The House of Styx
The first in a ground breaking new science fiction series from the best-selling author of The Quantum Magician
by Derek Künsken
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Pub Date 25 May 2021 | Archive Date 30 Mar 2021
The first installment in a ground breaking, action-packed and exciting new science fiction seriesVenus Ascendant, from the best-selling author of The Quantum Magician.
Life can exist anywhere. And anywhere there is life, there is home.
In the swirling clouds of Venus, the families of la colonie live on floating plant-like trawlers, salvaging what they can in the fierce acid rain and crackling storms. Outside is dangerous, but humankind’s hold on the planet is fragile and they spend most of their days simply surviving.
But Venus carries its own secrets, too. In the depths, there is a wind that shouldn’t exist.
And the House of Styx wants to harness it.
Künsken's vivid worldbuilding is a knockout...This is a must-read. -- Publishers Weekly, starred review
"This electrifying planetary adventure features a hardscrabble family that earnestly addresses issues of addiction, gender, sexuality, and disability while surviving storms of all sorts in the hostile clouds of Venus. Highly recommended." -- The Library Journal, starred review
"Awesomely intersectional and packed full of French swear words, The House of Styx is a great scientific adventure!" -- Apple Books Review
"The House Of Styx is a stunning new sci-fi family drama that admirably shoulders the burden of two heavy genres and distills them into an exhilarating and heart-breaking journey of discovery." -- SciFiNow, 5 star review
"Sometimes nail-biting and always well-paced, The House of Styx is high concept sci-fi that puts characters first and succeeds by doing so." -- Aurealis
"Such a wonderful read." -- Adrienne Martini, Locus
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 164 members
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
A huge thank you to Solaris, Derek Kunsken and Netgalley.
Anyone who reads my reviews knows that I do not like science fiction! But, when I came across this author on Netgalley I knew I had to read it! It's always a crap shoot, but I was hoping the sci-fi gods were smiling. Yeah. They were! This was so good. I will confess that Venus is no place for me! Matter of fact, I was so able to put myself in these characters shoes, and thus I spent quite a bit of time just loving planet earth.
Really, up until the first 25% I thought I would quit this book. Then everything started coming together. I was at times nervous as heck! Other times, my heart was so full of feelings. Flying through acid storms? Scary and exhilarating!
Best of all was the people. Not the bank or government, but these families. I can't tell you how many times I had to wipe tears off my face. Too many!
If you are someone who is close minded then do us all a favor and read this book. It may open your heart. Just a wee bit!
If you need a review, then it won't be from me. Read others. There's some great ones on Goodreads. I'm just here to tell you how much I loved this.
I am anxiously awaiting the next book.
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.
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.
The only problem with advance copies is not only do I have to wait for the book to come out so I can buy it, but then I have to wait even more for a (hopefully) sequel!! Excellent hard sci fi; I don't know enough about Venus to know if everything portrayed is possible, but it was presented so consistently and detailed that I believe it. Bits reminded me of the best of Heinlein and Peter F. Hamilton, with touches of early Dune. I loved the family despite their stubbornness, or maybe because of it! I can't wait to have this on my bookshelf.
Derek Kunsken is a master world builder, as evidenced in The House of Styx. For those who like solidly built sci-fi this is a book that will delight, with detailed descriptions that may deter the casual fan. However, for those that do choose to read, a cast of well drawn characters will draw them into the well paced novel. I hope this is the start of a new long running series!
Thank you very much to Solaris and NetGalley for providing me with this advance copy of »The House of Styx« by Derek Künsken.
It was the short description of the novel that got me interested, apart from being a huge science fiction fan. Still, I didn‘t know Derek Künkens at that time, but short summary got me hooked at once. Fortunately, I have not been disappointed.
