Cover Image: The House of Styx

The House of Styx

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House of Styx was a tremendous and beautiful surprise of a science fiction novel. The Cover art and description don’t prepare you for the emotional journey you’re about to embark on. Derek kunsken brings Venus to life and transports you there completely. the scientific detail is beyond words. The  delicious and delightful technobabble were a nerdy joy. The political machinations and intrigue helped to add another tension and frustration filled layer and the deeper mystery of white lies below Venus leaves you guessing and longing for answers. 
       That being said, what separates it from the unending ocean of Science fiction novels out there is the unexpected and incredible family drama that lies at the center of it. An astonishing story of love, betrayal, loss, grief, self discovery, and exploration of what family means. He explores the bonds of family, what happens to all involved   when those bonds are stressed or broken, the struggle of and the love for those who are born differently abled. He captivatingly captures a teenager discovering they may not be who the world thinks they are. He addresses LGBT issues with a power that as a gay man overwhelmed me with emotion. It’s the engrossing, honest, and exceptional creation of the D’Aquillon family that is the heart and soul of this Science fiction novel and it’s what will keep readers wanting and begging for more. 5 stars.
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The House of Styx follows the lives of a French Canadian colonist family, the D’Aquillons, on the planet Venus. The reader is also shown various other stakeholders who inhabit the planet, along with the political, and social structure.  To me, the most fascinating piece besides the D’Aquillon family is a Venus loving cult made up of artists and poets led by a mentally unstable Therese, who Émile D’Aquillon is in love with. On a planet that needs “all hands on deck,” artistic expression is not seen as a useful skill, so they are experimenting with ways to create a belonging connection to the planet. I could certainly see how this could come about while living in a small colony among the clouds in a menacing atmosphere. 

I would characterize House of Styx for readers as more of a social family drama with heavy science than a stereotypical science fiction action novel. While there are very intricate and detailed science elements in this book, the diverse character’s living on this unforgiving planet really make the story. The D’Aquillon’s primary decision in choosing not to abort their oldest child with Down syndrome, Jean-Eudes, and to subsequently live in the harsher lower levels due to this, is a decision that leads to the loss of some of the family’s members. It shapes the D’Aquillon children and their actions as adults. I feel that the family dynamic is realistic, and the diversity of personalities is well done. 
I did have trouble with the intricate science descriptions, and details of what the characters were doing during those scenes. I almost DNF at one point, but trudged along anyway. I will say, that the author did a lot of work, and those with an interest in engineering would certainly appreciate the effort.
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My thanks go to Rebellion Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with the eBook version of this novel in return for an honest review.

The richness and quality in world-building in this science-fiction novel makes the setting, cultures and characters featured in The House of Styx very strong for the genre, and would be a strong start to a potential series.

The most noticeable quality about The House of Styx is the incredibly detailed descriptions throughout. Author Derek Künsken has communicated with experts from various scientific fields and the end result is a knowledge base that goes above and beyond any other science-fiction book I have read. Every action a character undertakes, every scientific tool they use, every paragraph about the clouds and surface of Venus, are fleshed out with detailed jargon. Whether this will be appreciated ultimately depends on the preference of the reader. For readers like myself, who love detailed descriptions, this book will be seen as such a vast and fleshed out world created under the pen of the author, the likes of which are rarely undertaken. If a casual reader picks this up though, this could blunt their enjoyment of the novel as the description at times threatens to slow down the pacing of the central narrative. This book has been read during the lockdown of the United Kingdom down to COVID-19, which has impacted on how often I read. As a result, some descriptions were hard to break down and get through, but in general I greatly appreciated how it provided such a clear mental image about the harsh Venusian environment and how the lives of the settlers struggling to survive are impacted by it.

