Reviewed by Robert Runté
Lost Souls is good old fashion space opera, complete with spaceships, space rangers, and pirates. The setting is the familiar universe of interstellar federations and humanoid aliens. Imagine Star Trek, but the comedic episodes. Think A Piece of the Action or I, Mudd; science fiction in the tradition of Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat or Lois Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan.
The three main point-of-view characters are Moss, a down-on-his-luck adventurer; Hel, who accidentally becomes a stowaway on his ship, and; Roy the pirate pursuing them; but we also hear briefly from Steva, another pirate; Violet the ship (it's complicated); Tameria, the alien; and very briefly, the Governor of a gangster colony. It is a comedy adventure, but to be clear, sufficiently on the adventure end of the spectrum that not all of these characters make it out alive.
The story starts in the middle of things, and then backtracks for deep dives into the lead characters' backstories. At one point, Moss pauses to watch a documentary on his own life--which struck me as a bit cheesy (like when an author has their character look in a mirror so they can describe what the character looks like)--but turns out, the documentary is an important and necessary bit of foreshadowing. Far from being irrelevant backstory, their pasts are all crucial to the book's central mystery and the characters' motivations.
The mystery unfolds in layers, with each solution leading to yet a bigger mystery. By the end, the stakes are high, the heroics truly exciting, and all the little pieces Chinn has set in motion come together. I cannot say anything more specific without violating my "no spoilers" policy, but suffice to say the mystery holds up well and the resulting action drives significant character development. I particularly liked the pirate's character arc, showing his reluctant personal growth in the first half—which makes him a far more dangerous pirate—and then reverting to type when those changes do not entirely work out for him.
Each cleverly titled chapter begins with imaginary excerpts from Moss's (presumably future) writing. I normally detest when writers try to sneak in irrelevant background through quoting imaginary encyclopedias, future histories, or diary entries, etc, but I actually enjoyed these pointed epigraphs. There are some actual insights buried in these snarky commentaries, and Moss's sardonic voice works well to provide a continuity of tone across chapters that vary between the comedic and actioner.
I loved every minute of Lost Souls. It is a cozy mystery wrapped in an even cozier space opera, and it all works. Yes, it's all safely familiar and there is no pretense here to great literature, but I'm always up for a new episode of Trouble with Tribbles or a new take on Galaxy Quest. This is good stuff, a quick, fun read for when one needs to get away from the fact that our own reality is on fire and people kind of suck. Moss gets it and models how we all need to cope, get on with life, and do the right thing.
Lost Souls was released in January, the first in a proposed trilogy . . . and I await the TV adaptations. (Well, some up- and-coming Canadian producer is bound to see the potential here!)
Lost Souls is independently published.