Set in the solar system, or to be more specific on the planet Venus and its turbulent atmosphere, the story revolves around Acadian colonies that live in artificial habitats floating above the clouds in a hostile environment. Making a living is dangerous, and fatal accidents are common. Those who were born on Venus don‘t know life on Earth or even solid grounds. Self-destructive behavior like drugs is widely spread among the younger generation, some even worship the deadly planet like a goddess and burn themselves in the acidic atmosphere to honor it. Most People have to struggle hard and are under the thumb of the large banks controlling finances and goods. But there are also a smaller group of family based rebels living on lower levels in trawlers among the stormy clouds. When Pascal, a young engineer and transgender girl in the body of a boy, discovers a strange object on the surface of Venus, this finding might alter the fate of the D'Aquillon family. It‘s their one chance to strike a fortune, but they will have to risk everything to harvest it.
I loved the world building and character studies of this novel. It may not exactly be hard science fiction, but the description of Venus and its climate are accurate and convincing enough to make the story believable, as long as you accept the invented technology. But that‘s what reading fantastic literature is all about, isn‘t it? The way Derek Künskens describes the may aspects of his creation – ranging from individual fates to politics – is utterly fascinating. Maybe some of the backstories he tells are a little to elaborated. However, this is supposed to be the first installment of a new series, so there‘s groundwork to be done. All in all, the book tells an exciting adventure, making it a page turner despite the fact that there is more exploration involved than action. Although there‘s a certain cliffhanger at the end, the story seems more or less self-contained.
I definitely recommend this book.
Key to understanding this wonderful SF novel by Derek Künsken is the dedication at the beginning to his Québécois relatives, and the remark that “The exploration of Venus by bigger nations had never amounted to much more than seeing Venus as a dead end on the road to colonising the solar system.”
Künsken notes wryly that “The decision of la colonie to separate from Québec had come a bit suddenly for everyone, including the séparatistes. A scorned Québec had been happy to cut its losses on the expensive colonie.”
This sets the background for a shaggy dog story of the colony’s hand-to-mouth survival in the harsh and unforgiving Venusian environment, where “No one had loved the love goddess, and Venus had no soul because no one loved her. And les colonistes had no souls because they had no world.”
However, the infrastructure and essential commodities for such a colony to survive are owned, mined and produced by a financial superstructure comprised of various banks, with the colonists being the petite bourgeoisie. You can see how Künsken transmutes the elements of colonialism into his SF setting, but he is way too savvy a writer for this to become pedagogical.
Apart from the theme of Venus being the runt of the solar system in genre terms (it does play a key role in the first couple of Expanse novels by James S.A. Corey), Künsken also deconstructs the very concept of colonisation itself, which often has a Western or Imperialist slant, especially in American SF:
Farming in the heights or scavenging in the depths, choices no different from the ones facing the teeming, nameless billions who’d scraped the ground for most of Earth’s history, never walking more than thirty kilometres from where they’d been born. His parents had crossed hard vacuum to reach a world where most of them would be subsistence farmers.
And what a world it is. Künsken’s evocation of the Venusian ecosystem and how to survive there reads like a lavish and riveting David Attenborough nature documentary. Although he has clearly done his homework, the nuts and bolts of the actual science are cleverly hidden in the background of the story.
The reader is mesmerised by the sheer fight for survival of the D’Aquillon family as it painstakingly harvests water and oxygen in the depths of Venus’s atmosphere, living in huge dirigible-like craft, and also harvesting precious metals from volcanic ash in the lowest levels … where the family has a date with destiny as it makes a truly astonishing discovery (definite hints of Arthur C. Clarke here.)
Above all of this riffraff (but still quite a way from the level of the banks) are the habitats of the political elite in the upper Venusian atmosphere, who rule and scheme among the families in order to subjugate and control them.
What made me love this book so much, apart from the impeccable world-building and Künsken’s sheer technical chops as a writer, are the wonderful characters, whose lives and loves and struggles make them achingly and so frustratingly human. Here in particular I am thinking of the teenage Pascal and the fraught journey of self-discovery he makes (to say any more would be to spoil this treasure chest of a novel.)
