Review by Nathan Hopp
It is the 24th century, and humanity has colonized the stars. Aliens and robots are as commonplace as interstellar travel, while mercenaries and pirates casually jump between spaceports looking for work to do. Living together on their spacecraft The Serendipity, Clarity is a free-living, nostalgic human who agrees with Irohann—a pragmatic yet caring and seemingly anthropomorphic fox-like alien called a Heffen—that they’re running out of money and therefore need to expand their services to clientele. One of whom is an AI calling herself Wisper, who had recently transferred her consciousness into an empty robot and desperately needs the mercenary duo, plus four others, to escort them to a nearby research base in order to rendezvous with a ship that will help them reach a stranded expedition crew near a deadly pulsar. These four other passengers include an insectile physicist named Am-lei, her elephant-like wife Jeko, a lapine alien pilot named Roscoe, plus a sentient swarm of bugs and flies that calls itself Mazillion. Seemed like a simple drop-off mission, right?
Unfortunately for the protagonists, things are not as they seem. After losing The Serendipity partly through their journey and finding out that Wisper has kept things from them, Clarity and Irohann reluctantly join the AI’s rescue operation. However, it isn’t a rescue mission to save a crew, but to save the colonized reaches of the observable universe from an experiment gone wrong. Will they be able to make it to their destination in time, let alone survive?
This is the overall plot of ENTANGLEMENT BOUND, the first book in Mary E. Lowd’s epic space opera series set within her Entanglement Universe. And boy, is it epic! Within the decent span of over three hundred densely packed pages, the author balances plot, characters, comedy, and heart into what will hopefully become a more popular example of space operas done well.
Despite Clarity herself being an outgoing and a very likable protagonist, whose decisions and care-free lifestyle are easily identifiable even to those rooted on Earth, my favorite character in ENTANGLEMENT BOUND has to be Irohann. Although his backstory could have been explored further or perhaps spread out across the novel instead of info-dumped early on, it is still an incredible backstory, nonetheless. It shows all the different layers of what is perceived to be a simple yet wise and pragmatic deuteragonist. The events of his previous life, while distant as far as he knows, still clearly affect his present to the point where there are positive and negative ways his past shapes his relationship with Clarity.
Otherwise, Wisper is a great artificial intelligence of a character. Her dry and almost sarcastic humor is almost reminiscent of Dorothy from the anime “Big O”, and Roscoe seems like an old rabbit-like explorer who is in over his head while Am-lei and Jeko are a subtle power couple. Mary E. Lowd somehow even made Mazillion an interesting hivemind of indiscernible origin, and Cassie—a space whale horrifically amalgamated into a biological spacecraft—with a personality too endearing for a harsh universe. What makes these characters so engaging is that the reader can wholly believe they are the protagonists of their own grand narratives, like each of them have enough history in them to be given a book. In fact, the backstory of Irohann is well-deserving of its own novella as a prequel.
Smaller details from the characters having "pocket computers" to "solar biologists" who believe that stars are actually sentient to public space stations having a "grav-bubble playground" where children can play in zero-gravity help make the setting of ENTANGLEMENT BOUND stand out from the standard space sci-fi stories out there. However, there are still clear homages to classic stories such as Star Wars, Firefly, Cowboy Bebop, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as animated shows like Final Space. In fact, given the similarities and visual themes of the animated show, this reviewer would be shocked if Mary E. Lowd had written ENTANGLEMENT BOUND without having watched one episode of Final Space.
Aside from a few noticeable grammar hiccups early in the first quarter of the novel, Mary E. Lowd’s writing shines through the rest of the pages to the very end. What began for Clarity and her friend Irohann as a simple escort mission gradually turned into an adventure across the galaxy and beyond, testing their long friendship and the relationships they forged with the crew to the very ends of space. ENTANGLEMENT BOUND is the kind of novel that appeals not just to readers who like furry fiction, but also to readers who enjoy the idea of a space epic that will leave them sitting on the edges of their seats.