A Review of Dust by Elizabeth Bear (Jacob’s Ladder 1)

Dust is a learning the world novel that takes place on a crippled generation ship orbiting a sun about to go nova.

Title: Dust
Elizabeth Bear
Series: Jakob’s Ladder 1
Genre: Science Fiction
368 pages
Publisher: Spectra (December 26, 2007)
Order: Amazon US | UK | B&N

On a broken ship orbiting a doomed sun, dwellers have grown complacent with their aging metal world. But when a serving girl frees a captive noblewoman, the old order is about to change….

Ariane, Princess of the House of Rule, was known to be fiercely cold-blooded. But severing an angel’s wings on the battlefield—even after she had surrendered—proved her completely without honor. Captive, the angel Perceval waits for Ariane not only to finish her off—but to devour her very memories and mind. Surely her gruesome death will cause war between the houses—exactly as Ariane desires. But Ariane’s plan may yet be opposed, for Perceval at once recognizes the young servant charged with her care.

Rien is the lost child: her sister. Soon they will escape, hoping to stop the impending war and save both their houses. But it is a perilous journey through the crumbling hulk of a dying ship, and they do not pass unnoticed. Because at the hub of their turning world waits Jacob Dust, all that remains of God, following the vapor wisp of the angel. And he knows they will meet very soon.

Worldbuilding is one of Elizabeth Bears strong traits, this is completly different from Hammered her first novel. But it is a fantastic believable futuristic world she places this story in too.

The world is a generation ship sent out for something of a breeding program to achieve something better than human. Something went wrong a long time ago, there is hints of some kind of battle that left the ship in ruin. I hope we will learn more of the Builders in the next two books in this trilogy.

The society on the ship have become very stratified with means being more or less slaves to the Exalts. The Exalts power depend on their nano enhancements giving them superhuman power, ability to survive the Enemy (vacuum), and long life. While the means live short and miserable life under medieval conditions.

The story start out in a primitive medieval society with Rien, a servant girl bringing food to a prisoner but soon change to something trans human. The prisoner is an Exalted about to be absorbed by Ariane in the morning. Nano technology takes a large part in the world of this story.

The plot is complex with many players but the main objective is to save the ship when the sun  is about to explode. The question is rather who will take charge. But we don’t know much about that in the beginning.

The main power fractions among the humans are The House of Rule, what’s left of the Bridge and they fight Engine. The two sisters set out to stop the war between them. But there are more players than that. The ship systems broke down at some stage and fractured into autonomous subsystems that most of the time is so advanced that they become individuals by their own power. As catastrophe loom the fight among the subsystems about who is going to absorb the others and control the ship becomes vicious. This is what the sisters are drawn into.

This might sound very technological but Elizabeth Bear blend in medieval mythology,  sword wielding knights, magical swords, mythical creatures and angels all built on hard science, to enhance the story to in my opinion great success.

The characters are well developed and easy to like especially Perceval and Rien.

Dust is a medieval saga about Jacob’s Ladder, the one described in Genesis that leads to Heaven, played out on a doomed generation ship in the far future. It is a thrilling blend of myths and technology and in general a good read. I would read it only for the inventive use of technology, but the story and the characters are intriguing too.