Cover Image: The House of Styx

The House of Styx

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After dealing with very far future antics involving multiple post-human species in The Quantum Magician and The Quantum Garden, Derek Künsken’s new novel which takes place in the near future, involves normal people and is set in the atmosphere of Venus feels positively grounded. That said, The House of Styx does revolve around a high concept discovery that could change humanity’s understanding of the universe, so there is that.
Pascal D’Aquillon lives with his father George-Ettienne, brother Jean-Eudes and little nephew Alexis. They live in a floating habitat that is part organic and farm the floating, endemic species that live in Venus’s acidic atmosphere. Down in the lower atmosphere they live separate from the main Venusian community that floats many kilometres above them. Living up in that milieu are Pascal’s sister, Marthe and brother Émile. Marthe is a member of the ruling Assembly of Venus but is finding herself sidelined and outmanoeuvred by the president who takes her riding orders from the Bank of Pallas. Émile, who has broken with his father, is seeing an artist and trying to connect more deeply with Venus. Everything changes when George-Ettienne discovers a strange storm in which air seems to be flowing into a cave at the bottom of a Venusian cavern, and he takes Pascal to investigate.
House of Styx is the first volume of a trilogy. So despite its length it is, by the end, almost a lengthy set up for what might come next. After making their discovery, Pascal and his family must recruit allies and pull off a daring heist to secure materials needed to further explore their find. Readers of Künsken’s early works will not be surprised by the heist element of the story, a device that was central to The Quantum Magician. And it is a device that he uses well, after spending much of the book setting up not only the characters who will be carrying out the mission but their adversaries.
While The House of Styx may be considered fairly “hard” science fiction (there is plenty here about the physics and makeup of the Venusian atmosphere), Künsken is also really interested in his characters. In his earlier books, the cast while engaging were all post-human in some ways. The D’Aquillon family, on the other hand is very human, with very human emotions and drives. Central to this is the journey of Pascal, a teenage boy who feels wrong in his body but has no idea how to process how he is feeling. But each of the main characters has a journey to make, and new alliances to build, giving this book plenty of heart.
Venus is a deadly environment. An atmosphere that is mainly carbon dioxide with sulphuric acid clouds, and intense heat and pressure at lower altitudes. Despite all of the familiarity they have with it and joy that the characters get in flying around in the Venusian atmosphere, Künsken never loses sight of the fact that this environment is incredibly dangerous. That there may be good reasons for the austerity measures that the government has put in place. So that while the reader is cheering for the group of underdogs at the centre of the story, it is hard not to consider them a little bit reckless. And Künsken does not let everyone move through unscathed.
The House of Styx is a page-turning opening salvo in what promises to be a great science fiction series. Full of engaging characters managing to live in a dangerous environment but with more than a hint of something decidedly unearthly to be further discovered (if they can avoid the attention of the authorities) in future volumes. And while there is no cliffhanger as such, with so much left unresolved, Künsken makes sure readers will be back for the sequel.
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If you enjoy science fiction, this is fir you. Great world building and great narration.  Enjoyed reading it.
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In The House of Styx, French Canadians have colonized Venus. While the surface is unlivable, they have managed to make a life in the atmosphere of Venus. Every day is a fight to survive. 

The D'Aquillon family lives and dies on the move in Venus' harsh winds, acid rain and terrifying electrical storms. They have lost many family members to the unforgiving planet. When Pascal makes a discovery on the surface of the planet, the D'Aquillons fortunes may take a turn for the better. Of course, for that to happen, they must get find a way to salvage this object and sell it. All while fighting to stay alive.

Derek Künsken's world building is always stellar and The House of Styx does not disappoint! The descriptions of the hardships of living in Venus' hellish atmosphere made me feel as if I were there. The characters are well developed and I was completely immersed in their story. 

