, according to the fantastic descriptions, sounds like you are in limbo between life and death. 

That is one thing that Kunsken did amazingly well. The world-building was very strong. He gave in depth descriptions of the civilization, the clothing, and atmosphere of Venus, as well as certain aspects of each characters life. It was almost too descriptive in certain spots, but some people may like that, it just wasn't my cup of tea. 

However, as good as the world-building was, I felt that it could carry the story since the actual plot seemed to be very minimal after the first 30% of the book. The pacing to move forward was incredibly slow and as soon as one interesting thing happened, it seemed to be set on the backburner so that we could explore the characters. I really like character development, but when it helps to move the plot further instead of staying stagnant. Being marketed as an action-packed sci-fi, I found it more like a contemporary lit book that just happened to be set in space. While it wasn't the book for me, I know there will be a lot of fans that do find that they love this book.
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Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. The opinions expressed herein are mine alone and may not reflect the views of the author, publisher, or distributor.

I didn't know before now that I needed a book about colonization on Venus.

We always get Mars in the science fiction world, or in one case I've read, Jupiter. Or we have to go all the way out of bounds of our own solar system to reach a new world. When an author makes a jump to a planet that seems uninhabitable, then makes us think it's possible to live there (albeit after dire hardship), then I've been sold.

I'm a sucker for family relationships in stories, especially involving either mother-daughter bonds or the complicated working out of sibling relationships. In such a hostile environment, against such odds, finally seeing a story where I could feel the love--not just the tension--between family members was a wonderful change. We need more families in science fiction.

I know, I know. The publishing world is overrun with series. But then you get a fresh new voice, and...well, you can't help yourself. You want more. I want more. The beginning was a bit slow, and sometimes the prose a bit stilted, but it's the start of something beautiful. Gimme.
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The plot's emphasis is on the D’Aquillons, a family of settlers originating from Canada. They are largely independent from the Banks and Federations that govern life on Venus as the result of a personal disagreement. Scouting the surface of Venus for potential minerals that they can sell, They discover an impossible wind going into a cave on the surface of Venus while looking for minerals to sell.. Would this discovery change both them and the Mankind forever?

Great world-building! Even though the world the author was trying to create came across the pages very vividly, it was overwhelming at times. I felt like at certain points i got lost in the details which took my attention away from the story and slowed my reading.  I do not read science-fiction books frequently; it is a genre I am trying to read more in. However, i am the type of reader who focuses more on the character development and the plot development, rather than the scenery and other details. In my opinion, this book definitely delivered on the development on certain characters. It is a great beginning for a series.
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The House of Styx is the first book I’ve read by Derek Künsken, but it certainly won’t be the last, as this was one of those books that seized hold of my imagination and heart and didn’t let go. I was fascinated by the premise from the get-go, especially ‘life, can exist anywhere. And anywhere there is life, there is home,’ which for me, immediately humanised this story. Because that is one of the things, I loved about this book, that while it is undoubtedly ‘hard Sci-fi’, it is far more than that. As it doesn’t focus on spaceships or journeys across galaxies, but is rather a more detailed exploration of life and survival on a single planet, and of the lives of those who have carved out an existence there. It is about colonisation and family, identity and belonging, survival and life.

   The House of Styx is beautifully detailed, while treading the careful balance between the science and the narrative, without losing the latter amongst the technical language. Instead, Künsken uses detailed research and technical language to create a world that feels fantastically real while using it to enrich the story he has brought to life. I thoroughly enjoyed the depth of the descriptions, and the jargon, as I love that level of detail and realism in my Sci-fi, although it may not be too everyone’s taste. However, I found that it made the worldbuilding reach a whole other level and created a vivid image of the harsh environment on Venus, and the ingenious ways that the settlers were finding to survive. One of the most fascinating aspects about this book for me was that it wasn’t set within some far-flung galaxy but our own. And on the more unusual setting of Venus, which I don’t think I have encountered before, and that on top of this worldbuilding made House of Styx a stand out read for me.

    I will say that at times I found that the narrative seemed to lose focus, but for the most part, it was well-paced, and deliciously layered not just with detailed descriptions, but intrigue and tension that built throughout the narrative. I was not prepared for where the book went towards the end, but although a little surprised, I felt that it worked well and lay a strong foundation for the rest of the series.

