Template, by Matthew Hughes

Before I begin this review, I’d like to start with a disclaimer – Matthew Hughes and I are not related in any way whatsoever.  Aside from a few casual ‘Hey, you’ve got the same name and we both write!’ e-mails, we have had little contact.  I wish I was related to him, if for nothing else than to share the genetic makeup that allows Hughes to craft such beautiful worlds and incredible tales.

I picked up my first Matthew Hughes book, Fools Errant, some years ago simply to see my own name on my bookshelf.  To find out that it was an enjoyable book to read, well, that was just icing on the cake.  Hughes is fantastic at creating worlds, spinning together an intriguing plot all while exploring deep issues without being overly preachy.  With his latest book, Template, Hughes continues that trend and marks himself as one of the finest sci-fi writers currently in the business.

Template begins with what seems to be a stock plot: Conn Labro is a professional duelist who is unexpectedly taken from his natural environment and granted a mysterious deed for which others are willing to kill to take for themselves.   Along with his traveling companion (a woman from Old Earth with troubles of her own), he finds himself dodging a demented pleasure cult while seeking answers to a mystery that spans the galaxy and far flung future of humanity.  (Template is set in Hughes’ Archonate universe, as are many of his other stories, but is a stand-alone novel).

Where the ‘stock’ evaporates is the tapestry of worlds presented in Template.  Many of the worlds along the Spray, as it is known, revolved around the Seven Deadly Sins.  Conn is a perfect vessel for showing us these other worlds and cultures.  His entire existence, prior to the start of the novel, consists of living in a single building on a world dominated by Greed.  It is through this lens that he views the rest of the cultures with which he interacts.  He struggles at times to understand.  It makes for a unique outlook and gives us insights that we might otherwise not pick up.  Add to this a cast of rich, fleshed out characters, beautifully crafted worlds and cultures, and you have all the markings of a great story.

Hughes is rich in description – from the worlds down to the starships in which the characters travel.  He has an excellent way with words that fully immerses the reader into the story and while short (only 192 pages), the story did not leave me wanting.  If anything, I wanted to see more of the Spray and how humanity has adapted.

I will admit that at times, the tone of Template felt stiff and overly formal.  It appears that in the far future, humanity has reverted back to an almost Victorian language pattern.  Some of this comes off in the writing and can make it a little difficult to read in spots.  In a sense, though, it helps to understand Conn.  Template is about him and how he views the conflicts he is placed in and the language reflects that.  In any case, once you get used to it, the plot keeps you moving quickly enough that it becomes a trivial matter.

Template is an easy weekend read and worth the space on your bookshelf.

Links: Barnes and Noble, IndieBound

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