If you enjoy hard science fiction, get this book!
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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.
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Heat waves, forest fires, hurricanes, social unrest, a global pandemic. Well…….at least it’s better than Venus! I would like to express my gratitude to Derek Kunsken and Netgalley for providing me a review copy of House of Styx that allowed me to gain some perspective on just what a hostile world looks and feels like. For me, the best science fiction is when the world, the ship, the space station becomes a character.  This has rarely been as true as with The House of Styx. The richness of Mr Kunsken’s descriptions of the character of Venus is the highlight of this book. As the book begins, it is the harsh, threatening, dangerous, frightening features that stand out (to be honest, these features are present throughout). And yet, very early on one experiences the complexities of this character. There is this mysterious, intriguing, maybe even positive and life sustaining side that made me want to learn more and more. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that Venus makes every character better; by that I mean that the human characters are best, at their most interesting, when in contact and context with Venus. Venus quite literally breathes life into these people. And this, for me, highlights a central issue with the book. The richness of and interest in the character of Venus was not matched by that of the human characters. Whereas Venus is intriguing and mysterious most of the human characters are stereotypical and predictable. We have the loving but distant patriarch, the dystopic / hedonistic twenty somethings, the developmentally-delayed youth with savant-like qualities, the teenager struggling with gender identify, the harsh bureaucrat… I could go on but you get the picture. Predictable.   As I said, as much as I learned about Venus (and again I think that Mr Kunsken might have spent time there given his detailed descriptions) I wanted to learn more. I loved the ‘relationship’ between Venus and the main characters and to see their conflicts and interactions. At the end of the book I was left with the feeling that I wonder what next Venus has in store for them and for me. Regrettably, I was left far less interested or invested in the futures of the human. If the next book expands on Venus and its impact on all who interact with her than I am all in. If, however, the next book focuses on ‘human interest stories’ then I am afraid I will tear off my space suit and let the glorious acids of Venus burn me away to nothing. What a way to go.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the author for the chance to review an Advanced Reader's Copy of this book.

I made it through the first 36 chapters, but it has been an effort, and I just can't continue.  There is a lot of social drama, involving a lot of spread out characters, but it didn't present a lot of plot advancement and action.  The author introduced a dysfunctional and socially outcast family, within a dysfunctional and financially strapped colony.  The family found a scientifically and culturally important site, and sought to exploit it for the gain of the family, over the interests of the colony, deliberately destroying sensitive and important relics for their construction materials.  The author also introduces tattoos and branding and drug and alcohol use, among child and adult characters.   The author also introduces various sexual relationships and focus on uncertainty of sexuality on the part of certain characters.  The sexual scenes were not particularly graphic, but I didn't feel they added anything to the story either.  I did not find the story or the characters compelling, and if anything, the decisions the characters made up to the point I stopped reading left me annoyed with them.  Finally, a lot of time was spent talking about the harsh conditions.  Given this was repeatedly done, the descriptions got to be monotonous.

This is not a one star book.  The characters were well developed, and the scenery and society were interesting.  Had the action moved a little faster, I think I could have maintained my interest.  I didn't drop this after just a few chapters, but after half the book, I just could not maintain my interest further.   There are some readers who will find this enjoyable, but I don't fit within that niche.
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This book blew me away! The characters, the setting, all of it: *chefs kiss*. Venus is such an interesting and unique environment to use as a setting and Derek Kunsken really knocked it out of the park when it came to world building. Sci-Fi has always been a favorite genre of mine, so I'm usually very picky. This book however gave me everything I look for in a Sci-Fi book-- perilous adventures, unique and intriguing settings and smart and strong willed characters. Truly a wonderful book.
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A huge thank you to the author, the publishers, and the Netgalley team for the opportunity to review "The House of Styx". 
The work touches the very basics of human instincts and behaviors, with all flows and limitations, being cognitive and emotional. 
Venus is getting colonized, but not everything goes as planned, "humankind", colonizing society is far from perfect and very basic behaviors start to interrupt the "normal" life, which is not only jeopardized by harsh environmental conditions, but also by the behavior of colonizers, which, are very primitive and instinct-based, and the very basic physical needs, health support is limited. Ironically not too far from reality... 
But as always, among filth and human ugliness, there are perils, who are not only intellectually above the average but also thrive for better life of loved ones, can change everything. 
I loved the world-building, it was very imaginative and descriptive, interesting to read, however, the work was getting slow at many points and was getting to details where we didn't need too many and missing details in some place, where I wish we had a bit more elaboration. 
Maybe it is due to being the very beginning of the series, I will continue reading future parts of the series and this rating may change based on the second book. 
Many thanks for the opportunity to dive into this world.
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Thank you to NetGalley for letting me read this book. 

Well, this is proper Sci-fi. There's a slight whiff of Jules Verne here - in the world-building, but also the feel of the society. Venus is being tamed - there are pioneers here, exploring the depths, putting their lives at risk, being rugged individuals - and there are the people (literally) at the top - trading, doing politics, negotiating with banks, imposing order. If this were the Wild West, they'd be the mayor and the storekeeper, and the bank manager - keeping their hands clean. 

