Ardulum. The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps.
Neek makes a living piloting the dilapidated tramp transport, Mercy’s Pledge, and smuggling questionable goods across systems blessed with peace and prosperity. She gets by—but only just. In her dreams, she is still haunted by thoughts of Ardulum, the traveling planet that, long ago, visited her homeworld. The Ardulans brought with them agriculture, art, interstellar technology…and then disappeared without a trace, leaving Neek’s people to worship them as gods.
Neek does not believe—and has paid dearly for it with an exile from her home for her heretical views.
Yet, when the crew stumbles into an armed confrontation between the sheriffs of the Charted Systems and an unknown species, fate deals Neek an unexpected hand in the form of a slave girl—a child whose ability to telepathically manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of that of an Ardulan god. Forced to reconcile her beliefs, Neek chooses to protect her, but is the child the key to her salvation, or will she lead them all to their deaths?
First off, the cover is gorgeous. It gives the impression that a human is the main character, though, and that’s definitely not the case. It’s nice to get the alien point of view, and in this story, it made sense because humans are a tiny part of the vast number of beings we’re introduced to throughout the story. I was absolutely fascinated by Neek’s unique physiology—and slightly grossed out, lol.
Ardulum is an epic science fiction tale that invokes many different themes and ideas in a dramatic journey readers can’t help but be enthralled with. Gender identity, gender fluidity, relationship constructs, societal expectations, religious conventions, personal integrity and a whole lot of politics all come into play. Aliens came in all different shapes and sizes, which is a nice contrast to the tales that create barely different variations of bipedal human-like beings. I almost felt like I needed a cheat sheet in order to understand everything, and I cannot imagine how the author conceived of and organized a plot with the scope this story encompasses.
Neek’s character is very well-developed. I admire her convictions and yet understand her struggles when she helps rescue a child who can only be one of the fabled Ardulum—a race her people revere as gods—and that she never believed in. She’s forced to face a decision of just how she’s supposed to react, and who to tell, and just what angle to use when she does. After all, this could be her way back to her family.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are others out there, the ones who enslaved the Ardulum child, and their motives are… well… when is enslaving other beings ever a good thing? You’ll have to read Ardulum if you want to find out what Neek decides and if she can keep the precious child safe, or if they’re doomed from the start.