   The characters do not lose out to the richness of the worldbuilding. I felt that all of them were strongly written in their own way, each adding fascinating threads to the narrative although there are places where it feels as though we have not been given a chance to get to know them as well as some of the more major characters. However, considering this is the first in a series, there is room for that to change, and even as they stand, these characters are interesting. There were a few that stood out even beyond this, and in particular, I found Pascal’s character and plotline to be one of the most interesting, and powerful in the entire book. However, what truly stood out for me was Künsken’s exploration of characters dealing with lesser represented issues from down syndrome to gender identity, and at a deeply personal level, because regardless of the scale of the world, this was a story about the people.

    This was a book that refuses to be bound by its genre, taking the SF elements and making it so much more, and written in such a way that it captures not only your imagination but your heart. I would unreservedly recommend this book to anyone who loves Sci-fi, especially with a leaning towards hard Sci-fi, and to anyone who is looking for something different and wonderfully human within that genre.
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The House of Styx is set on Venus. The author did a great job in developing the setting and his attention to the details really brings you into the story. The people mostly live in man made habitats above the clouds, but there are some that live further down in the clouds in habitats made from giant floating plants. The story focuses on a family that lives down below with two of the adult children living above for different reasons. The daughter, Marthe, takes care of the family business and the son, Emile, moved up there to get away from his father five years ago.

While the father, George-Etienne, and his youngest son, 16 year old Pascal, were exploring a mysterious occurrence on the planet surface, they discovered something unexpected, which drives the rest of the book. Mixed in is a well written subplot about Pascal trying to figure out who he is.

This is book one in a new series and I am disappointed that I could not find a hint of when the next book will be released. Looks like it will be a long wait to find out what happens next.

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley to review.
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A huge thank you to Solaris, Derek Kunsken and Netgalley. This is a very positive start to a innovative, original sci-fi series! I loved the characters, the author set up a detailed, imaginative world, and the plot was very interesting and intriguing. I was gripped straight away! The idea of living in floating stations amongst the clouds of Venus has me terrified and fascinated at the same time, we hear a lot about the possibility of life on Mars and the unforgiving atmosphere of Venus and the unlikelihood of sustaining life. 

What really sets this apart to other sci-fi novels in my opinion, is the focus on the importance of family. It's a story of grief, betrayal, love, loss, self discovery, and explores what family means. He explores LGBT issues and ableism in an honest, raw way which tugs at the heartstrings at times. There were a few loose ends which I'm sure would be continued in the sequel!
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Overall, I am not sure how I feel about this book.  The overall storyline and premise is fantastic and engaging.  As soon as the major hook revealed itself, I wanted to know more and how it was going to play out.  However, the sub-plots in the book spoiled this excitement for me.  I have no issue with wanting a diverse book with LGTBQ characters.  However, this book really is not a coming of age (or sexuality) book, it is about the science fiction of living in the clouds of Venus and the discovery of a wormhole.  I feel the overall premise of the book was hindered by Pascal(e)s self-recognition.  I really couldn't figure out how it played in to the overall storyline throughout the book.  It seemed more like a side story that was out of place and did not add to the development of the plot.  All other characters and their personalities seemed to play a part and had an impact on their dynamics.  However, the personality of Pascal(e) was the same throughout the book and his/her transition did not change that.  

I think the book would have been better served to have his transition already take place and to explore that impact on the family and Pascal(e)s life going forward.  

I am eagerly looking forward to the second book in this series as I am interested to see where the story goes and how the family handles the loss of Marthe and the building of their domain on the surface of Venus.
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I hadn't really read a book like this before, until I read the synopsis of The House of Styx. It just grabbed me and pulled me; the idea of people living and trying to survive just above Venus - and battling acid rain on a daily basis to make a living? Wow!
I loved the fact that it was something different to what I would usually read; following characters of a different nationality to most books I've read (not American or English, but European/ French Canadian) a sci-fi novel but more...action-packed and there was always a sense of danger and a need to be careful. almost all of the time. The world building was amazing; Kunsken made it so immersive with the depictions of sight, smell and feeling!
I did really like the characters in the story and reading from the different perspectives of the same family from la colonie but in different places  ( I got the feeling that Pascal was the main character though) - and greatly appreciated the diversity of characters throughout the story. I would have liked to have more time with each character, as it seemed like I had only a moment or two with one of them before moving into the other, back and forth so I didn't feel as though I really got to know each character as much as I'd have liked - saying that though, as this is the first in a series I anticipate getting to know each of them more as it progresses. The writing at times was a little hard to follow - but this I put down to the fact that I have not read the author's previous works and also the fact that I'm not familiar with a lot of the scientific information that was included throughout this new work.

All of that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this arc and will definitely be picking up the next book when it comes (and/or request the arc if there is one), and would recommend it to anyone who is a science Fiction fan
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Thank you to NetGalley and Solaris for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review! 