Throw into this a mysterious breach in the fabric of time and space, and a great cast of characters wit very 21st century dilemmas and desires. It's great. I really hope that this is the start of a series, because I want to know what happens next.
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The House of Styx  is, at its core, a tale of family. It’s about the arguments which divide us, the shared moments which bind us together. The traits that we pick up from our parents, our siblings, our children. The ideals and the flaws that we pass on, or that we absorb through osmosis. It’s a story of one family, doing extraordinary things to survive, and maybe changing the world.
It’s also, and I can’t forget this, a story about Venus. Because that’s where our protagonists are, hanging in the cloud belts of Venus. Their bedraggled, run down, on-the-edge-of-perdition craft teeters from layer to layer, resource harvesting giving the means for a subsistence living, albeit one with at least the illusion of freedom.  Family is the narrative centre of the story, but the heart of it is Venus. Every decision, every moment, is shrouded in actions which the environment makes necessary. The howling acid storms leave each individual very alone against the night, and find families hunkered together in tight knit universes of their own construction. Each craft in this Venusian society, this colonial society, is surrounded by a world which is trying to kill them, and won’t even notice if it succeeds.

Künsken’s prose is evocative, and shapes a Venus which is wonderful and terrible in equal measure. The cloud layers are all different, and the Venusian surface is a sight rarely visible. Being on that surface, rarer still. With its hostility, its searing winds, crushing pressures and generally horrifying weather, it’s still somehow a place that feels alien and new. A stark and unknown sea, with desolation yes, but also a kind of stark and lethal beauty. This is a Venus which feels like an entity in itself, brought to life by Künsken’s vivid descriptions as we walk alongside some compelling characters.

And they’re an odd bunch, that’s a fact. Colonials, descendants of Qubequois, sent out to scrabble on the scraps of the solar system nobody wanted. The settlers in turn separated from the separatists, and now Venus is their own. And beneath both these layers of stubborn independence and anti-colonialism, live our family, whose choices decades before have doomed them to the margins of a marginal society. From the adolescent struggling with their identity, to the father so stubbornly ensconced in his own skin of old grudges, around to the elder siblings, living life in the shadow of their parents tragedies and choices, and around to the eldest, whose life was the hardest choice of all - they all have something about them. An essence, a humanity. So many weaknesses, and destructive tendencies, and rages and misunderstandings, yes. But also a love that is less transcendental than bred into the bone: family first, always. The family of deep diving Venusians speaks to us, and in its loyalty, in its bonds that creak across generations and across old wounds, it says that there is truth and honesty in love and family, and in not just the family you’re born to, but the family you find and grow yourself.

The story is...well, I won’t give it away! But it’s rather clever, a story of engineering, of getting around the towering depths of Venus. Of taking up that once chance you might have to change the world. And while doing that, trying to keep out from under the nose of a government who are, themselves, trying to keep out from under the nose of the Banks, who everyone must owe. It’s a science fiction story, in that it asks big questions about colonialism, and about gender, and about family, but it does so within the bounds of an imaginatively crafted world, where crafting poetry to shape the soul of Venus lives alongside the hard engineering problems needed to survive within its body. There’s something for everyone here - the romantic and the pragmatist married in one story; those here for the characterisation will be delighted by the protagonists, while those who love their world building will struggle to find anything as convincing as Künsken’s Venusian skies. And the story, well, it left me reading at 2AM, trying not to cry and determined both to finish the book, and that it couldn’t end this way, that I wanted more.

So I can recommend it in good conscience; it’s a marvellous book, and well worth your time.
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The events in this book took place on the planet, Venus. Many years in the future, human beings have succeeded at colonizing the various planets. French Canada got Venus. However, the planet's atmosphere is so hostile that the citizens of La Colonie all live in the clouds. 

The story focuses on the D'Aquillon family, namely Pascal and the patriarch of the family, George-Etienne. Many years ago, George-Etienne and his wife found out that their first child, Jean-Eudes had Down's Syndrome while she was still pregnant. Not wanting to waste resources, the doctors and government urged them to abort the fetus. Enraged at the injustice, George-Etienne moved out of their habitat among the clouds and down to a bio-engineered home closer to the planet's surface. Down there, they had the rest of their children: Emile, Marthe, Chloe and Pascal. Marthe eventually moves back to the habitat to be the family representative within La Colonie. Emile lives up there with her as a result of a falling out he had with George-Etienne. Their brother, Pascal stays lower down with Jean-Eudes, George-Etienne and Alexis (Chloe's son), where they illegally collect metals for sale on the black market. Chloe and her husband, as well as the siblings' mother are all dead due to different incidents. However, Pascal and his father soon found an anomaly on the planet's surface during an illegal trip and are determined to find a way to use it to their advantage.