The narrative as a whole has some great moments but doesn’t always feel focused. The emphasis is largely 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 highly personal disagreement. Scouting the surface of Venus for potential minerals that they can sell, they discover an impossible wind going into a cave, and what they discover could completely change both their fortunes and Mankind’s scientific knowledge base. The build-up to and the revelation of the discovery was paced and written very well – yet the final third of the novel does not go in the direction that I was expecting. Instead of further exploring this unbelievable discovery, the family and some acquaintances come up with a plan to completely go off the grid from those governing society. It certainly still provides some exciting moments, including one sequence that is the most intense of the novel, but almost certainly hints that this is the first in a book series that continues to follow the D’Aquillons, the House of Styx and the rest of Venusian society.

At certain points, the central narrative takes a back seat, as the author introduces various strands of Venusian society in a way that instantly creates intrigue. The most impactful of these introductions is on those who have a spiritual interest in Venus itself, treating the planet’s toxic atmosphere as a deity trying to reach out to them. This cult-like following is made up of artists, individuals who will stylishly let Venus make its mark on them, only to ultimately suffer for their devotion. I found this a brilliant side-plot away from the majority of the D’Aquillons and certainly added to the richness of the world created by the detailed descriptions. Readers briefly are introduced to the Bank of Pallas as well as allusions to the other Banks who control Venusian society. They act as antagonists of the novel in their desire to break down and retrieve the vast majority of minerals on Venus for their profits, yet there is light and shade in the portrayal of senior members of the Banks, which makes for a much more realistic and fleshed-out characterisation, as opposed to the standard villainous overseer type.

The characterisation of the D’Aquillons and allies who combine to become the House of Styx, are solidly written. A couple of these are brilliantly done, and really stand out when the individuals in question are narrating the chapters. The development of Pascal(e) throughout the novel is very powerful and I have to commend the author for tackling the themes of their story; the like of which is rarely done, let alone to this quality, in the science-fiction genre. Émile D’Aquillon has the most harrowing arc and chapters that follow his traumas are utterly engrossing; I will go as far to say that he is the best written character in a book with many solid ones. The majority of the other characters are written quite well, but it doesn’t feel that I know who they are as well as with Pascale and Émile; a potential sequel could really flesh the other characters out. As a whole though, the characterisation is on point and varied enough to make the majority of them stand out as individuals.

The House of Styx has a quality in its writing style, particularly in descriptive sections, that go far and above the standard for the science-fiction genre. Occasionally this does disrupt the pacing and the prominence of the narrative, but the richness of the world that the author has created in a few hundred pages means that any sequel produced will be snatched up by readers, myself included.
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The House of Styx primarily follows the lives of a French Canadian colony of settlers on the planet Venus. Between the colony’s poor financial status and struggling to survive in the harsh atmosphere, life is a constant struggle for Venusian citizens. Readers mainly follow the D’Aquillons family as they discover secrets beneath the planet’s surface that could change their lives, as well as the course of history. 

Initially I was very intrigued by the cast of characters, even more so than the plot. Pascal, who I viewed to be the main character, is facing gender identity questions, Marthe (Pascal’s sister) is LGBTQ, and Jean-Eudes (Pascal’s brother) has down syndrome. I thought it was really cool to read a book that features diverse characters like this, without having their sexuality or disability be the major point of the story. I’ve found very little sci-fi that does something similar. 

Overall, my biggest complaint was the the detail. I realize this is a sci-fi book, but there was too much emphasis on the “sci”. For example, when Pascal first sent the probe down to Venus’s surface, I almost gave up on the book. Every minute detail, pressure reading, and description of the technology was included. If you’re like me and not extremely fascinated by the minutia of science, it gets pretty boring. I would’ve liked more of a broad and easy to understand description of the tech, with a bigger focus on the characters than machinery. For someone who finds technology/space instruments fascinating, this book probably would have been excellent. As someone who was promised “action-packed,” I was disappointed. 

I also found some of the descriptive details to be confusing. I could never quite orient myself in the scene and felt like conflicting language was used to describe the surroundings, or the positions of the characters in their environment. I had to reread these detail oriented scenes over and over, which made the 500 pages seem even longer.  

