Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi's vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.
More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony's 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.
Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.
The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart.
Ren is the main character and the unreliable narrator of the story. She's struggling with a mental disorder that slowly unravels leading to a spectacular collapse. The full extent of her disorder as well as the source of it isn't revealed until very late in the book, leading the reader into the depths of her mind, revealing the secret she's been trying to hide at the very end. I think Emma Newman did a brilliant job portraying Ren's thought processes, reactions and psychology. She felt so real to me!
There are also other colonists, the Pathfinder glimpsed through Ren's memories and a mysterious newcomer. The story is told in the first person, making Ren the natural focus, but the rest of the characters were fleshed out, too. They felt like real people to me as well.
There is quite a lot of world-building. The technology of the colony relying greatly on bioengineering and 3D printing was fascinating to me, and God's city (which seemed to be an extremely advanced biotech) was a very original and captivating concept that kept me wondering all along.
The plot is clear and straightforward, even though the story is told in a non-linear way. A lot of details are revealed through Ren's flashbacks and memories, so the story keeps switching between the present and the past quite a lot.
I loved the book! Even though it took me longer to settle into it than 'After Atlas' (which is the second book in the series, but I read it first because each book works as a standalone), in the end I was even more enthralled by 'Planetfall'. The premise was fascinating, the mystery of God's city captivated me, Ren as a character and unreliable narrator was just so compelling and human, and the book kept me wondering all along. It was very emotional and introspective, a real deep dive into the mind of a mentally ill person. The ending delivered a plot twist as everything started falling apart and an unexpected glimpse into God's city. However, the mystery of God's city remained unexplained, and I know it's not resolved in the next book either. I'm wondering if it's going to be resolved at all, and I wish it was.
That said, probably about half of the book are flashbacks and memories, and we spend lots of time in Ren's mind while she struggles with the secrets she must keep, her anxiety and doubts. I enjoyed it, but I know it's not for everyone.
You might enjoy the book if you are into deep flawed characters, a compelling portrayal of a mental disorder, books describing colonists' life on a different planet, advanced technology and alien mysteries and don't mind exposition, flashbacks and memories playing a crucial role in the book.
Emma Newman writes short stories, novels and novellas in multiple speculative fiction genres. Her Planetfall series was nominated for the Best Series Hugo Award 2020 and individual books in that series have been shortlisted for multiple awards. She is a professional audiobook narrator, and won the Alfie and Hugo Best Fancast Awards for her podcast Tea and Jeopardy. Emma is a keen role-player, gamer, painter and designer-dressmaker.