Honestly, the story was too slow for my liking. I read other reviews where readers said it got interesting after the first quarter but unfortunately it didn't happen for me. There were also a lot of technical details within the book which bored me. I probably would have stopped reading it a long time ago if it wasn't for the fact that once I start a book, I must finish.The family drama was a bit more interesting and I would love to see how it all works out in the rest of the series. 

As much as I would love to see what happens with Pascal and the rest of the family, I cannot say for sure if I would continue this series. 

I would give this book a 'R' rating. This is due to some sex scenes in the book.
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One of the better sci-fi books I have read this year! Life in the roiling clouds of Venus is daunting and challenging, but many families have adapted over the years, harvesting energy from storms in their living trawlers, basically grabbing their lives and raising families against the brutality of planet Venus. Looking forward to the second in this imaginative series by Derek Kunsken!
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The House of Styx creates an incredibly detailed, immersive world with well-thought out science, technology and social norms. The story was an interesting family and technology driven one, and I enjoyed the LGBTQ representation within the novel. Derek Künsken brought to life a world where soaring through clouds of acid rain is the norm, and social friction and corrupt banks undermine the safety procedures that keep everyone safe. The world-building is impeccable, and while at times the science seemed overly technical for my tastes, I know there will be plenty of sci fi fans that will find this work exactly to their taste. 
The tension between settlers, coureurs, the government and the bank provided a constantly shifting political backdrop that was fully-realised and all too relevant in today’s political climate, and I thought in particular the fatalism of the artistic members of the colony was a facet of world-building that truly added to the world. 
I loved the focus on family that grounded and motivated the D’Aquillons, and provided friction for a good number of the sub-plots too. I loved the contrast of Emile and his father, and the Quebecois-space-farer culture of the deeps was a fascinating touch. Marthe was incredibly well-written, and I look forward to learning more of Alexis, Jean-Eudes, Gabriel Antoine and the rest of the House of Styx in future books. Even Gaschel was well-motivated and developed, and she only appeared in a handful of scenes.
The lack of sexism in this novel was refreshing, and without spoiling anything, I thought the trans-subplot of one of the characters was incredibly sensitively-written. I was glad to see in the acknowledgements that the author made sure to research this thoroughly. The representation of characters with disabilities was also handled well.
The political situation presented in The House of Styx was frighteningly realistic, and the grim calculations of who ‘deserves’ health care was genuinely moving. Emile’s poet’s outlook was a welcome touch to the novel, providing a less scientific approach to the problems and solutions of living in a world so alien from our own. Drawn out paragraphs of imagery are not usually to my taste, but the strong emotional undercurrents of Emile’s personal challenges seeped into every observation he made, allowing for some beautiful parallels to be drawn. 
I do wish the conclusion of this novel had closed the chapter more fully on a certain situation, and I refuse to accept the major development that occurs towards the end of the book. I haven’t read a hard-science sci-fi book in a long time, so I don’t really have many books I can think of that reminded me strongly of The House of Styx in tone or content; however the focus on family and the cultural undercurrents are somewhat similar to Ilona Andrews’ The Edge novels, though those books are fantasy, rather than sci-fi, and much lighter reads. 
I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys technical, believable sci-fi with a strong technology focus, and a dose of political and social commentary to boot.
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I couldn't get into this book at all. The primise was so intriguing but I just couldn't get into it at the time I attempted to read it. The writing style was good and very descriptive. It was a little too sciency for my tastes but I know it was a Scifi so I'm not faulting it for that at all! 

I think anyone who loves a good Scifi would enjoy this but for me I couldn't get into it. I do like the authors writing style and will be looking at his works in the future!
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La colonie has built a life in the inhospitable clouds hovering above the hellscape that is the surface of Venus. They live their lives in man-made habitats or native floating plant-like trawlers, surviving in any way they can despite the roiling storms, extreme temperatures, and acid rain. 

One family, les D’Aquillons, has sunk to the dangerous depths, cut off from the government’s aid and grieving their losses. Until one day a trip to the surface leads to a discovery that could change everything. 

The House of Styx is one of the most fully realized hard sci-fi novels I’ve ever read. La colonie has history. They have developed their own culture and hierarchy. They struggle to find meaning in the formless clouds above a planet that will do anything to end their lives. 

This novel explores grief and loss, gender identity and queerness, addiction and self-harm, and so much more. The characters are incredibly well developed and deeply flawed, and I found myself quickly getting attached. I was also pleasantly surprised that les colonistes originally hailed from Québec, as a bilingual Canadian myself. 

There is a dangerous beauty to the setting of this tale, and Künsken’s imagery captured my imagination from the start. 

I honestly can’t think of anything I could want from this story that I didn’t get, and I can’t wait to read the next installment. 

