The Immortality Thief

Book cover: The Immortality Thief - Taran HuntSmuggler and linguist Sean Wren is on a mission he couldn’t refuse: to retrieve a long-lost scientific secret from an ancient ship orbiting a dying star. At least, that was the plan. Instead, enemies must ally as hunters become hunted aboard the deadly spaceship – but when the prize is immortality, treachery is the only possible outcome…

The Immortality Thief bounds out the gate with cocky charm and misplaced self-assurance and doesn’t stop running until it drops you, breathless and sobbing, at the finish line. It may be the most purely entertaining book I’ve read this year, a riot of an adventure that puts conflicted friendships front and centre with just enough world-building to hang the drama off and a selection of tropes that I’ll always sign up for.

A deserted space ship with mysterious science aboard? Check.

A disreputable bunch of shady types entirely out of their depth? Damn right.

Escalating threats that start with instant death and scale up to supernova? Ahahaha yes.

Stir in murder monsters, creepy children that just want to eat you and a very-much-functional AI deeply invested in maintaining the ship and eliminating anything that damages it and the stage is set for a high octane horror-fuelled race against time. I loved every minute.

That said, Sean Wren himself didn’t immediately win me over. Luckily, he’s soon surrounded by interesting people and he grew on me over time. Sean may have an imp who drives him to cause trouble, but he’s a good lad at heart – and it’s a heart that becomes ever more important to the shifting alliances and dark kaleidoscope of possible outcomes (to be clear, I’m not talking heart as in romance, but as in ethics and soul).

Sean, Benny and Leah are aboard the Nameless because they have no choice: criminals employed by a politician who needs Sean’s skills (Sean speaks the long-dead language of the Nameless and its files) and has found and exploited Sean’s weak spot to get them to (do his dirty) work for him. They can retrieve the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone or die – die trying, die trying to escape, or die for coming home empty-handed.

Dying looks by far the most likely outcome, because the Nameless itself is a death trap and humanity’s ruthless rivals and former overlords – the undying Ministers – are also aboard and intent on the same prize. The one thing the Ministers lack is someone who speaks Ameng – making Sean the one person they can’t kill. I reflected early that the plot relied heavily on convenience and the stakes were cranking up to absurdity… and that I didn’t care because I was already having so much fun.

The plot pivots smoothly from surviving your enemies to teaming up with them in order to survive, before a high-stakes finale in which loyalties are tested to the utmost with the prize of immortality finally within grasp. If The Immortality Thief never managed to surprise me (Sean is very naive), it delivered big emotional beats and had me completely invested in the central trio’s inner conflict.

While it plays it casually, The Immortality Thief also has a philosophy dear to my heart: not denying the humanity in others and doing right by them when you can. That said, this is primarily popcorn space opera – I delighted in Tamara Gupta’s endless array of improbably big knives and Indigo’s unexpected friendship (not to mention the Minister’s light-based language) rather than a deep, meaningful examination of humanity. Still, it’s this warm compassionate core that had a book full of face-chewing creatures and endless betrayal leave me feeling unexpectedly warm and fuzzy – and very keen to know if there will be future novels set in this universe. Taran Hunt has created an intriguing world and shown us very little of it; I’d dearly like to explore it further and see how the consequences of The Immortality Thief play out…

Many thanks to Rebellion Publishing for the free advance copy. THE IMMORTALITY THIEF is out now.