They all tested themselves against Venus, each according to their gifts, all in the process of becoming something else, something better. They might die. They each had lost loved ones to the clouds. And although Venus would resist them, although Venus herself did not know she was beautiful, they would show her.
"The House of Styx' is a skilled blending of hard sci fi in the Alastair Reynolds tradition with social questioning after Ursula Le Guin. Set on a near future Venus colonized by an independent Quebec, now the colony itself is independent but indebted to a solar system-spanning bank. Supposedly communal, but marred by the same corruption and faults as every communist society so far has experienced, the Venusian society has a fringe of poorer, more independent, black/grey market trader families who live deep in the atmosphere and call themselves 'coureurs de vents', or wind-runners. As a Canadian who grew up on tales of the Hudson's Bay Company and the coureurs de bois (forest-runners aka fur traders), and whose adolescence was marked by the 1995 Quebec independence referendum, I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the book.
The story focuses on one family of coureurs de vents, the D'Aquillons, who have their own family feuds and personal struggles to overcome as they explore an anomaly on the surface of Venus. Without spoilers, what the D'Aquillons do with their discovery drives a tense, engaging plot. Along the way, the characters and their relationships are sensitively explored, with a focus on the three children of the family: Pascal, a teenager training to be an engineer, Emile, a lost soul striving for art and meaning, and Marthe, holding the family together while she navigates the tricky political currents.
The world building and description was excellent. Venus herself is referred to as an embodiment, having a soul and personality. She's a dangerous planet, poor in resources and seemingly a wild and unpredictable world of storms and acidic atmosphere.
There's plenty of Quebecois swearing which will seem tame by English standards but is actually quite strong language. There are some French phrases used, but generally they are interpretable in context without needing any translation. Sexuality is touched on and gender identity explored in a gentle and non-judgemental fashion.
I was provided a copy of 'The House of Styx' for review by NetGalley and have no conflicting interests.
The idea of humans colonizing Venus is an intriguing one, and the author has done a fantastic job in imagining just how arduous it would be.
The story follows the D'Aquillon family, relegated to living below the clouds, eking out a living by using trawlers to harvest materials from the atmosphere, which they sell on the black market. The family lives in a harsh environment, and has suffered tragic losses, and each has a burden to bear.
There are some incredible scenes that are wonderfully described - you can feel the claustrophobia of the bathyscaphe as it descends to the planet's surface amid the rising temperatures and increasing pressure; the exhilaration of flying in a winged suit high above the clouds, when Pascal sees the sun for the first time; the pain and fear as acid rain drips through a torn suit, where every second counts.
The story builds up, layer by layer, and you soon find yourself invested in the characters and their fates. Broken and flawed, struggling to find their way however they can, I loved the character development throughout the book.
A great start to a the series, I look forward to reading the next book. Highly recommend. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC.
The House of Styx.
Where do I begin?! This book blew me away. The writing was beautiful, the characters amazing and oh Venus!
It's a science-fiction work of art based on colonizing Venus and the enormous trials that come with that, but also the strength found in unexpected times and what it means and takes to be a family.
I cannot recommend this book enough
I first want to say thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read and review this book. The House of Styx is my first introduction to Derek Künsken, and it certainly won’t be the last time I read him.
As a biochemist, immunologist and educator, this book just flowed through my mind with such ease wanting to be taken in to this world. The first thing that grabbed me about the book was how effortless his descriptive prose was. Künsken describes the environment of Venus so well it just keep pulling me in. I was not bothered by the intermittent "French" words as some may have. Having the knowledge of "French" allowed me to flow through this book with ease. The book felt so real that I could really believe this type of thing might not be far away.
What really makes this novel shine are the characters. The loss the D’Aquillion’s have experienced in their time on Venus is palpable to a reader as does the ruthless environment they work to domesticate. Künsken does a brilliant job. I almost cried a few times reading this story, and the massive cliff-hanger, I was so shocked and had to check that I had not missed something to the book.
