Today I am back with another belated review, this time for Spire Climbers by Rob J. Hayes the second book in the Titan Hoppers series and oh my gods I loved this book. Titan Hoppers was a blast, but Spire Climbers was something else and this has been a challenging review to write (and rewrite post laptop fall of death), because I wanted to do it justice and don’t think I came close.
You can find my review for book one here.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Iro and Emil have opened their first Gates, unlocked new talents, and proved the fleet’s Hoppers aren’t stalled. Despite leaving the rank of trainee, they find their training is just beginning.
Thrown into a new squad with an explosive Mage, a cursed Surveyor, and a Vanguard with shady motives, Iro and Emil will delve deeper into the titan than ever before. There are bizarre things in the depths; pitch black oceans, nests of swarming monsters, and Spires that rip through the hull of the titan.
But what purpose do the Spires serve and can Iro and Emil reach the top in time?
Spire Climbers was another book that was on my most anticipated reads for 2023 after Titan Hoppers hooked me in only the way a Rob J. Hayes book can, and this second entry in the series did not disappoint. If Titan Hoppers was those first steps on the moon, then Spire Climbers was the full-blown moonwalk, because Hayes doesn’t just open up the doors to the wider world – or rather universe – of the Titan Hoppers, he blows it right off the hinges and has great fun doing so!
“Because that’s the truth, cold and hard as the darkness outside, Iro. You can’t fight against someone stronger than you. You’ll lose.”
This! I think one of the things about progression stories that has always made me hesitate, is the idea that the character could get so powerful that the threats melt away, because after all that’s why you want to get stronger – to beat a threat, to become the best, all things that involve reaching a pinnacle. At a certain point, it always feels like a limit is reached and the threat is gone. Perhaps, that will eventually happen here – but somehow – with the way it’s written I doubt that, instead what we have is the realisation that all power is relative (I love how North is the perfect demonstration of this, with his automatic adjustment of the threat levels as though it was the most natural thing in the world). Iro is getting stronger, those around him are getting stronger – but so is what they are facing.
It makes me wonder if there is a link between how the Hoppers seemed to have stalled in the first book, and the fact that there had been almost a status quo with the threats they faced, and what they needed to do to survive… and it was only when the threats changed, when the world became that much bigger that progress happened again. Especially, when we see how far the other Hoppers and fleet seem to have progressed, and the threats that lie beyond the immediate Titan.
It also means, that that cold hard truth is in itself a conflict in this world, because the Hoppers need to face things that are stronger and greater than themselves to find their gates; but at the same time, it means confronting the fact that there will always be something stronger and that you can’t always win, because the gates are not always a key to victory. It’s a very human frustration, and you can’t help but understand Iro’s frustration that no matter how much he has progressed, and how much more he will progress, there will always be something or someone that is ahead of you.
“I’m just saying, in engineering, stalled doesn’t mean broken. Just means you have to get it going again.’
Sometimes, it feels like it those around the Hoppers who are able to see what is happening far more clearly than those on the frontline. I wonder if it’s an almost inherent flaw in Hoppers, their abilities and the opening of their gates are intensely personal and internal, even in situations where gates appear simultaneously, or the choice involves people the Hopper cares about, the emotion behind it and the choice they are faced with is personal to them. So, it stands to reason that their viewpoint is narrower than those who are work within the wider context, who in many ways are the link between the Titans, Hoppers and the ships and all who live there.
We even see elements of that through Iro who was an engineer before he became a Hopper, and perhaps that is why he is the one to push boundaries so much, to ask questions and seek answers in ways that other Hoppers might not. It’s also there, in the fact that people who are different are the ones that are making steps forward, because they have a broader view of the way things are.
“I know I’m not exactly a normal Mage. But they’re not normal either, so they accept that. Me. They accept me. I… I feel like I finally fit in somewhere.” She knew it was strange. She both wanted to stand out and fit in, and it always seemed like she somehow managed neither all at the same time.
The reason why we’re so invested in this struggle though is undoubtedly the characters. Iro and Emil are both beginning to come into their own, not just in terms of their abilities, but also in terms of working out what they stand for and what they’re trying to achieve. Emil grew on me a lot in the course of Spire Climbers – his dedication to The Courage, and the way he adapted to the fact that he wasn’t a typical Paladin in world where different might mean stronger but not always in a positive way, but also in terms of how he interacted with the team and made connections with them. The partnership with Iro in particular was one that developed brilliantly. Iro in many ways was more internally focused with his own conflicts, and that driving need to be stronger, but as with Emil, we see him having to determine his own path.
Toshiko was a fantastic addition to the cast, and in all honestly has probably stolen my heart as my favourite character – quirky and immeasurably destructive? – sign me the hell up. Again, she shows that different can be the way forward – at a cost – and her desire to be on the team, but her refusal to completely shed who she was and how she used her power was compelling reading.
Justice was a new character who left me conflicted. In some ways he was annoying as hell, but at the same time it was an understandable why he was the way he was. It also introduced the interesting element, that even those from the Upper Ships face their own troubles and expectations. I look forward to seeing what he grows into because the potential is there, and by the end of the book, his relationship and interactions with the rest of ‘Four Home’ had me liking him a lot more, and in some ways, he feels like the dark horse of the characters.
