Before Mars by Emma Newman
Publication date: 19 April 2018
Genre: Science fiction
Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free for this book and all others in the Planetfall series.
I make no secret of the fact that Emma Newman is one of my favourite authors. I absolutely loved the first two books in her Planetfall series, Planetfall and After Atlas, so I had faith in the fact that I’d also love Before Mars. Each Planetfall book is a little different, and Before Mars is no exception with its gripping psychological thriller plot. I ended up absolutely adoring this book and falling back in love with the sci-fi genre, which I have been neglecting for a long time.
After months of travel, Anna Kubrin finally arrives on Mars for her new job as a geologist and de facto artist-in-residence. Already she feels like she is losing the connection with her husband and baby at home on Earth–and she’ll be on Mars for over a year. Throwing herself into her work, she tries her best to fit in with the team.
But in her new room on the base, Anna finds a mysterious note written in her own handwriting, warning her not to trust the colony psychologist. A note she can’t remember writing. She unpacks her wedding ring, only to find it has been replaced by a fake.
Finding a footprint in a place the colony AI claims has never been visited by humans, Anna begins to suspect that her assignment isn’t as simple as she was led to believe. Is she caught up in an elaborate corporate conspiracy, or is she actually losing her mind? Regardless of what horrors she might discover, or what they might do to her sanity, Anna has find the truth before her own mind destroys her.
What I love so much about Newman’s books is that her focus is on her complex characters. Sure, there are exciting plots and action in her books, especially in a psychological thriller like Before Mars, but my attention is totally on the characters and how they react to the various situations they’re in. For me, this kind of sci-fi, akin to Becky Chambers and Temi Oh, is exactly what I love to read.
Anna is a fantastic, complicated, and totally refreshing character — I love the fact that she is aware of her status as an unreliable narrator throughout the book. She feels she cannot trust her own brain, but at the same time knows what she sees and what she experiences — the question is, of course, what is real and what is in her head? I found her incredibly compelling, particularly in her life before she arrives on Mars and the internal conflict it brings her. As a new mother who has had to leave her family behind on Earth in order to pursue a great opportunity, she has so many intricate layers. Her job as a geologist, her growing hobby as a painter, and her role as a mother don’t overpower each other — she’s an incredibly well-balanced female character and I appreciate that so much — I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a character quite like her.
Like all reviews of psychological thrillers, I’m going to cut this short because the best thing you can do is go in blind. This thrilling science fiction read is full of cool tech and space travel, but also features the emotion and excellent mental health representation that makes Newman’s books stand out from the crowd. Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned sci-fi reader or a fan of psychological thrillers, I think any reader will find something to love in Before Mars.
As an aside, most of the books in the Planetfall series can be read independently of each other, but I’d highly recommend you read them all in order anyway, as I think you’ll really get the most out of them. If you’re interested, you can hear Emma talk more about this series here!
Content warnings: Postpartum depression, psychosis
Want to pick up a copy of Before Mars? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):