This novel is a marvelous achievement, especially of tone and irony, and especially since it is a debut novel. The premise seems simple at first: a planet-destroying spaceship has appeared and settles in to chewing up the solar system called Horus, a relatively recent acquirement of an expanding Commonwealth of galactic systems spearheaded by us ambitious Earthlings. Horus' main world is Sakhra, housing a civilization of ophidian faced, asexual, reticent and agnostic aliens who'd put together quite an empire themselves of 4 solar systems until—300 years ago—this same ship showed up and the Sakhrans fell into decline and got absorbed by the Commonwealth expansion.
The Commonwealth realizes this danger, especially since Faith—Sakhrans' name for the battlestar ship—has knocked out 7 solar systems before showing up at Horus—and sends 1 of 9 of their heaviest warships called Outsiders to deal with the disruption.
The Charles Manson has the weaponry, wiles, and miscreant crew you'd expect. Think the Dirty Dozen squad, with the Commander—and the book's elected narrator—a brooding brute named Aaron Foord. Although the ship is 1600 x 300 feet and shaped like a "thin, silver delta"(p.44), it is crammed full to neutron-star density(1), leaving the Command Bridge occupied by a half-dozen sociopaths very, very good at their jobs, but dysfunctional in communicating and/or caring about each other much. One of the strengths of Faith is getting to know these trogs—human and alien alike—even though they are all degenerates of sorts, and experiencing their fumbling hesitations at bonding under life-threatening pressure.
Of course, the star of the show—and its biggest cipher—is Faith Herself. When She arrives in the Horus system, She remains cloaked and deadly mischievous. This running battle continues for the bulk of the novel until they finally blow out over Sakhra, and Her mystery remains so until the finale.
When you put a conch shell up to your ear, the sound imagines the full ocean in your hand. Well, that's Faith and not its illusion. The key is in the order of magnitude. There's
Author Love's use of irony is direct yet subtle, and calling this menacing spaceship "Faith" is the biggest irony of all.
Postscript: The read houses a few plausibility suspects and a structural collapse or two. The first act is a stumbling way to start, evidenced by how fast the novel settles in once the battle begins. And, after the wrapping paper is torn off, the reason the Commonwealth or any bureaucratic organization of such immense size is repugnant to Faith is yet still reasonably unexplained. But what She is is cool, and the conception of this work is so wondrous that it makes the faults seem petty. The third act is executed flawlessly if not a little murky around the edges, but, by that time, I didn't care. Leaving it bittersweet is the ideal combination. And, dropping that last bit of alpha-dog, human arrogance dictating that we can "win" over everything, shows we didn't learn anything from Faith—clearly labeled our most durable and unconquered enemy—after all.
Post-Postscript: This read just keeps turning back on me. Now I see a case that Faith represents Al-Qaeda/Taliban/Islam Jihadist and our ineffectiveness to curtail their escalating menace. I mean, why send just 1 ship against it when we have 9? Why fight terrorists on their level when we have instant nuclear disposable methods? Cloaked? When was the last time you saw a terrorist's face outside of a mug shot? Did we defeat Faith? No, just turned her back. She shows up again at Horus, kinda like the Taliban returning in Afghanistan after we ran them out initially. White bread, corn fed—90% genetically "re-configured" corn, btw—Americans know as much about Islam as their future counterparts know about Faith. And, if Faith is emblematic of our foes on the radical edges of the Muslim religion, then they share the goals to stop our expansion based upon, in a large part, what they see as moral disintegration and decadence toward life on the planet. What better way to oppose the merciless tide of an atheistic, greed-inspired, clockwork belief system than with faith, eh? 4/19/14