I don’t know what’s in the water that some of these newer authors have been drinking, but boy am I jealous. Almost every sequel I’ve read in recent memory has been an absolute treat. Sometimes they just completely blow the debut out of the water, and others continue the legacy of the first, making no excuses. Just don’t let me get my hopes up too high now, or I might enjoy something for once. Memoria, by Kristyn Merbeth, is no exception to this rule. Fortuna, the first book in the Nova Vita Protocol, was an absolute delight, and I’m happy to report that the sequel did not falter. Memoria is an emotional rollercoaster that avoids the middle book slump with finesse.
It’s going to be hard to avoid spoilers for the first book here, so if you’re thinking about picking it up, turn back now. Memoria follows soon after the catastrophic events of Fortuna. The planet Titan is once again a cold dead wasteland, its population wiped out by a Primus bomb delivered by Auriga Kaiser herself on behalf of Gaia, a planet that was speedrunning it’s isolationist measures. Gaia itself was also turned into a wasteland due to latent alien technology, and it’s citizens were evacuated to Nibiru, which has caused some tension to say the least. The Kaisers are grounded without a ship, and Scorpia is feeling antsy, while Corvus is helping the rest of the family settle into life on Nibiru. However, an opportunity to get a ship comes up, and Scorpia takes it, even if it means taking it to Gaia to study the alien technology that has made it inhabitable. What they find sets her on edge, and makes Corvus think that the fight is only about to begin.
Let’s get this out of the way first. Merbeth’s characters are the highlight of the story. I fell in absolute love with them in the first book, and it was easy to slip into the Kaiser’s drama the second time around. They feel even more alive after having some time to sit and think about the events of the first book. Scorpia is trying to deal with her alcoholism, and Corvus, well…he’s being Corvus. Their siblings are also dealing with the events of the past, especially since they unknowingly had a hand in it. Scorpia wants to fly, while everyone else just wants to live where they can find a home. Needless to say, the tension is high between the members of the family and it won’t take much to tip the scales. It feels like Merbeth set up a pressure cooker filled with dynamite and beans, plugged the release valves, and stepped back to see what would happen. The drama and fights feel real, earned, and heartbreaking. Without the glue of their tough love mother, Auriga, it’s up to Corvus and Scorpia to hold them together, and they are failing.
The writing is still top notch. While I loved Scorpia in the first book, there was a sense of sadness I got whenever I read her sections this time around. She was still her charismatic, bumbling self, but there were times where she felt she didn’t quite believe in herself and had to put up a front for the rest of her family. It made it more heartbreaking everytime she thought about meeting oblivion at the bottom of a bottle. She’s still my favorite of the characters, and her journey just wrecks me. And oh boy, is Corvus being the most absolute Corvus he can be. He’s still detached, cold, and doesn’t know how much he should hold onto his old world. Even around his family he can’t seem to let go, and really ties himself to his Titan heritage. But even though he gets stuck in his own head, afraid to talk to others, he rarely fails to act when he’s needed. Everytime he goes out to do something he hates, I could feel his emotional armor cloak him until it was all over. And everytime it happened it hurt even more.
The stakes are even higher this time around, and Merbeth actually got me to buy in a little harder this time. My main complaint about Fortuna was that the events felt too big, and I had no real sense of scale. It’s still somewhat the case here, but it feels more purposefully nebulous. I mean, how can one capture a whole war through the eyes of two family members? The conflict is far more drawn out, with politicking and pressures building on the various factions within the story. Repercussions from Fortuna hang on every sentence that demands action. People died in fits and spurts here, on and off screen and everyone of them felt tangible. It certainly helps you get to see aspects of it through Corvus’ eyes, a veteran of the constant struggle on Titan. He brings a grim framing that feels like a horrible job that doesn’t necessarily need to be done, but he follows through anyway. It really made the war scenes pop in a way I wasn’t expecting. Plus, the Kaiser’s as a family never felt completely safe. Merbeth splits them up and it was incredibly nerve wracking as I waited for several of them to never come back.
I don’t know how many more times I’m going to have to end a review this way, but I hope it’s many more times to come. Memoria is a spectacular follow up to Fortuna. The characters feel like they went through some sewers in the first book, only to find themselves stuck in the waste treatment plant, with even less friends on their side. The writing separating the chapters was still tight, allowing each character to feel their own, and give different perspectives on the tasks ahead. And the family stakes were more cleverly intertwined with the grand stakes. There was a solidness to the events that made the war feel like a war. I am honestly afraid of what Merbeth has in store for readers in the next book, because I don’t think the Kaisers will ever catch a break.
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.