The Planetfall series by Emma Newman (Planetfall, After Atlas and Before Mars)
I was going to write separate posts for each of these, but I haven’t written anything for the blog in far too long so instead of trying to make myself write a post for each I thought I would try and push myself back into writing this by doing all of them at once. There may be some spoilers though I will try and keep them to a minimum.
So I read the first book of the series for my book club and the way it ended up I read it completely on two train journeys (not a fun journey unfortunately, but the book was a very welcome distraction) which took me around 4 1/2 hours in total because it sucked me in completely and totally, so for a fast reader like me I really clipped through it.
The main character is very compelling and as is the mysteries presented in the book. What is the weird organic city? What did happen in the past? Where did the stranger come from? And it unravels all of these using flashbacks mixed with the present story of what is happening.
What really amazed me was the slow revealing of the main character’s mental health issues, which was wonderfully well done. I should warn that the book has a really well done description of a panic attack so if you suffer from these be warned as it might grip you a little too hard if you are not careful.
The pacing towards the end is perhaps a little off, at least the biggest complaint about it was that the ending came around a little suddenly. It may just be that where the story was going isn’t as noticably telegraphed as people expected. I mean, it was fast but I will admit that I loved the ending. It was beautiful to watch someone process their trauma and for someone who has been through trauma and has mental health issues the whole story made me want to cry with joy and relief that someone could write something that spoke to me so clearly.
And if the ending wasn’t your cup of tea I still recommend sticking with this series because the next book is even better than this one.
After Atlas (5*)
The book is set in the same universe of Planetfall, but this book follows what happens on the Earth after the people who left on Atlas have gone and what that means. The main character is an indentured servant working as a detective and follows him trying to determine who or what killed a man he used to know in his youth.
I have heard that the reason many people set detective novels before the internet and mobile phones is because they think those things will wreck their story. Well, this book basically sticks fingers up to that idea and manages to pull off an amazing murder mystery despite the protagonist having technology at his fingertips that modern day policing would love I am sure.
There is a wonderful tension between him unravelling what happened and also dealing with his own past trauma as well as his personal situation. The atmosphere created when you realise how little control he has over his own life is heart-rending and claustrophobic and so very well written.
I’ve never had an issue loving male characters (or characters who do not echo me closely), but it’s rare for me to see myself so strongly represented in some ways in a male character, but the way he deals with his trauma caught my breath a number of times and I felt so strongly for him and wanted it all to work out.
Oh and the ending will knock your socks off. Well, I mean it might not, but it definitely did for me!
Before Mars (5*)
This book runs slightly concurrently with the events in After Atlas and deals with a woman arriving for a stint of working on Mars only to feel that something is off. She finds a strange note, things aren’t quite where they should be, and it seems that there is more going on here than there should be. That or she is slowly losing her mind.
As with the rest of the series it deals with the mystery of what is going on superbly and though you can definitely work out parts of what is going on before the whole thing is revealed, there is enough surprises to keep you guessing and interested in what is going on.
The other thing I want to talk about is how well Emma deals with the subject of post partum depression and how motherhood is not always a magical, wondrous thing for ever mother and how isolating and difficult feeling like that can be. Now, I am not someone who is ever planning on having children and being able to see this perspective on things was still really interesting and made me really feel for the character. I mean, from a different angle but I know what it is like for society to make you feel like you are broken for not being what is expected of you.
There are some spoilers in the book for the finale of After Atlas and whilst you can still read them in any order between the two, you will miss the impact of the bigger world events at the end of After Atlas if you didn’t read that one first (also it’s really good).
This one is just as good as After Atlas in my opinion and like the whole series the blend of mystery and someone dealing with personal mental health issues is fantastic. One of the things I love is all the main characters in this series are very competent at what they do, their mental health affects things sure, but it doesn’t stop them from excelling in other ways and that is really refreshing to see.
Emma also has characters who are LGBTQIA+ and it’s mentioned but it’s not the focus of their story, just a part of who they are and that’s pretty cool. There’s nothing wrong with those things being a big part of a story if that’s what someone wants to tell, but it’s also lovely to have characters who are casually queer without commentary on the fact, make it normalised in a way that is frankly fantastic.
The next book, Atlas Alone, is out in April and available to pre-order, so that’s something to look forward to!