The Aggressive by Gem Jackson

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Aggressive by Gem Jackson is a gut-wrenching explosion of a debut, and one of the best sci-fi books I’ve read this year. I first heard about it in this positive review, so I was excited when the author offered me a copy in exchange for an honest opinion. I’m glad to see that Dean from FanFiAddict wasn’t exaggerating!

“They were twenty minutes away from docking at the Lancaster Orbital when Tem realised the crew of the Enigma were dead.”

The story begins with intelligence agent September ‘Tem’ Long and her partner Tariq arriving at Lancaster Orbital, Earth’s principal space station. Their agency deployed them after the military vessel Enigma ceases all communications and assumes a collision course with the Orbital. The situation rapidly becomes a crisis as the Enigma nose-dives into the station, killing thousands of people and destroying crucial infrastructure in orbit, including the Earth’s ‘beacon’ necessary for FTL travel. While it’s clear that the tragedy was an act of terrorism, Tem thinks she knows who was behind the attack, and suspects something even worse is coming.

Buzzwords like ‘terrorist’, ‘separatist’, and ‘special agent’ don’t always pique my interest, so I’m delighted that I made the time for this epic book. The Aggressive is aptly named, completely discarding subtle tension for head-to-head confrontations, sinister politics, and visceral scenes of violence that aren’t for the faint of heart.

The three protagonists range from loose cannon to completely unhinged serial killer. Jackson alternates between their POVs and weaves them together in an unpredictable way. Several secondary characters are introduced throughout the story and form alliances that I’m excited to see in the next instalment of the Titanwar saga.

“She reached out and gave his arm a squeeze. It felt like the sort of thing a normal person would do. Tariq didn’t look impressed.”

Due to lack of tact and her cavalier approach to investigating, Tem is assigned to low-profile cases, keeping her away from the public eye. Recently she has been following the trail of an elusive criminal who she believes is behind several atrocities. But he is a master of his art, and all she has is a name.

Anton Biarritz is an interplanetary contract killer who’s only signatures are his tendency for violent murder, and never getting caught. I love Jackson’s decision to write from Anton’s point of view. He is probably the most interesting character to observe, as he attempts to play the role of diplomat and suppress his violent urges. I thought reading the perspective of both fugitive and detective would kill some of the intrigue; instead, it ramps up the action and leads to some thrilling scenes.

“One year on from that spectacular, glorious moment and he was an astronaut. A naked, wet astronaut trembling on cold, wet bedsheets without a uniform. Or underwear. Alone and ten thousand miles from a friend.”

Leon Wood is a newly trained pilot aboard The Aggressive, ASPA’s most formidable military vessel. Growing up on Titan and being regarded as provincial, Leon has had to work twice as hard to secure his position. When he is assigned to co-pilot a diplomat’s commercial ship after the Lancaster Orbital attack, Leon thinks he will finally have the chance to prove himself. Instead, he experiences the dangers of space travel first-hand. Out of the three protagonists, Leon goes through the most significant character development, and his experience with trauma and anxiety is effectively portrayed.

The Aggressive is a perfectly orchestrated sci-fi thriller that will appeal to fans of recent titles like Velocity Weapon and Stormblood, as well as grimdark readers looking for a sci-fi (spacedark? grimspace?) escape.

There are plenty of pleasing sci-fi elements, and I learned a couple of new physics concepts like Kessler Syndrome, which is critical in the early chapters. It also never occurred to me that you would experience acceleration in space, though perhaps I’m just an unobservant fan of sci-fi.

I mentioned in my review of The House of Styx that I previously avoided near-Earth sci-fi stories, thinking that they aren’t as expansive. However, I love Jackson’s close-to-home setting, where the military’s primary function is to protect commercial interests from pirates and extremists.

“This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

The Aggressive is an excellent example of how under-appreciated great self-published books are. Whether or not it’s Jackson’s goal, I wouldn’t be surprised if this book gets snapped up by a big publisher.

Thank you to the author for providing a copy, and congrats on a great debut – please write the sequel soon!

Trigger warning: Threat of rape, death of children.

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Published by Jake is Reading

I review science fiction and fantasy books. In my spare time I stalk rescue cat profiles online.

15 thoughts on “The Aggressive by Gem Jackson

  1. Ha, those first couple of quotes had me thinking ‘this sounds like grimdark in space’, then you confirm it.

    Following Doors of Eden I’ll probably be reading more sci-fi as a change from fantasy, this will be a definite read.

    Think I’d pick Space-Dark!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Damn, you have me so excited to read this one and, until now, I’d never heard about it before. Now I have to go check out when I can buy it. Oh, and Darkspace has a better ring to it than Grimspace.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Haha! It’s true though, I’ve not come across a sci-fi book like this, though I’m anticipating Red Rising to be in a similar vein. I hope you read this one, it’s a fairly quick read and the ending is both satisfying and not (but in a good way)!

    Like

  4. Fantastic review, Jake! Thank you for linking my review. I really appreciate it.

    It sounds like my rec didn’t let you down 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hah, the term grimdark actually originated from sci-fi. So I guess it’s just grimdark, and fantasy is…landdark or grimplanet….or something.

    This is a great review, got me really excited for this. I saw you were reading it and I had never heard of it. I’m glad to see some sci-fi self-pub out there; I haven’t had luck finding much. But this sounds fantastic. Definitely adding it to my TBR!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I didn’t know that! I just read up about it and I find it kinda funny that the example sentence in the Oxford Dictionary is ‘I was super into grimdark when I was in college’ 😂 Grimplanet sounds way better than grimspace anyway.

    That’s great! I feel like you’re more analytical than me when it comes to characterisation, so hopefully you enjoy it too! 🙈

    Like

  7. Awesome review, Jake! Loved how in-depth you went here and the flow and arguments are flawless. You are definitely on point with the darkspace observation! Delightfully creepy…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. ‘Terrorist’, ‘separatist’ and ‘special agent’ are buzzwords that absolutely get me excited haha. This sounds right up my alley, thanks for putting it on my radar 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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