I highly recommend this to SF fans and those who maybe teetering on the edge of SF. I cannot wait to see what happen as the secret the D’Aquillion’s have found is probed even further.
The House of Styx is the first novel in a new series. A science fiction novel which explores the hard perilous lives of the colonists of Venus. French-Canadian settlers live not on the inhospitable surface of the planet, but in floating habitats in the middle and upper atmosphere. The D'Aquillon family are the main protagonists, scratching out a dangerous living., without even the recourse to medical support from the colony. Farming the plants floating in the atmosphere and scavenging materials from the surface. It's an extended family, with young engineer Pascal being my favourite character.
Skilled world building, well plotted storyline and great characterisation. I particularly liked the description of the living habitats, floating plants and the challenges of the hostile environment. There's political intrigue, family dynamics, and interesting characters including a man with Down Syndrome, whose continued existence is the reason the rest of his family don't have access to medical resources.. There is a sensitive exploration of gender, sexuality, disability, mental health and drug use.
I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this series when it's published! Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC copy of this book.
I didn’t really know anything about this book going in. I knew what the synopsis told me, and I knew the cover was absolutely stunning, and that was it. This book exceeded every single expectation I had for it. The plot centers around the D’Aquillon family, who emigrated from Quebec to Venus (yes, the planet) to live a better life, and they discover something that could change everything forever. What are they willing to risk to not only give themselves a chance, but also generations after them?
This book is so beautifully written. There are metaphors woven throughout that really being everything to life and you feel like you’re actually living in the harsh, sulfuric acid atmospheric world of Venus. I enjoyed watching the characters grow and become the person they are towards the end. I loved Emile, growing from this alcoholic, pot smoking brother who wants nothing to do with his family, to someone who steps up because it’s when he needs to do. I also loved Pascal, who starts off so shy and unsure of who he is, to someone who is becoming more secure with himself and leans to love who he is.
This book is more than just about a family struggling to survive in a harsh environment. It’s about these characters you fall in love with, trying to make a better world for themselves. It’s about struggling to survive in an environment this is constantly testing them and throwing everything at them. It also has themes of classism, sexuality, politics, and even a small romance thrown in, but it doesn’t constantly smash you over the head with it.
The only thing I didn’t like was how long the book is. At 866 pages, it is not a light read. However, that being said, it is needed. The author does a brilliant job of setting up this amazing fantastical world, and uses every bit of those 866 pages to do that. He also gives us so much information, but it helps every single part of this story, and just makes it better. All in all, I absolutely loved it. I couldn’t put it down once I started it, and I highly recommend this book.
There are no spaceships, battles scenes or interstellar journeys in this first instalment of Derek Künksen’s Venus Ascendant duology. Rather, it is an intimate tale of family, identity and belonging, set in the richly symbolic and sulphuric clouds of Venus.
“Forty-eight kilometres of dark, poisonous, baking atmosphere beneath them. Thirty kilometres of bright, poisonous, cooling atmosphere above them. Nothing around them but clouds and haze.”
The House of Styx is contemporary science fiction writing at its absolute finest, with Künsken striking a perfect balance with his characters, politics and world-building. While the book is rich in detail, it isn’t weighed down by the technical language. Instead, Künsken’s description of chemistry, physics and technology illustrate the hardships and dangerous beauty of life on Venus, enriching the story.
“Beyond the little window was Venus herself, naked in her grey and black basaltic glory, close enough to touch. She was beautiful and deadly, life-giving and ugly, aspects she reconciled without apparent difficulty.”
The setting is one of the most engaging things about this book. The characters have a spiritual relationship with Venus, a drive to connect with it more deeply even as they struggle to survive in its acid clouds, something that is explored in depth throughout the story. The environment in which the colonists live is written in stunningly visual and immersive detail, the ever-present Venus both setting and reflecting the tone of the book, adding to the feeling of in-betweenness that the characters experience.