I’m not usually the biggest fan of Sci-Fi, but the description of The House is Styx immediately drew me in! I’ve never read a book set on Venus and I had high hopes. 

At first I had issues acclimating to the scientific terms and the massive amount of world building used to set up the lives of the D’Aquillions. There were also a lot of French terms and phrases used that confused me at times since I don’t speak even a little bit of French.

After a few chapters, though, I got used to the new world and I felt like the story was adequately fleshed out. The characters were varied and interesting, and there was fantastic LGBTQA+ representation from some of the main characters. 

I would recommend The House of Styx to anyone who likes SciFi stories with lots of world building! Be warned it may be confusing and overwhelming at first, but once you get a few chapters in, it starts feeling more natural. The world of Venus is quite different and it can be hard to wrap your brain around how science and nature works there.
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This one took me weeks to read, not because it was bad, but rather because it was so dense and well written that I took my time to absorb every detail.  There is always something happening - character growth, romance, adventure - this book had it all.  Add the Venusian life, the clouds, and the scientific intricacies, and you'll need to really focus or you'll miss something big!

For most of the book, we follow three of the D'Aquillon family members, getting different perspectives of their lives in the cloud banks of Venus.  Each one of them (Pascal, Marthe, and Emile) have their own struggles to face.  There is great LGBTQ+ representation in this book, without overshadowing the overarching mystery of the plot.

There's also a Down Syndrome character present, which we see even less of in books.  The government urged the D'Aquillon family to abort, since his mental defect would weaken the population - which the parents refused - and the government then refused him medicine.  This added another line of tension to the story.

The main plot is fully based in science, and I'm sure that I'll never be able to explain this part well.  It was so interesting to read, immersive and well thought out, that even a unscientific person like me could enjoy the book.  Also, spoiler - there is a cliffhanger ending...

Derek's writing had me hanging onto his every word with its detail.  I felt transported to the clouds of Venus, feeling the excitement, danger, longing, loss, desperation and fear with the characters.  I haven't read a fictional book with this much diversity in years either!

A definite must-read for Sci-Fi fans!!
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I really enjoyed this sci-fi masterpiece set in colonized Venus! The incredible detailed aspects of the story dragged me in and the themes of family and love really fleshed out this tale. I can't wait to read the next book!
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Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. DNF. I am in an obvious minority in how much I liked this book. The writing and story are both very interesting but when looking at the novel as a whole i just could not get into it. This may be the type of book that you need to get further into to appreciate but I did not wanrt to bore myself until then. Hope you can enjoy it!
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I greatly enjoyed this book. Wonderful imagination, especially the steam-punk like semi-organic habitats, which were very enjoyable. Especially in the second half it was a real page-turner. The plot was nicely complex and were some interesting underlying themes. I wasn't so sure about the pioneer-mentality, anti-government ideas, given the current political climate, but that was at least topical. What was pleasantly more progressive was that unlike many sci-fi books, there wasn't just one male hero's character developed, but more of a diversity of different sorts of people. 

All the stuff about sulphuric acid was very reminiscent of my very first job. I worked in a lab and did a lot of work 'digesting' plant material with a concoction of concentrated sulphuric and other acids in order to determine its nutrient competition. The acid indeed burned like crazy and despite protective clothing, my normal clothes had lots of holes and I had no fingerprints left (much envied by some petty criminals I knew!).

There was just one disappointment. It had a dreadful ending. I don't mean that not everything turned out Hollywood-rosy, that's only good, but there were so many loose ends and unresolved issues. It just finished abruptly with various sub-plots and even quite major plot lines just cut off in mid flow. Unsatisfying. 

Acknowledgement: This review was possible because of a free pre-publication copy made available from NetGalley in return for an honest review. I would also like to particularly thank the publisher who very promptly solved a technical issue.
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This was an enjoyable new story with a really intriguing plot. I definitely couldn't stop turning the page, but was left wanting more... although ultimately a little dense for me, and I did not connect the characters or enjoy the author's approach of leaving way too many questions unanswered. I do, however, thinks this sets up for an AMAZING sequel - one I am genuinely really, really excited for ..... even though I wish this book packed a little more punch on it's own.
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An excellent hard sci-fi, gripping and entertaining. The storytelling is excellent as the world building and the character development.
It's the first book i read by this author and won't surely be the last.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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It was a fascinating premise as I love books which take place in other places than Earth.

The plot was fast-paced and the character development was executed really well.

4 stars
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I thought that this book was very interesting and it held my attention the whole way through. It was a new concept that I hadn't read many times and it was a refreshing take on the genre.

I would recommend this book if you like a good solid story with good characters.
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