“Iron Truth” by S.A. Tholin- An SPSFC Finalist Review

We’re reading finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, and I’ll have reviews up here for every single one! For more coverage of the contest, including many, many reviews and some interviews with authors, check out my SPSFC Hub!

Iron Truth by S.A. Tholin

Iron Truth is a doorstopper of a science fiction novel. The plot primarily follows two characters on a far-off planet. One, Joy, was stranded there when her ship crashed while she was in cryogenic sleep; the other, Cassimer, is a soldier searching for a secret on the planet.

The characters are strong, and fully formed. They develop immensely over the course of the novel. Looking back over the expanse of pages, it is awesome how Tholin moves the characters in ways that make sense. I would say Joy and Cassimer both feel fleshed out, with motivations that make sense or don’t, just as those of real people do. Other characters get viewpoint chapters later, and I admit to not enjoying them as much. At that point, my investment Joy and Cassimer was too strong to be set alongside others.

The world-building is also a strong point. The Primaterre organization, in which Cassimer is a soldier, has many things akin to Warhammer 40,000. Its demands of allegiance, purity, and railing against heresy are highlights. The world never felt derivative, though. The similarities are superficial, and indeed some later plot reveals make the whole thing kind of stand on its head. I could get lost in this world, and did get lost (in a good way) at times as I read the book.

The novel’s main problem is, in fact, its length. I don’t mind long books. What makes the lengthiness of the novel problematic is that so much of it is unnecessary. I legitimately think that 50% of this novel could be cut without meaningfully losing any plot, character-building, or world-building. That’s a huge problem for a book of this length. At times, I found myself forcing myself forward because I just wanted something to happen. Tholin does string along multiple high points throughout the story. Some twists hit extremely hard, and others reveal major plot details. These were major highlights of my reading time, often leading to me pausing or a while to mull them over. But these moments are so spread out that it gets difficult at times to forge onward. The world and characters make it worth reading, but only with some frustration at how much it seems should be cut.

Iron Truth is a frustrating read. Its highs are among the highest in the whole contest. But those highs are distributed among lengthy–very lengthy–portions of story in which little-to-nothing happens. With a major round of editing, I believe this could be one of the best reads in the contest. As it stands, it is uneven. I enjoyed my time, but felt I spent too much of it here. Recommended for fans of massive worldbuilding space operas.

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