POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
Nethereal follows the journey of the Gen, Jaren Peregrine and his crew aboard the Shibboleth as they engage in piracy across space. They are under constant pursuit from Malachi and the Steersmen Guild. However, when they are gifted the Exodus. They plunged into a near, inescapable nightmare.
The plot starts off strong by introducing Nakvin. It displays her talents and how the magic of this universe is employed. She’s also on a job that involved getting close to a guild member before trying to make off with a plaque that contains information that would late lead them to an abandoned space fortress. We are then shown who she works for, a Gen pirate Captain named Jaren who commands the crew of Shibboleth. The Gen are all but extinct and Jaren is the last of his kind. A plot point that comes to a head later as the crew delves deeper into hell. But before all that, these pirates are being pursued by the cunning and determined newly appointed Guild Master Malachi, who has made it his personal mission to destroy the Gen pirate and his cohorts. There is also the secondary plot involving Mordechai and his own plans that go way beyond Malachi or even Jaren. The end result sees the pirates fighting their way through the various Circles of Hell before the conclusion sees the universe being almost torn asunder by the ambitions of powers beyond mortal comprehension. It needs to be read because it’s executed in a fun and memorable way.
As a whole, I found myself enjoying more so, Malachi as the main villain because once more started showing up, especially in hell. The novel lost some oomph as it meandered through the circles and their schemes. A small part of me wondered how different this story would be with Malachi versus Mordechai or if hell itself wasn’t a factor. There’s a really good moment where the two confront each other and it has to be the most memorable part of the book because, for the first time, Malachi is up against someone he can’t easily outplay or scheme. Mordechai offers a threat to his perceived control over the fate of Jaren.
There are also a few twists here and there, including some good old-fashioned backstabs. The pace is decent, a little fast though as I already implied. And as interesting from a world-building perspective the Nine Circles were. I found myself drawn to Jaren and Malachi more so than the Baals and other monsters.
I can’t end this part without mentioning the Event Horizon… I mean Exodus. It functions much the same as that cursed ship and even indulges the body horror shown throughout that film. It’s a dark edifice that if you’ve ever played Stellaris, you know that innocent blood went into making this abomination of a ship.
The human characters, Mordechai included even if he becomes a void-like being were all unique and engaging. Jaren’s crew each have their own personality, fears and wants. One of the defining moments of that relationship is when Jaren is pulling away from his loyalty to the crew, and Teg just straight-up socks the man to get him back to his senses. Malachi was a memorable villain but sadly, he’s no Mephistopheles. Though now I’m thinking what if he and Malachi were one and the same? Could have been a really good twist in hindsight. That’s the thing there are many standout characters but there are also a lot of characters generally. Including Sulaiman who provides an early insight into the machinations of hell and his long existence is reflected in his speech and mannerisms. I won’t say much more here because it’s getting into serious spoiler territory.
WORLD BUILDING: 4/5
The world-building is seamless throughout and is easy enough to follow even if you are thrown unfamiliar terms. As the story goes from place to place not just hell. It does feel lived in. You have stations, outposts and hidden bases on planets. The detail that went into the Nine Circles is also really good, each circle offers near horrors and dare I say some Lovecraftian elements. Even the ending portion of the book feels like something Lovecraft would employ or probably has in his own stories.
OTHER + FINAL THOUGHTS
As a whole, for the first book in the series, I liked it a lot, and I do plan on reading the follow-up books. And while the exploration of the Circles was fun, it took away from the Malachi conflict since he more or less disappears while the crew journeys through various hells. I would have liked more there since he was a strongly grounded antagonist that was sadly overshadowed. If you want a story that literally goes to hell and back then I would recommend this. If you want a more grounded pirate story that doesn’t do that then perhaps consider another book.
As always a link to the book can be found here.