Ninth Life

If you, like me, have been avidly following this series from Stark Holborn, you will know that the first two books were called Ten Low and Hel’s Eight. You too many have been expecting the new book to have a Six in the title, and be somewhat bemused by the reversal of the counting sequence. However, there is sense to this (or at least what passes for sense on Factus, the Outlaw Moon).

Ninth Life is not a book about Ten, or Hel the Converter, or whatever she is calling herself right now. It is about Gabi; that is, Gabriella Ortiz, Implacabilis, Hero of the Battle of Kin, the Dead General. Gabi, you may remember, was a child soldier, a Captain-General of the Minority Force, genetically engineered to be a perfect weapon in the armed forces of the Accord. Once the war she was created for was over (oh, Ten, you did that, didn’t you), the Minority Force was surplus to requirements and the Accord sought to destroy them. But Gabi ended up on Factus, where she died, met Ten, and met them. Which is how she became the rebel leader known as Nine Lives.

The thing about Factus is that it is home to the Ifs, them, the mysterious alien creatures who seem to live off, thrive off, probability. The Ifs exist across all possible worlds and, if you can call upon them in just the right way, they can ensure that the path through the multiverse that you end up in is the one in which the outcome you wanted, no matter how improbable, has actually happened.

Needless to say, calling upon them is a very imprecise science. Also, they are not exactly the most reliable of allies. But they do seem to like the plucky rebels of Factus, perhaps because their cause is so obviously hopeless.

The trouble is, the existence of the Ifs is now known outside of Factus. In particular it has come to the attention of the fabulously wealthy mining magnate, Lutho Xoon. He believes that the power of the Ifs can make him immortal, and he will stop at nothing to get it.

Much of this you should know from the first two books. Where has Holborn chosen to take the story next?

The first thing to note is that, because this is a book about Gabi, it is less of a Western and more of a war story. Gabi is, after all, a soldier. As we shall see through the course of the book, she spends most of her lives fighting against Xoon, his mercenaries, and the forces of the Accord. It is, inevitably, a hopeless task.

Our story begins in the future with Gabi crash-landing on Jaspal-Pero Mining Satellite V (Jaypea V to its inhabitants). There she falls into the custody of Havemercy Grey, a young deputy in the Accord law enforcement service. Gabi is wanted for the murder of one Lutho Xoon. The reward is fantastically high. Hav’s family are dirt poor. She has to try to collect. But every bounty hunter in the system is going to be trying to stop her and claim the reward for themselves.

As for Gabi, she’s cool about the whole thing. When the Ifs saved her on Factus, they gave her nine lives. Well, eight more anyway. She’s on her last. Given what she has done, it seems likely that it will be a short one. So she agrees to go with Hav on the condition that she is allowed to tell the story of how she spent those other seven lives.

That in itself would make for a fascinating book, but Holborn ramps up the complexity by adding another layer of abstraction. Military Proctor Idrisi Blake is an employee of the Accord. He has been assigned to investigate the so-called Luck Wars, and in particular the impossible story of Gabriella Ortiz. Of course no one can really have nine lives, so presumably there have been multiple rebel leaders over time who assumed the identity of Ortiz. Or perhaps she was just very lucky…

Blake has in his possession several important pieces of evidence. Others he has to track down in the decrepit and corrupted computer systems on backwater worlds such as Jaypea-V. As fast as he can find them, these records seem to disappear, sometimes shortly after he has read them. But he does, at least, have his own copy of the most important source: the Testimony of Havemercy Grey. It is a strange document. Ortiz’s life, as filtered through Grey, seems too crazy to be true. Also, if Grey is to be believed, while in the middle of a story, Ortiz occasionally addresses Blake in person, as if she knows he will be reading what Grey writes down.

If that hasn’t whetted your appetite for these books, I don’t know what else I can say. Holborn has created something amazing here. The voices of the Western in the first two books, and the War Novel in this one, are beautifully rendered. The Ifs are a truly fascinating alien species. Lutho Xoon is exactly the right villain for a story being written now.

But, you know, just in case, and because style is everything with these books, there is one more voice on the page. It belongs to DJ Lester Sixofus of the non-stop wire show, ‘Perpetual Notions’. Lester exists in Hav’s timeline, and he’s keen to keep his listeners up to date with the story of how the notorious Nine Lives is finally being brought to justice by a plucky young deputy from a backwater moon. Lester, I am fairly sure, was inspired by DJ Crash Crash who provides updates on the hunt for Cindi Mayweather on Janelle Monae’s classic concept album, The Electric Lady.

Power Up, y’all.

Ninth Life will be published on July 23rd. Stark kindly sent me an advance copy.

book cover
Title: Ninth Life
By: Stark Holborn
Publisher: Titan
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US UK
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