I still feel like I need to go back and re-read things, so my review may be updated soon but for now I would give this a 3/5. Would strongly recommend for space lovers and those interested in the finer points of space technology, or people who that doesn’t bother and are interested in diverse characters with a sci-fi backdrop. 

Side note: make sure you download a French-English dictionary as there are sprinklings of French words throughout. 

I received this ARC compliments of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 
My review will be posted to Goodreads within a week of the publication date.
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Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for this arc. Unfortunately, I DNF’d at 25%. The aesthetic that was painted was cool. I have no clue what the plot is. I prefer action or purpose in stories, yet this one felt like it was just drifting around. I wasn’t sure what was supposed to be happening. The inclusivity of this book is amazing.!! If you love sci-fi and don’t mind floating along with the story, I’d recommend you try this. It has too many good qualities to write off completely if it’s a type of book you like.
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Intense, immersive hard sci-fi with believable, relatable characters and a gripping plot. I'd have liked a few more threads tied off at the end but I'm already looking forward to the next book. Especially enjoyed the trials attendant in living within Venus' atmosphere!
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Thank you NetGalley for giving me an ARC copy of this book.

4,5 stars rounded up.

Well, this novel wasn't exactly what I expected. I thought it'd be some hard science-ficiton with a lot of action. There is a lot of science elements, but it isn't some fast-paced book with battles and aliens. It is more exploration about a new inhabitat of humans wchich is Venus. Yes, people colonized the planet but it is still a mystery for them.

But the main focus are characters. This book is a really great character study, with three main voices and some side characters worth looking into.

There is Pascal - a girl in the body of a boy who struggles with her identity.

There is Martha - the one who wants to merge her family together and probably the real hero of the story.

There is Emile - man of the edge of addiction who doesn't know what to do with his life and wants to find a purpose.

The are also others member of The D'Aquillon family whose rebellion started when mother and father refused to abort a child with the down syndrome.

There is a lot about family in this novel, also a lot about tolerance and acceptance. There are hard decisions and choices that can lead to grave consequences.

Characters are what keeps this story going. Pascale and Marthe were my faovurites, but I liked others, too.
I have a one little issue about the ending. Not of what had happened, but of the way it was portrayed. I had a felling that author wanted to make the final gut punch a little harder, but getting to the final conclusion took too long and it lessened the impact. I can't say more without spoilering the plot.

Still, it is a great read, not only for fans of science-fiction, but also for those, who are looking for great characterization.
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The portrayal of life on Venus is gorgeous, a place that is somehow both high among the clouds and deep beneath the oceans. I'm not quite sure I buy the idea that Venus would be colonised by Quebec, of all places, but it makes for an unusual cast of characters. Unfortunately I found the lack of resolution, clearly setting up for a sequel, a bit of a disappointment. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC
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At first, I wasn’t sure about this book. I had a hard time picturing the homes and the challenges of living on Venus. However, it was a really good book once I got into it. I really liked Pascale’s story too; that was something I didn’t expect. There is also quite a lot of time spent with the characters interacting with day to day activities, something that helps the reader really learn more about them. I wish some more of the plot lines would have been resolved, but I guess that just means I have to go read book 2.
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This book has almost everything I want in a Sci-Fi title. The plot is really interesting and the characters are relatable. I particularly loved Pascal(e) and Marthe. The only two things I would criticize of this book and the reaosn it gets a 4 star review is the fact that  sometimes there were some things written in french that some people may not understand (luckily for me my level was enough) and the fact that the end of the book felt kind of rushed. 

