In the world of Rob Boffard’s Tracer, mankind has long since abandoned the Earth, leaving behind a ruined planet and taking up residence in an orbiting space station called Outer Earth. Set 100 years into its lifespan we find Outer Earth overcrowded, rusting and faded, its government barely in control and many of its population only just scraping a living. The book follows Riley Hale, a young woman working as a tracer – a sort of courier/gang member – who finds herself and her friends in very real danger after a tricky delivery sees her on the wrong side of some very dangerous people as a crisis erupts which threatens the entire station.
Right from the get-go Boffard sets a frantic pace which never lets up, keeping events moving as Riley and co. race around Outer Earth. He describes the book as “parkour in space”, and for good reason, as we see Riley sprint, jump and climb her way in and out of trouble, her constant craving for speed serving to highlight the pace at which the plot moves forward. The book’s structure takes this even further with short, snappy chapters bouncing between the perspective of different characters – this comes at the expense of character development at times, as each chapter tends to be only a few pages long, but it does work to keep the pace up and the plot moving.
The characters are certainly likeable (or in the case of Darnell, the main antagonist, delightfully despicable), even if there’s a certain inevitability to some of their arcs, and the plot is carefully crafted, gradually widening the scope of what’s happening as the story progresses. Crucially there’s a real sense throughout the book that a lot of thought has gone into the world building, from the layout and makeup of the station to the political and economic implications of an ever-growing population living in an enclosed space. With the focus of the story being very much on action and adventure, it’s this sense of depth, of there being more going on in the background outside of Riley’s immediate awareness, that helps it stand out from the countless other sci-fi/action books out there.
Ultimately this does exactly what it says on the tin, providing an adrenaline rush of action and excitement. It doesn’t try to be too clever, doesn’t labour to get a message across, just focuses on being really good fun. At its best it’s absolutely breathless, like when describing some of Riley’s craziest stunts, and the rest of the time it’s still a well thought out and executed thriller. As a debut novel it’s an impressive start, and with two more books planned there should be plenty more high-speed adventure to come.