Today I am delighted to be reviewing Titan Hoppers, the amazing new book from Rob J. Hayes which is out in the world today!! I had so much fun reading this book, and it’s hard to do it justice in a review.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Courage Iro will shatter the Gates of Power to protect his fleet.
Born talentless, Iro has all but resigned himself to a life of drudgery, watching his sister hop across to the massive space titan for supplies. But when the titan explodes and his sister is killed, Iro finds a new determination to take her place. He’s not about to let weakness prevent him.
When the fleet encounters a new titan, filled with powerful monsters, deadly traps, and mysterious cloaked figures, Iro is the first to spontaneously manifest a new talent. Now sent to a different ship, to train with others far beyond his strength, Iro will have to train twice as hard just to catch up.
To protect his fleet, and to uncover the mysteries of the titans, Iro won’t just open the Gates of Power. He’ll break them.
Holy scrap on a titan – what a book!
At this point whenever I pick up a book by Rob J. Hayes book, I am certain of two things. One that I will love it, and two that it will be a book that utterly sweeps me away from start to finish, and Titan Hoppers which is rather different fare from Hayes, just reinforces this. Progression fantasy isn’t a subgenre that I am overly familiar with outside of anime, but if there are more like this, then I am more than ready to fall down this rabbit hole. Titan Hoppers is also science-fantasy, and beautifully balances the different elements so that neither one felt overshadowed, also the classes, and some of the beasties on the Titan, as well as the exploration of the Titan feeling a little like a dungeon crawl made my rpg heart incredibly happy. It shouldn’t be defined by them, but I loved the feel of that influence in this world.
In Titan Hoppers, Hayes does what he does best and lets the world speak for itself. You’re dropped not quite in the deepest end of the pool, but close, as the action starts immediately with just enough information to give you context. There is no info-dumping or fully setting the scene, instead, the information is revealed much more organically through dialogue and interactions, and fittingly in this progression fantasy, as the protagonist and other characters learn more, so do we.
The worldbuilding in this book is spectacular, especially with the various fantastical and sci-fi elements that are brought together. The sci-fi elements are on the softer side, we have the ships and the various engineering and technology aspects which are explained in enough detail for us to get a clear image of the world and what they’re dealing with, and what technology they have at their fingertips without getting bogged down in the details. I also really enjoyed the fact that as amazing as some of the technology is, or as commonplace i.e. systems essential to everyday life, it isn’t fully understood by those who rely on it (that aspect gave me some Pern vibes from where the old tech was discovered), and was a clever way of adding another dimension to the worldbuilding and the story with the question of history, and how that knowledge was lost, and where in fact the technology – both on the ships and on the Titan came from.
The fantastical elements were just as well done, and the quasi-magic system of the Gates was fascinating and there was such variety with what the Hoppers could access in terms of abilities, both those that were known and unknown. There was a logical progression in terms of power, but I liked that it wasn’t a simple matter of just levelling up, it felt fitting that achieving the next level was a challenge but also in some cases a choice. It also feels like we’ve only just scratched the surface, especially with the theory given towards the end of the book, and it feels like there is just so much potential with the Gates, and the class system as a whole. The classes were really well defined, and my only minor complaint is that I want to see more of some of the others in action, although the glimpses we got were so tantalizing and fun!
Then there are the monsters. There were a few familiar features here and there, but I think the critters that called the Titan home were some of my favourite elements of the Titan (even beyond my burning curiosity to learn more about the Titan itself), and I really want to get my hands on the bestiary the trainees had. Hayes brought them to life so vividly that it was easy to imagine each monster, and the threat they posed, even in the midst of the chaos of fighting (or running away), and again the variety and levels of threat were so well done.
Beyond the fantastical and sci-fi elements, I have to give plaudits to the societal (and political) aspects of the worldbuilding. Against this backdrop of powers and Titans and space, Titan Hoppers is very much a human story. Life was stratified not just by ability or rank, but also by where you were in the fleet which determined not just the state of the environment and technology, but also rights to resources from the basics of food and water to equipment and technology. The difference between Lower Ships and Mid-ships was striking, and I liked that it had a rolling impact not just on the individual characters, but also on the plot, and the rising feeling of danger for the fleet. I would loved to have seen or heard more about the Upper ships for comparison, but the hints we were given were more than enough to indicate the level of difference. It’s always interesting to see how human society in space is imagined, and here it felt painfully real – and added a very human cost to each step of progress and setback.
Iro – our protagonist – is an amalgamation of all of these aspects, he worked as a tech before unlocking his talent, and moved from a lower ship to a mid-ship. He is also a fantastic protagonist, although I could see why he might not be everyone’s cup of tea (a type of character that Hayes is blood brilliant at writing. He is certainly the underdog in this fight – having struggled to try and manifest a talent at all so he could follow in his sister’s footsteps, bullied and look down upon for that ‘weakness’ and for his origins on the Courage – a dying, lower ship; and even when he comes into his power, it’s an uphill struggle. Iro and his efforts to train and reach the next level, are really what sold me on the progression element – I always like it when powers or abilities are worked for, but here it was seeing the more emotional and human struggle that invested me in his journey, because it was just skill levels and training that he had to overcome.
While Iro was the main character and it was his progression that was central, the supporting cast were absolutely fantastic. The other trainees might have been more skilled, but they all had their own limitations or difficulties to overcome. Emil was a great foil to Iro, their strengths and weaknesses very different – although there were times, I wanted to give him a good smack, I was just as invested in his story, and it was interested to see how their paths intertwined. Eir and Bjorn were some of my favourites amongst the others, but each one stood for themselves and even those we spent less time with felt clearly defined in my mind. While Iro was fantastic, I think my favourite character had to be Rollo – and my heart was in my mouth about what was happening to him, he was a fantastic example how power and progression was not just hard work and levelling up but choice, and the care he had for his charges was evident and I liked that even in his own way he changed and progressed through the events of the story.
Alfvin…just oh… that’s all I can say without spoiling anything, but I liked and loathed him in equal measures, and worse Hayes does such a good job of giving him reasons for his actions that you can understand.
The action is top-notch and compelling, and I don’t think I will ever tire of how Hayes writes those scenes. He does such an amazing job of capturing the essence of the fight without getting bogged down in details, while zooming in for the key moments, and leaving you feeling as though you are right there in the middle of the chaos and tension, watching and waiting for each blow. Fittingly for a book that has so much action, and a rising tension throughout, the pacing is just as none-stop and there was no part of this book that dragged. I ended up reading it in one go, because I was just so caught up in what was happening.
I was so excited to read Titan Hoppers, and it blew all my expectations out of the water. This book was a non-stop, thrill ride that was just a joy to read; and one of the most compelling books I’ve had the pleasure of picking up lately (and I already want to read it again). This is a fantastic book for anyone who loves science-fantasy, progression fantasy and wants to just loses themselves in richly realised world and story. I can’t recommend Titan Hoppers highly enough, and it is certainly one of my top reads of 2022, and I can’t wait to see what else Hayes will do in this world.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.