Sadly I felt a bit of a disconnection between this wonderful plot and the ending but I also understand that it was necessary as a setting for an upcoming book. I just hope a continuation comes fast
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This one doesn't seem to be as tightly written as his Quantum books.  The opening chapter should grab the reader's attention, for instance, and while the choice of opening scene seems intended to do that, the fact that the author describes every minor action the two characters take is excruciating.  The net effect removes the excitement altogether.
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The House of Styx by Derek Kunsken- Wow! This is pretty much fully realized hard Science Fiction. The details of how these people survive living in the acid clouds of Venus are compelling as is the very humanistic family setting through which the story comes together. I've read the old planet adventures of Venus from Burroughs, Kline and later Zelazny's, and this carries on this tradition in a new and gritty way. Others have imagined life in the swirling clouds of the second planet, but this goes into greater detail of the fragility of life and the stark dangers faced every day. A rewarding book and the beginning of a series that I'll be looking forward to. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
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The House of Styx is bold, imaginative science fiction and it shows that planetary colonization can proceed in was unanticipated.  All the action takes place on Venus, or rather, in the atmosphere of Venus with brief touch tags on the surface.  Turns out Venus gets colonized by French Canadians and the surface is so inhospitable that the Venusians in La Colonie live in the clouds.  The vast majority (about 4,000) live in artificial habitats high in the clouds, venturing into the atmosphere in sealed suits and flying wing suits, diving through the air.  They are in hock to the large banks and rationing raw materials and healthcare.  Never forget though the atmosphere of Venus is filled with sulphuric acid like acid rain and is deadly to the extreme.  The younger generation doesn't know earth and has never seen the surface.  Many are caught up in drugs, orgies, and self-destructive behavior with some even worshipping the planet and symbolically burning themselves in honor of the deadly planet.

Lower in the atmosphere are the rebels, about 400 people in small family groups, living in giant trawlers, or giant Venusian plants, harvesting from the atmosphere, hiding out from centralized control, off the grid as much as possible.  The D'Aquillon family is one such group of rebels who, when told to abort their Downs child, went rebel and decided that if he wasn't going to get rationed healthcare, no one in the family would.  The father rules by force of will, but half the family perished in Venus' harsh world and the remaining  two adult children, Marthe and Emile live in the higher levels where Marthe is a delegate and Emil grandfather goes to parties and dates Therese, who has a cult following.  

Meanwhile, back at the lower levels, sixteen year old self-taught engineer Pascal (who decides to come out of the closet and then gender identity swap)  and his father discover something on the surface that could change the family fortunes like winning the lottery.  That is, if they can harvest it and trade it.  And it's going to take everything they have to get to the precious discovery.  

This story makes it on the incredible world building and it's rather difficult to even picture the floating habitats and the wings.  It all builds and builds.  Some of the personal stories of the characters were probably unnecessary to the resolution of this story.  Nevertheless, quite a creative and fascinating tale.
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The House of Styx drops us onto planet Venus where in the future Quebec has finally declared independence from Canada and taken to the stars. For the most part I found this a really enjoyable book and the idea of a quite literal cloud city was fun to imagine. Because of the wild west nature of space exploration there is plenty of intrigue both political and apparently financial which should be developed in upcoming books. I was also really pleased to see some queer representation, thoughtfully handled. I did feel at times that the technical aspects were a little heavy handed and I found myself skimming these once I was familiar with the environment as I'm not sure I really needed to know or would even understand so much shifting information. I also found the name Styx for the family to be an odd choice when literally everything else is so solidly Quebecoix. Maybe as a title it was just snappier but I found it jarring and the explanation sparse. It is the family connection that I found most interesting though, so I expect this will make me return to Venus in future.
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Synopsis: 2255 A.D. Venus is sparsely populated by Québécois descendants. Of course not on Venus's hard surface, because it is far too hot there and the pressure is also not sufferable. Instead, they built their homes floating in the acidic clouds, strutted by huge bio-engineered jellyfish similar life forms called "trawler", extracting elements from the atmosphere which are thrown up by the volcanoes.

The story follows the D'Aquillon family living in their habitat Causapscal-des-Profondeurs in the lower levels where it is harder to survive, because they separated from the rest of the colony. The reason for this is that the colony didn't want to support their child handicapped with Down syndrome. The parents faced the decision to either perform an abortion or live without the necessary medicaments. Their motto is "family first", so they decided pro life and their firstborn son Jean-Eudes is charming, warm-hearted, and fully accepted by his siblings. 