Trigger Warnings: Loss of a parent, self-harm, abuse of drugs and alcohol, suicidal ideation, gender dysphoria, violence

Thank you to NetGalley and Solaris for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I received a copy of THE HOUSE OF STYX thanks to the publisher through NetGalley. 

I tried to read this, but it was just not for me. I can definitely see the appeal though. It gives me reminders of THE MARTIAN but more sciency and less humor. It is written very well, and the characters are interesting but not enough to keep me invested in such a large book that is only the first of a series.
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Firstly, apologies this review wasn't completed before the book came out... I am sure NetGalley said this was coming out much later in the year,.

The House of Styx is the first books in the Venus Ascendant series by Derek Kunsken. 

If you follow my reviews on Goodreads, or on our blog, you will know I read a lot of epic fantasy. However, I have been wanting to read more Sci-fi, which I have been hunting on NetGalley. After reading the synopsis on The House of Styx, though short, I was very interested. The cover also attracted me; it looks like a giant explosion, which after reading the book you realise is a representation of the Venusian atmosphere… a horrible place to live!

The House of Styx follows the D'Aquillon family, who are viewed as rebels. They refused to abort their child, who was to be born with Down Syndrome, though they were told he would not be entitled to medical care or rations. The family made the decision that none of them would receive rations or medical care and moved lower into the Venusian atmosphere: a tough life where they had to be self-sufficient. The mother, eldest daughter (Chloe) and her husband have all died, leaving the father, four children and a nephew.

The father is stubborn and rules by force of will. The three other POVs in the book are three of his children: Emile, who is an alcoholic, drug user and hasn’t spoken to his father for several years; Marthe, who holds the families vote in the assembly and is their political voice; and Pascal, a sixteen year old self-taught engineer.

The world Kunsken has created is imaginative and bold. Venus is a planed the larger nations and banks ignored. Subsequently, people from Quebec colonised the Venusian atmosphere, living at different altitudes (on habitats and trawlers), where the conditions vary wildly. The colony separated from Quebec, something Quebec was more than happy to allow, and they were now in debt to a bank, which influences the colony’s politics.

The House of Styx starts off at a rapid pace with two of the family fighting to save a trawler. We are then introduced to the family members still living in the lower atmosphere, fighting for their survival. It is here where we begin to learn about the Venusian atmosphere and how people live there… it is horrid, was my thought! A very difficult life with many challenges.
After this we are introduced to the other POVs that the story focusses on and I felt the book became a little too slow for too long. The world Kunsken has created is interesting: the politics, how people live, communicate, and get around, but something felt slow to me. 

I didn’t enjoy Emile’s story arc much. I felt it was too bland and predictable. The typical outcast of the family who has fallen out with his father, blames the world for things, so he drinks and does drugs. But he didn’t do anything exciting, or bold, or unexpected. It felt like a missed opportunity.

At around 20% of the book, if it wasn’t an ARC I probably would have put the book down and read something else. Not to never finish it, but just to take a little break, because I was still interested in what happens. I stuck with it and around about a third of the way through the book the story pace picked up again. Pascal and his father visited the surface of Venus and found something very interesting. A couple of extra characters also came into the story which expanded its scope and added depth both to the story and Pascal’s character.

When I put the book down around the 50% mark, later that day I was cooking and the story popped into my head, imaging what came next. This happens all the time to me, but it was the first time with The House of Styx. I was much more interested at this point.

The depth of some characters really begins to build, as do the politics, and the job they are planning, which is where The House of Styx (family) is born. We see the real Pascal, which I won’t spoil; Marthe really becomes a leader and is a character I really like; their father is challenged in his way of thinking and stubbornness, and the additional characters add a breath of fresh air. Emile’s story still didn’t do much for me, though he evolves in his thinking and behaviour around the 75% mark. He becomes a part of the story, rather than a side story arc.

What the family found on Venus and what they are planning is something which could become an epic storyline. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for book 2. I’m interested to see when Kunsken takes this story and what the future holds for The House of Styx.
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I must be honest, I did not like the book when I started reading it. It was slow paced for me, and I did not connect with the characters. However, it is well written and the setting is quite good.
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Well written and full evolved world building. Very technical, in the style of The Martian, which goes too deep for me.  I found it hard to really engage with the characters or care where the plot was Headed. Nonetheless, think this book will find a passionate audience more in line with its premise
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This book is so well thought out. The world building is incredible. The plot is gripping. The characters are interesting and the character development is strong.  I can't wait to read the next one. 

I received this as an ARC in return for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for allowing me to read this title.
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