The House of Styx is written from the perspective of different family members, an approach to a novel that feels fresh and exciting with many beautiful and heart-wrenching moments. Part of the joy of this book is getting to know the D’Aquillons more deeply and understanding their unique personal journeys. Künsken has told important and under-represented stories through characters who have down syndrome, autism and one struggling with their gender identity.
With themes of family, love and identity that transcend the genre and the setting, The House of Styx is a clear reminder that SFF is an under-appreciated literary genre. I would recommend this book to fans of slower, deliberate space operas like Ancillary Justice and A Memory Called Empire. It also reminded me of Yoon Ha Lee’s Phoenix Extravagant having similar elements of family, art and rebellion.
The eBook will be published on August 20th and is available for pre-order, while the hardcover edition will be published April 2021 (and will occupy a place of pride on my bookshelf).
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger warning: self-harm, suicide, addiction
Far into the future, human beings have colonized most of our Solar System. This book is set in Venus. You know, Venus? The really really hot planet with acid rain? Yeah that one! People living in trawlers, large habitats that float in the Venusian atmosphere, amidst storms that are vicious and unpredictable. It sounds almost painful and it is. Life is very hard for the La Colonie, more so for the D'Aquillon family who live in the lower parts of the atmosphere away from the more elite members and the government. Pascal, the youngest son with an engineering brain along with his father finds a strange phenomenon deep down. On the surface of Venus, there is something strange going on and when they discover what it is, it changes them. Within the caves there is a secret no one knows about and the D'Aquillons need to get there before the government lays claim to it.
This book is so well-researched and amazingly written. The scientific background of the author is obvious in the details. It does get a bit technical at times but nothing too hard. The characters, especially that of Pascal and Emile have so much depth. I didn't know a scifi novel could make my heart ache this much. I didn't expect to be that invested in the characters at all. I liked Marthe too. Pascal's struggles with his identity, his discomfort with his own body, his coming out is well done, even in the chaos of everything that's happening around them. (Need I remind you of balloons floating in the lightning storm pouring sulfuric acid!) And the ending! It was brutal. I don't know what else to say. I loved it!
Oh I am so lucky to have been allowed an ARC for this book because, House of Styx is one of the best and memorable modern sci-fi novel that I have read ever!
Thank you Netgalley and Solaris for this review copy.
(Edit: Links to Instagram and Wordpress have been posted.)
I was not expecting to be so blown away by The House of Styx. In the year 2255, human colonies have set up residency on Venus. But things, as they're prone to do, start to go wrong - the political system is crumbling into unfairness, and there's a wind that simply shouldn't exist.
There was a fairly large cast of mains, but I found myself enthralled in all of them. I will admit, I was not expecting a book that combined sci-fi with elements of gender identity, sexuality, disability, all while being intriguing and fascinating at the same time.
I absolutely adored the scientific element of The House of Styx. While not necessary, and one could certainly enjoy the novel with little to no understanding of the scientific elements, I am a nerd at heart, and adored being able to understand the chemistry.
The pacing was a little slow at the start, but I was still interested in learning about the different characters, learning who had a point of view and who didn't. The plot, and various character-based sub-plots, kept me on the edge of my seat right until the very end.
The book was full of exciting quirks and diverse and loveable characters, and I would happily recommend this to fans of sci-fi.
Huge thanks to Netgalley and Rebellion Publishing for the opportunity to read this ARC - I will definitely be purchasing a copy when it's released.
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.
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.
Finding so much heart and poetry in a hard sci-fi novel is akin to finding a [spoiler alert] in the heart of Venus
TLDR; I was blown away by what Derek Künsken has put together. Now, let's have the second book. And the TV adaptation.
House of Styx is taking us on a journey of "what if": what if the major players of Earth had already colonized (or staked their claims of) the obvious planets like Mars, leaving Venus and its cloud oceans of sulfuric acid for those gallant few (Quebeqois Canadians who became independent) who are willing to risk a life of unimaginable hardship? And "what if" it was indeed possible to create flying habitats among these sulfuric-acid clouds and spend your life without ever seeing the sun or walking on solid ground? What would that do to a person?
