FORMAT/INFO: The Salvation Gambit will be published on September 26th, 2023 by Del Rey. It is told in first person from Murdock’s POV. It will be available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook format.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Murdock’s day has just gone from bad to worse. After her crew was arrested for a con gone wrong, a giant warship showed up in orbit demanding that the colony hand over their “sinners.” Now Murdock and the others are trapped on a ship full of convicts, a ship governed by an AI that seems intent on redeeming its prisoners – and it seems to have particular interest in Murdock. It will take all of Murdock’s skills and cunning if she’s to find a way to escape a prison that no one’s left in decades.
The Salvation Gambit is a fast-paced sci-fi tale that starts out incredibly strong, but misses the landing completely. I was completely engaged with this story for the first two-thirds of the book, and fully expected to land on the side of “fun time, just not amazing.” We follow Murdock, part of a four-woman group of con artists, who is used to existing in the shadows of their jobs as the hacker, the one who provides support instead of leading. When she and her teammate are separated from the rest of the crew (including their leader Hark), Murdock is forced to not only take lead, but to start analyzing her relationship with Hark.
Murdock’s journey is a fraught one as she tries to navigate the society that has sprung up in this bizarre floating penal colony, avoiding scavengers and cultists alike, all while the ship AI tries to recruit her at every turn. It was an effective Alice in Wonderland kind of story, one where our protagonist learns about herself as she goes on a quest to find her friends and escape this bizarre situation. The plot moved quickly, and I was finding The Salvation Gambit a pleasant diversion.
The more the story went on, however, the more I became bothered by how thin the details were. We get a few sparse details about the societies that have sprung up throughout the ship, but barely saw them in any meaningful way. Likewise, you won’t find any daring cons here, no well-oiled machine working together, just vague descriptions of how the team used to be really good at it.
I was okay with the thinness up to a point, because the story seemed more concerned with the characters and their relationships than with the cons or world-building. The focus was on a group of people at their low point, fractured by failure. It had all the makings of a great character study. In particular, I was enjoying watching a character free of a cult of personality realize that maybe she’d been in a toxic relationship all along.
At the end of the day, however, the character journey took a bizarre swerve, placing all the blame on the protagonist’s insecurities and almost none on anyone else in her life, which left me incredibly frustrated. The character arc is resolved in the blink of an eye, so quickly I almost had whiplash trying to understand what had happened. And because of my frustrations with how the character was handled, it made me retroactively frustrated at the story that came before.
CONCLUSION: The Salvation Gambit is a book I wish I could recommend more. To its credit, I did find myself enjoying it quite a bit until the very end; if you’re looking for a quick diversion you can eat up in a few days, this might tick the box for you. Personally, the character arc just didn’t land for me, making it hard to give this one my full blessing.