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Nathan’s review of Under Far Galaxian Skies by Natalie Kelda

The tl;dr: Under Far Galaxian Skies is a “low-sci fi”, action-packed thriller with immense heart and themes of redemption, forgiveness, self-love, and found family. While this is technically the fourth book in the series, it is the perfect place to enter the “Inner Universe series”, as readers are flung into unknown parts of the galaxy with our POV character Balfour. Pirates, slavers, thieves, giant lizards, and more threaten Balfour as he navigates the fallout from murdering his sister’s boyfriend, and reader’s hearts will be left racing. The overarching plot often feels a bit fuzzy and unfocused, but otherwise this book is worth your time if you need a fast-paced intergalactic adventure!

Cover of Under Far Galaxian Skies

My full review:

Under Far Galaxian Skies is technically the fourth book of the Inner Universe series but is also the first in its specific trilogy. The author has marketed the book as a good jumping off point to join the series, and it is the first book that I have read by Natalie Kelda. Therefore, in this review I’m coming at this book from the perspective of someone who hasn’t read the previous three books!

Under Far Galaxian Skies immediately throws its readers into some sci-fi action. Balfour has been convicted of murdering his sister’s boyfriend, and as punishment he is forced to join an intergalactic military space force – a force that quite quickly gets invaded by pirates. Captured, Balfour is sold-off my the pirates into enslavement on a foriegn planet. Balfour must now escape his precarious situation, all while navigating the growing turf warfare between two rival militant regimes trying to take over this alien city. Full of action, heart, and themes of found family, this book will be a fun and fast-paced read for new readers to Natalie Kelda’s world (and I’m sure will also be a delight for her long time fans as well!).

I’m not sure how much of the worldbuilding in Under Far Galaxian Skies had been introduced in previous books, but as a brand new reader it was a lot of fun to be thrust into a foriegn planet along with Balfour. From the pirates, slavers, roof-thieves, GIANT LIZARDS, and more, readers are thrust into this dizzying universe that feels as mysterious, upending, and uncomfortable as it must feel for Balfour. Kelda gives enough worldbuilding details to ensure that readers are never lost, but also leaves enough hidden behind closed doors to help readers get into Balfour’s headspace as he encounters unfamiliar terrains, peoples, animals, and more.

Getting into Balfour’s headspace, and seeing this world through his eyes, are important because Balfour is our solve (third-person, limited) POV character. Everything that happens is distilled through Balfour’s (quite-limited!) understanding of the universe. This has its pros and its cons. On the pro side, this keeps the world feeling a bit alien and foreign to readers, allowing readers to explore the world right alongside Balfour. On the negative, as I’ll return to later, the plot sometimes feels like its happening around Balfour, and that Balfour is trapped in a plot where he has no real role. Perhaps a grander, bigger story might have been told through one of the more prominent character’s eyes. I’ll return to this issue in just a moment, but in the meantime I will say that this is likely not to be an issue at all in future books, as the Under Far Galaxian Skies ends with Balfour really coming into his own and taking on more of the reigns of the story.

No matter whether Balfour’s POV has plot implications or not, Balfour is a fascinating POV character. This is a young man just full of emotions. He accidentally murdered his sister’s boyfriend, and now fears the familial ramifications of that action. He is haunted by the scepter of his actions and its consequences. Kelda is able to create a character, and a masculine character at that, who isn’t afraid to feel his emotions, who is scarred by his past actions, and where things that happen to Balfour (whether before or during this particular story) have lasting impacts on him. Balfour is a three-dimensional character who laughs and cries in equal measure, all without feeling hopeless, mopey, or annoying. His dark past makes you root for him harder, rather than just wanting to slap him across the face!

Kelda also surrounds Balfour with a host of great characters, whether they are the protagonists you will root for (and laugh and cry with) or the evil, multi-universal villains vying for power. There are definite themes of found family here, as Balfour further integrates himself in this new city, its language, and its culture. In the first 1/4 – 1/3 of the book there does seem to be a lot of characters introduced to you – but don’t worry, Kelda quickly reduces the character list down and fleshes out the important ones so that they all feel distinctly human.

The only thing in the book that really didn’t work for me (and that kept this out of the “five star range”) is that I had a hard time grasping the larger plot structure. There is this ongoing conflict between these two militant groups, but I couldn’t identify where the plot was going (and not in a “I like my books to be predictable” sense, but rather in the “I couldn’t answer what this book was about in a sentence or two” kind of sense. On the individual page level this didn’t really impact my experience reading the book, because Kelda would always throw some new bomb into the book to keep things engaging, but every once in a while I would take a stand back and think “why is any of this happening?”. Balfour has a large impact on the plot, but at times it feels he was just thrown into this conflict for no reason. This is not some ultimate damning critique of the book, but it did pull me out of the story a few times when action scenes seemed to happen just to fill page count because the overarching plot wasn’t quite developed enough.

Before closing out this review I should point out, and this is more of a content warning than a critique, that the book does involve somewhat vivid depictions of Balfour’s enslavement. He is whipped, beaten, and subjected to some heinous stuff (and if not him, other characters who are/were imprisoned). Balfour is also light-skinned while many of his enslavers have darker skin. Kelda handles these themes with nuance and care, but readers who wish to avoid these issues may want to find their reading pleasures elsewhere.

Under Far Galaxian Skies doesn’t really have an ending, and this isn’t a book that feels like a self-contained story within a larger trilogy. Things are looking pretty dire as the final pages are turned, but our heroes are locked and loaded to do what needs to be done. You will be left hungry for more in this series!

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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