The House of Styx has all the makings of a space opera that could easily rival The Expanse series. It starts deceptively slow at first (I've seen other reviews on GR complaining about the pace — personally I disagree), immersing you into the nuances of the tech specs. We're introduced into this strange world through the eyes of a hardened family of coureurs des vents (a play on the Canadian coureur de bois, the unlicensed fur traders and woodsmen in New France), who are trying to survive by harvesting "trawlers" (I imagine them as a kind of a mix between a tree and an electric eel that lives in the clouds, that has electricity and can be bio-engineered as a habitat). They've already lost family members both because of the storms in Venus and their perfunctory government's bureaucratic approach to medicine rations.
Very soon, we're doing a deep dive into the emotional landscapes of these characters — and the depth we find here is both surprising and heartbreaking. There's Pascal(e), the 16-year old engineer of the family, whose internal struggle with his own identity provides a window for us to speculate on the hidden character of Venus herself, hidden behind her clouds. I don't want to give too much away about what Pascal(e) is going through but I found the execution of this plot line so thoughtful, sensitive and elegant that makes you want to jump into the page and hug them. There's the brilliant Marthe, the older sister who can play the political game as well as any Game of Thrones character but without losing one ounce of her big heart... Marthe's decisiveness propels the book forward; she brings everyone together. She's the reason the House of Styx, a found family bound by a dream, even exists. And then, there is Emile: the trainwreck of a brother may be one of the most annoying characters until the end, as he can't seem to get his act together, but he gives Künsken the opportunity to deal with some issues you don't often see in such depth in science fiction. Like, how do you define spirituality, how do you deal with concepts like "soul" and communion when you live on a planet that wants to kill you? And how can you create art and poetry in such a world? For being my least favorite character, Emile has some profound lines.
But perhaps the most fascinating character of this book is Venus herself. The planet that hides an impossible secret inside her core. I don't want to spoil too much, because I'm guessing we'll untangle this mystery further in the second book, but it's certainly not something you expect to find within the core of a planet. When Pascal(e) and his Pa make that discovery, it can and will change everyone's lives.
P.S. This is a personal opinion, but I really enjoyed discovering so many well-rounded, queer characters in this book. Gender identity issues and discussions around ableism were done beautifully, only adding to the story.
PS2: Thank you to the NetGalley and the publisher for offering me an ARC of this book. The fangirling is 100% my own.
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.
Kunsken is a fairly new sci-fi writer, with a couple published novels under his belt, and here he scores a huge success in crafting a thoroughly believable immersion into the world of a working-class mining family living in the atmosphere of Venus. Hostile and deadly, the living environment consists of habitats orbiting the planet in various meticulously described layers of gas clouds. Our protagonists are a nonconforming bunch existing at the margins of sosicty,trying to avoid the politics of the power structure in the upper atmosphere by eking out a marginal living extracting elements from the dangerous lower levels of clouds. Kunsken displays masterful abilities to create thoroughly believable characters, including a transgender adolescent coming to terms with gender identity, along with a gripping plot that will have the reader turning pages at a brisk pace. An added bonus is the fascinating Quebecois culture that the Venus colonists retain from their Earth origins. For all the science nerds, there are also plenty of eye-opening marvels of engineering. I'm stingy with my five-star ratings, but this one deserves it.
A breath of fresh air- The House of Styx was a riveting sci-fi novel that I will be recommending to everyone.
THoS follows a group of humans who have colonized Venus. Their settlement is barely surviving, as they are in deep debt – and the families within it – particularly the D’Aquillons, are no exception. A massive discovery on the surface of the planet might just change their situations – if they can do it in time. They must find friends, and navigate the politics of their colony to do so – otherwise the higher ups may just ruin this chance.
