Review: The Rogue Navigator by E. Steven Newby

E. Steven Newby’s The Rogue Navigator is an exemplar of a genre I’ve never encountered before. I guess you might call it YA Fantasy Space Opera. When one thinks of YA these days, naturally books like the Harry Potter series, the Twilight books, and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy come to mind.  And of course the Chronicles of Narnia are always hovering nearby. These are all fantasy of one form or another. When one thinks of Space Opera, works like Ian M. Banks’ Culture novels and Verner Vinge’s Fire Upon the Deep (as well as less literary works like the various Star Wars, Babylon 5, Star Trek novels and “novelizations”] suggest themselves. The Rogue Navigator is an ambitious and often successful attempt at synthesizing the most appealing and challenging aspects of those two genres.

As in the best YA literature, we are presented with a young protagonist who faces physical danger, emotional loss, confusion, and isolation all while dealing with the usual social uncertainties of adolescence. As in the best of the Space Opera genre, we are given a mysterious and malign universe that’s hard to get oriented to – both for the protagonist and for us, the readers – and yet deeply compelling. There’s a lot to absorb – this is true for the reader, but also for 14 year old Amian, a girl discovered as a stow-away on a space ship. As the story begins, Amian has been discovered by the smelly men who make up the crew of that ship. She’s waking after apparently having been asleep for weeks. She has no memory of how she came to be where she is, of where she came from, who her parents were. In fact, at first she doesn’t even understand the word “Mother.” The men are not nice, and she’s quickly made a prisoner.

As the story unfolds we discover, along with Amian, that she has special gifts, and is perhaps the partial fulfillment of a prophecy about “three orphans” who are destined to help save a universe. And it’s a universe full of the things you expect to find in a space opera universe: nanomachines, worm-holes for instantaneous travel, mind-readers, giant talking insects. . . A good part of The Rogue Navigator is concerned with orienting Amian within this strange universe, much of which is as new to her as it is to us.

Along the way she meets people her own age, as well as adult men and women. It’s an adventure story, so of course a big part of the fun it trying to figure out who’s a good guy (or girl) and who’s a bad guy. I’m not going to go into the specifics of the plot, because that’s where the fun is, and I’m going to leave it for you.

As to the prophecy part, well, part of me said “here we go again” when I first read it. The trope of “the promised one” is a staple in everything from Lord of the Rings to Dune, to Harry Potter, and sometimes I think it’s a theme that it’s time to give a rest. But E. Steven Newby has great fun with it in The Rogue Navigator, first in what is, I believe, the first book in what is to to be a series called Children of The Ring. Pick up a copy—it’s available from Amazon—let go of your skepticism, and you may have some fun too. It’s a quick read.