Broken Valley, Owen Lach’s follow-up to his sci-fi debut Founder’s Mercy, sees his band of young runaways crossing the country to find freedom and answers while staying one step ahead of the forces hunting them. Roadtrip!
I was a big fan of Lach’s first book in the Neskan Chronicles. It blended action, sci-fi world-building, character, and queerness into a tight little package that was a joy to read, and Broken Valley keeps that trend going. Yes, it feels like the “middle chapter” of a story, but it races along at such a pace that you’re never left spinning your heels. This is a chase—across deserts, plains, cities, and rivers—that keeps you hooked.
We find Adan—and his AI armour Besi—hiding in a rural community with his band of escapees from the repressive Bolvar Union. His former antagonist-turned-lover Garun is by his side, as well as his best friend Bo, rebel siblings Jenra and Rune, and older scientist Davi. Together they are trying to follow the 500-year-old trail of the First Explorers, searching for more technology from the founding colony, tech that mysteriously only Adan can access… and which the Bolvar Union desperately wants, along with Adan, to experiment with. When the team discovers an old, long buried beacon, they find a trail that could lead them to the original colony site and hopefully, answer why Adan is so special.
As far as relationships go, Broken Valley is very much Adan and Garun’s book. Their battlefield romance is deepening and bringing its own complications to the tight-knit dynamics of the group.. Bo and Jenra’s relationship however happens mainly in the background, and poor Rune… well, he has a rough time in this one. The number of characters potentially feels too large for the narrative, but there are clear signs that Lach is positioning his pieces for the next installment, and one major character’s absence only increases their impact.
As with the first novel, the queerness of the characters and world is very lived in. The plot isn’t about queerness, but sexuality is part of its foundations and that continues to be pleasant to read. Adan and Garun are never forced to defend their love, other than in the obviously physical sense when one of them is attacked, but the attacks aren’t based on their sexuality. There are nice moments when Adan listens to old personal log entries from the original colony, made by a same-sex couple helping establish the first settlement, and takes relationship lessons from their stories.
Besi’s abilities, and limitations, begin to be explored and while there is a tendency to fall back on the AI for exposition and last minute rescues, Lach has wisely drawn lines around what it can and can not do. While Lach has begun chronicling how the original settlers started to colonise Neska, we are still a while away from discovering how the world would eventually fracture into different cities and beliefs, but the seeds are sown. As Adan gets closer to the truth (and there are some major revelations of his own story here) the history of this world continues to open up.
Broken Valley was another compelling and easy read, and Lach’s third book to be released in the last twelve months. If you like you’re action-sci-fi with a queer foundation but skipped the first novel, then I recommend you pick it up and barrel straight into Broken Valley.
By Chad Armstrong
Broken Valley: The Neskan Chronicles Book Two by Owen Lach is released on January 24th, 2023 and is available for preorder now.