The world-building is part of what makes this novel so fantastic. Kunsken does a fantastic job placing the reader right in with the characters. He has thought out every piece of this world from the technology needed to survive, to how the surface of such a severe and unforgiving planet would be.
The characters are stunning as well. They are personable, and faulty, and marvelous. The cast of characters is uniquely diverse for a science fiction novel. There is trans-representation as well as disabled-representation, and while it shouldn’t be so, that is quite remarkable to find both in the same novel. The characters identities are not the main focus of the novel as well – their situation and their relationships with other are, which is part of what makes this novel so refreshing.
The plot is well thought out, and not forced or rushed. Oftentimes, I see novels where people must be recruited to a cause and they do so without a second thought. THoS is not that in the slightest. People are wary, they need to be convinced. The dynamics of control and power within the colony as well as between people is heavily explored.
Overall, I highly recommend The House of Styx, for its creativity and inclusivity as well as storyline. I cannot wait for the sequel!
Before reading The House of Styx, I'd not long finished reading The Quantum Magician and so upon seeing that Derek Künsken had another book released after that, I needed to read it without bothering to even read the synopsis. After quite a few chapters, I found myself wondering whether this was related to The Quantum Magician so finally got around to quickly reading a bit more on the book to see that it is indeed - a new series set 250 years before The Quantum Magician. My interest rose even more!
The whole book takes place in the swirling clouds of Venus, where the families of la colonie live on floating plant-like trawlers, salvaging what they can in the fierce acid rain and crackling storms. Life is dangerous, with Venus raining acid and everything you do is just to survive. How dangerous life is in the atmosphere of Venus seems to be one of the key parts of the book with the dangers repeated throughout. Life is fragile and people spend their days simply trying to survive.
One family though discovers that Venus carries its own secrets, as in the depths there is a wind that shouldn’t exist. To harness it, a new family must be formed from three houses coming together - the House of Styx.
The character building that Künsken gets into the pages is something else. You become engrossed in them, caring for them and understanding their problems and boy do they have problems. Live on Venus is hard, being in a family in that kind of environment is hard. The father of the D’Aquillon family who refuses to give up on the birth of his first son just because he has Downs Syndrome, despite calls that he'd be a burden on already scarce resources. A son who resents his father for making their lives harder because of his decision to keep his first son, despite his love for his brother. Another son who can't figure out who he is only to discover it with some help from his sister. Deaths in the family, anger, confusion, tears, love. It's all experienced whilst maintaining just how difficult life in the atmosphere of Venus is.
You spend half your time wondering how deep Emile's hatred of his dad goes and whether he'd betray the family that he no longer feels a part of and the other half wondering what can and will go wrong with the families plan to set up on the surface of Venus away from the banks that own everything and everyone, without anyone noticing what they're doing.
In books like this, it's always nice when the details aren't weighed down by technical language. Instead, Künsken’s descriptions of chemistry, physics and technology are used to illustrate the hardships and danger of their lives without making you think too hard about it. We're not living in the atmosphere's of Venus, no one is right now. We've not even sent people to Mars. So you can't get too detailed because it's an unknown and most people probably wouldn't understand some of it anyway. The level of detail used is perfect, it's just enough to keep plausible and understandable.
As an ebook, it has the same problem as any ebook that has an appendix at the back. There are a lot of words that are Quebecois French, and whilst you can guess at some of the words, others not so much. There was a sentence about two-thirds of the way in that I have no idea what was said and by the time I finished and read the appendix, I couldn't remember what that sentence was. When you have a physical book in your hands, it's easy to jump back and forth, which I don't like doing on a Kindle. Thankfully, a lot of the words are pretty simple to guess their meaning thanks to how they're said (like swear words).
Fans of The Quantum Magician might find this book a bit harder to read as everything is a lot more downbeat. It's a harsh environment and you're reminded of that constantly, with characters worries and their actions as they constantly have to look after maintaining their equipment. It's this constant reminder of how they live their lives that make this book stand out. You're constantly told their lives are in danger because it is. I suppose the real question to come out of this book is why Venus?
