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Founder's Mercy: Book One of the Neskan Chronicles
Lach, Owen
Lach’s debut novel, the first in a coming-of-age dystopian series, finds teens Adan Testa and his friend Bo eking out a meager working in an industrial laundry on the colony planet Neska, mere specks in the proletariat mass under the thumb of the oppressive Bolvar Union. To avoid conscription in the Bolvar Union Defense Force, the duo dares an elaborate heist to get themselves out of the state. When the plan goes awry and the pair crash their delivery van, these “Mortari trash” caught by the “pinchers” and impressed into the Defense Force anyway. When Adan discovers an affinity for the ancient weapons–“Old Tech”–stored in a Defense Force museum, the Union attempts to harness his power for their own purposes.

Lach sets up an intriguing premise that will draw in new readers of dystopian and queer romance fiction alike. Adan is an immediately likable protagonist whose budding relationship with one of the fellow members of the Defense Force will resonate with readers exploring their own sexuality. A compelling space exploration narrative and the gradual revelation of secrets makes for an intriguing setup for the next installment.

Lach breathes some new life into the genre with a likable cast of characters, an engaging romance, and a well-thought-out premise, though readers experienced in YA dystopias will find some plot elements familiar, including drawn-out training scenes. Although Lach’s work is inclusive (characters introduce themselves by their preferred pronouns), this enlightened choice has the unintended effect of undermining the oppressive atmosphere of the dystopia itself. Still, Neska and its various factions proves arresting, as does the Old Tech, and Lach includes nice nods to this fiction’s historical antecedents: the Gories (or “Duels of Glory”) are a direct reference to the Roman colosseum, and the whole ethos of the Bolvar Union might be likened to the Soviet Union. These touches showcase that Lach has done his research.

Takeaway: The start to an engaging and inclusive science fiction dystopian thriller series with roots in history.

Great for fans of: Alex London’s Proxy, M.R. Carey’s Ramparts Trilogy.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B+