Some of the family members lost their lifes in the harsh environment. Father George-Étienne tries to hold together the whole family. Jean-Eudes mostly raises young Alexis. Separated from the whole family lives their sister Marthe in a habitat high in the clouds. She was sent out as delegate in the Venusian legislative assembly and proves her value as diplomat drawing strings against the Venusian president. Her brother Émile lives with her, because he fled a confrontation with his stubborn father. He is a lazy going poet trying his luck in a love affair with Therese - an interesting, though self-destructive woman who builds up a kind of new religion worshipping Venus by inhaling the atmosphere and aciding herself.

The story's hero is Pascal, a courageous 16 year old engineering genius. Very early on it is hinted that he doesn't like his body at all and after a while he finds out that he is really a girl in the body of a man. At this instant, he renames herself secretly Pascale and the story continues as "her" which I found extremely interesting and satisfying.

The novel's plot develops around a discovery by George-Étienne where he found out that at floor of Diana Chasma, things behave goofy. It is an extreme adventure to go down to the ground in a kind of floating submarine in the high pressure and temperature. They find a mysterious cave there and start exploring it.

Review: This novel starts a new series but has a satisfying ending without a huge cliffhanger. It is mostly Hard SF with one exception that they interpret from their findings in the cave. 

SF on Venus was common in Pulp times, when authors invented jungles and dinosaurs, or even high tech civilizations there - this form is called "Old Venus" and authors still write this fiction topic, e.g. in an anthology edited by GRRM and Dozois. In contemporary SF, authors are mostly invested in Mars or the Jupiter moons, but Venus went out of focus. That's maybe because the living conditions on the ground are hard to describe and living in the atmosphere doesn't seem that interesting. 

That's why I love this novel: nearly prosaic narration comparable to Kim Stanley Robinson's visions of Mars describing the several cloud layers with grand views of the transparent layers at Les Plaines and Grande Allée between the cloud decks and the stygian Venusian floor. The inventive, but valid life form of the trawlers, and the humans flying around from habitat to habitat.

It is not only the Hard SF part of this novel with the planet and engineering which fascinated me, but also the social dimension: First the wholesome family centered around a handicapped adult with breaks in its history coming to the foreground later in the story. The founding of a religion. The political workings of a colony depending on a bank which is not exactly altruistic. Those dimensions perfectly balance the narration to a complete setting.

I fully recommend this impressive novel and can't wait for book 2 in the series.
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The House of Styx is by Derek Künsken, author of The Quantum Evolution series. It's set in the 23rd century, when Earth has colonised the inner planets and some asteroids. The story is based on Venus, which has been colonised by Quebec (the author is from Canada), and where families live on bio-engineered plant-based dirigibles in the cloud layers, extracting what they can from the atmosphere to survive.

The D'Aquillon family live in the lower levels, and when they discover something on the surface that shouldn't be there, plans start being made to solidify their claim before the governing body beats them to it.

The author has created an remarkably detailed and realistic portrayal of living in the clouds of Venus; the changes in conditions as one moves up or down through the layers (including the "goldilocks zone" at about 50km from the surface), keeping safe from the deadly sulfuric acid rain, and the difficulties of surface exploration with the crushing atmosphere and high temperatures.

There's some notable differences to the previous Quantum Evolution books, the main being The House of Styx feels to have less hard SF elements (though there is plenty of science about Venus, probably also anything "quantum" starts to make most minds boggle to a degree), but also there's more of a human element in this book. It explores the family unit and issues of loyalty, identity and gender within some of the characters, and it's done quite well too - the struggles the youngest son Pascal goes through is quite heartfelt.

I realised after about half to two-thirds through that the story was going to be continued in another book (didn't know this beforehand), which means there wasn't full resolution on the plot lines. I'm in two minds on this - if it was contained in one novel it would have made for a punchier, more exciting story; but at the same time there's now anticipation for book 2!

But overall this was an impressive novel, and a worthy entry on colonising Venus in modern SF!
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