I can't wait to see what comes next!
I would like to thank Solaris Books and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book for free. So, you think life on Earth is hard? Imagine living around Venus. No one lives on the surface of Venus. Conditions are much too harsh. The rain that falls from the various levels of clouds above the planet is sulfuric acid and the temperature on the surface will cook you. The Quebecois folk who make up the colonists there live above the planet in giant habitats that float in the winds in the upper atmosphere. George-Etienne D’Aquillons lives with his sons, Jean-Eudes and Pascal(e) and his grandson, Alexis, on the Causapscal-des-Profondeurs. His other son, Emile, and daughter, Marthe, live on the Causapscal-des-Vents. Everything is shared, re-used and rebuilt and don’t even think of going outside without double-checking your space suit and helmet. Like many families, not all of the D’Aquillons get along, but their family ties remain strong. When George-Etienne and Pascal investigate the surface (two of only a dozen or so people to actually visit the surface), they discover a cave with enough resources to make them rich many times over. Their problem is how to mine and extract the minerals there without everyone on the planet wanting to take their find away from them. I believe this was the first scifi story I’ve ever read which takes place around Venus. I enjoyed it very much. There was lots of action, some romance, and a lot of conspiring. Both the story and the characters were great. I especially liked 16-year-old engineer, Pascal, who just wants to feel good about himself. I thought his story was written with a lot of sensitivity. It actually seemed like a lot of the inhabitants of the giant floating habitats just wanted to feel good about themselves, but not all of them will survive. This was a very exciting story. I had a hard time putting it down and I will be looking forward to Mr. Kunsken’s continuation of the D’Aquillons’s story (and not just so that I can learn more ways to swear in French).
Thanks to Netgalley, Solaris, and the author for an advance copy.
One of the things I look for when deciding which book I'm going to read next is its holistic themes and genres. I don't just mean fiction or non-fiction, science fiction, or action/adventure, but rather all of those things together that as a whole make up how a novel feels. You can have a book that places you center stage in the shoes of one protagonist, and the events that unfold are seen entirely through that one set of experiences. You can also have a novel that, while still full of action and dynamic events, takes a more detached, analytical view of unfolding events. Both are good novels in their own right, they just differ in presentation, and as a result, in flavour, for lack of a better term.
So when I picked up Derek's newest novel I was expecting (based on my prior experiences with <i>The Quantum Magician</i> to read a tale with fully realized characters (and accompanying backgrounds) which have a defined fit in the world they inhabit and can consequently affect changes on that world as a result of their position and drives - and a lot of accompanying explosions. And I got that with this novel. But I also got an exploration of the effects and consequences of colonialism, of class privilege (and warfare), self discovery and personal perseverance and, yes, an overriding conspiracy/mystery, a welcome callback to the same overall theme the author explored previously.
The result is a very fun novel, and a very layered one. While this was present in his first novel, I felt that it was somewhat in the background and took a backseat to the overall story. It's on full display here, and melded with the ongoing narrative to such a degree that it actually makes for a much more fulfilling experience. One of my problems with <i>The Quantum Magician</i> was actually that sometimes the background descriptions and character introductions caused a bit of a speedbump in the overall flow of the story, and I'm more than happy to say that this entry does not have the same problem.
And you actually don't have to read any of Derek's prior work to get into this one, so that's a plus. (Although I do recommend that if this strikes your fancy, you check out the author's other works as well)
An excellent read. Derek introduces us to humans living on Venus...his world building is excellent, and I was able to visualise his world easily. What a world it is as well....cruel....Derek describes Venus as a female, not wanting life on her and trying her best to remove humans, but humans as ever prevailing......
The storyline is wonderful, the characters are well thought out and we spent time with them all to understand exactly who they were and why they behaved as they did.
It’s an exciting book, and a wonderful world. I can’t wait to return to see what on Earth...well...Venus is going to happen next!
My thanks to Netgalley and Rebellion for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review
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