A few weeks ago, I interviewed Rob Boffard about post office employees in space. This week, I finally got down to reading his debut sci-fi novel, Tracer. My general impression?
Tracer does not let up. I’m not sure I had ever read 396 pages of unremitting action before, but I certainly have now. There is no downtime. There are no pauses. You’ll be lucky to catch a breather before the characters are swept up in the next breakneck speed adventure. This makes it exceedingly difficult to put down once you get started.
The novel is written primarily from the perspective of Riley Hale, a delivery girl with a difference. She’s a tracer (roll credits), working to move cargo through the different sectors of Outer Earth. When the reader first meets her, she’s running a package down to the Air Labs of Outer Earth. Unbeknownst to her, that package actually contains a human eyeball. Well, initially unbeknownst. She discovers that she has become an organ trafficker soon after getting mugged by one of the vicious gangs ruling the district.
You see? Action.
Boffard’s world-building is detailed and substantial. Outer Earth is a huge station orbiting the old, nuclear-wasted planet, and it manages to feel simultaneously claustrophobic and sizable. The station is a mass of corridors and alleys and nooks and crannies and it’s clear that this place is only just hanging together. The sense of the fragility of the lives of the characters permeates the book; at any moment, this floating refuge could malfunction and end humanity. Also, they have to eat beetles. Mmm. “Crunchy and salty”.
It feels more precarious still when it transpires that there are a bunch of homicidal lunatics hellbent on destroying Outer Earth. Then it’s up to Riley and the rest of her tracer crew, the Devil Dancers, to save the day.
Boffard’s knowledge of parkour (free running) contributes significantly to making Tracer believable. You get a real sense of how the characters are moving through the cramped spaces of the station, as well as some vertigo-inducing moments when characters leap over gaps very, very high up.
A romantic strand between Riley and a lab technician called Prakesh Kumar runs through the novel. It’s a sweet element that serves to ground the story a little. I have a sneaking suspicion that a tracer named Aaron Carver might serve as Prakesh’s romantic rival in the next two installments in the trilogy, but don’t quote me on that. We shall see. Or not. I really just want to say “called it!”. If it doesn’t happen, I’m going to subtly edit this out of my review in the future.
Tracer is a fun read for anyone; it’s accessible, but doesn’t talk down to the audience. It’s the sort of novel you can devour in a couple of days (or hours, if you are the committed sort), leaving you hungry for the sequels. If I had to critique it at all, I’d say that maybe the characters needed some time to have ordinary conversations without the constant threat of death. I would have enjoyed knowing more about Riley’s life and interactions, particularly her relationships with Prakesh and her boss, Amira.
I will definitely be looking out for Rob Boffard in the future and I highly advise you do too.