Gadise Samir was both infuriating and brilliant, and like Justice you get the feeling that she is bound by pressures that the rest of the team can’t understand yet. She was a fantastic character to take the leadership role, even though often her rigidity and obeisance to orders is more the source of conflict than anything else, but Hayes shows us enough cracks in her armour, which alongside the fact that she is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her teammates that makes her strangely likeable. I also couldn’t imagine someone else being able to pull the disparate team together (although I do sympathize with them for having to put up with her at times). Again, her potential for the rest of the story feels like it runs as deep as Justice, and I hoping that she will be our gateway to getting to see more of the Upper Ship part of the fleet.
As fantastic as the new characters are, I was glad that we still got to keep the ties to the old ones. Iro and Eir’s relationship still threaded throughout, and again this is something I love about how progression is dealt with in this series – it’s not a straightforward leap forward, we see Iro still remembering and drawing lessons from those he’s learned from before. ‘Fight like Eir.’ I am especially glad that we got to see more of Rollo, and that there is still that element of mentor/mentee relationship even though Iro is not a trainee anymore, and I loved the bit where Rollo kicks off because of something that was Iro was taught – and in a world where there will always be something stronger, it feels like those connections are even more important.
Outside our main cast, two characters that were absolutely fantastic additions for various reasons were Mufar and Wave. We don’t know vast amounts about either of them, but both characters were key to the expanding worldbuilding of Titan Hoppers. Mufar has a charisma to his character voice that immediately pulled me in, and I loved his interaction with the main group, and the culture shock that followed in his wake – there was so many ways Hayes could have brought in that information and the wider Titan situation, but using this quirky character was excellent. Wave on the other hand humanised the other Hoppers who have been little more than antagonists so far, and the way she tried to deal with Iro immediately warmed me to her as a reader, while one of the Snapshot sections peeled back the curtain on a new threat and made me care about what she was fighting for – and I am looking forward to seeing more of her.
“The titans fight, from time to time, as brothers and friends are likely to do. The distances are obviously too great for any conventional weaponry, but the Tucker Sphere provide a novel way to do battle. Titans construct their forces and throw them at each other.’
There were moments in the first book where the broader scale of events and the history of the fleets was hinted at, tantalising glimpses of the universe Hayes has woven around this story. In Spire Climbers that wider scale is brought into sharp focus, and while I probably have more questions now than ever, I was absolutely hooked and blown away by the revelations in this book. The dichotomy of knowledge as well between the home fleet and the others is astonishing, and it makes you wonder just what else has happened in the past to cause that schism, and what else might be hidden within the Home Fleet itself.
What does it take for human fleets to become so distinct and separated, and yet nucleated around the Titans?
There were new creatures and constructs, and I remain in awe at the depth of Hayes’ imagination, especially as there is such internal coherence within the world itself. This is an ecosystem of its own, and it may not be one that we’re familiar and there are unnatural elements, but it’s easy to lose yourself in the flow of the world. It’s also interesting that often the greatest threat was humans trying to survive, an element that perseveres regardless of where people are.
There was new technology, from the titular spire to the Tucker Sphere, to items of loot – which really brought back that feeling of a good old-fashioned dungeon dive (just in space, with fancy technology…). And just the fact that there are more Titans – which makes you wonder how each one is different, as we’ve already seen the difference just between Titan 01 and Titan 02.
Again, when talking about the worldbuilding – as amazing as it is to talk about the tech, the creatures and the powers that the Hoppers are able to access, and we are introduced to new ones in Spire Climbers that completely change the flow of the fights. We have to talk about the societal aspects of the worldbuilding. In Titan Hoppers, we could clearly see the differences between the Lower and Middle Ships, with the Upper Ships an elusive and powerful OTHER. That remains very much the case here, but now we get to see Hayes beginning to peel back the layers, exposing the rot beneath – we see that in the conflict between the team and Samir about the orders regarding the non-Hoppers that were exposed to danger during a harvest, letting us see with full clarity just what the relationships between the different levels are.
We also get to see more how the different ships differ, from the traditions that still hold sway on Thousand Suns, to the way everyone on The Courage came together to arm their Hopper, to their requirements and focus on what they need to retrieve during Hops. It’s what makes Iro’s team so fascinating, because those differences and divisions are a threat, but they also work together (when not arguing…or being stubborn EMIL) in a way that shows what is possible. What would the Home Fleet be capable of if they call came together? Is it likely to happen, probably not, at least not yet. But we get to see the potential in microcosm. And the way the book ended suggests that this is about to split open.
Spire Climbers maintains the non-stop thrill ride elements of the first book, but completely raises the bar. The stakes are far more than simple survival, the universe is that much vaster than we’d seen in the first book, and the characters are on the precipice of events that have the potential to split everything wide open and change all the rules. Yes, I am impatient for more information on many of the revelations in this book, and answers to new questions, but the mystery is keeping me just as hooked as the characters and the world, and Hayes knows how to balance that with a compelling story. This was an absolute blast to read, and I’m already eagerly anticipating the next instalment and will most likely be revisiting this series before then, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.
One thought on “Book Review: Spire Climbers (Titan Hoppers #2) – Rob J. Hayes”
This is a fantastic review of Spire Climbers by Rob J. Hayes. Your detailed analysis of the characters and worldbuilding highlights the depth of the story, and your enthusiasm for the series is contagious. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book!
The Survivalist Prepper