Review: Atrophy by Jess Anastasi

Review: Atrophy by Jess AnastasiAtrophy by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Pages: 329
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on December 7th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

No one on Erebus escapes alive...

Twelve years on the prison planet Erebus makes a man long for death. The worst part for Tannin Everette is that he was framed for murder. He's innocent. When the ship Imojenna lands for emergency repairs, Tannin risks everything to escape...only to find himself face to face with the captain's undeniably gorgeous sister.
Zahli Sherron isn't planning on turning Tannin in. In fact, she actually believes him. Sure, he's sexy as every kind of sin, but he's no criminal—so she hides him. But no one escapes from Erebus and lives to tell about it. With every day that passes, Zahli further risks the lives of the entire crew...even as she falls in love with a man she can never have for herself.

My Review:

If Mal Reynolds went really, really dark, and if the Reavers were shapeshifting aliens who had infiltrated the government (wait, that sort of happened) then you’d get something like Atrophy.

Or at least, that’s the way it feels. So for those of you who have never gotten over the loss of Firefly (like moi), Atrophy is a great place to get a Firefly-type fix.

The crew of the barely profitable frieghter Imojenna is every bit as oddly assorted as the crew of Serenity. Rian Sherron is the captain, and he’s a man with a lot of demons left over from the last war. So many demons that he is on a one-man crusade to eradicate the universe’s true enemy – the shapeshifting Reidar. Rian suffered years as a lab-rat in a Reidar torture chamber, watching as his crew died in agony, and he lived on in mental and physical anguish.

The man that came back from the war became a hero – taking out the ostensible enemy of the IPC in one successful but should have been suicidal maneuver. It’s probable that Rian wanted to go out, whether in a blaze of glory or not, as long as he went. But that’s not the way things worked.

Instead, he survived to become a living legend. And now he is spending his post-war years hunting down any and all information on the shapeshifting aliens who tortured him – the Reidar. The job is all that much more difficult, as the Reidar don’t shift into animals or anything easily recognizable. Instead, the take on the face and characteristics of trusted friends and planetary leaders. They hide in plain sight and wreck havoc with human controlled space.

Rian has gathered a crew on the Imojenna that all believe the Reidar must be stopped at any cost. But that crew includes Rian’s younger sister Zahli, and Rian often finds himself torn between a desire to product the young woman and his obsession with finding the Reidar.

After one of many encounters with the Reidar, the good ship Imojenna is forced to stop at the nearest planet for emergency repairs. Fortunately, or unfortunately, that nearest planet is the prison planet Erebus. When their supply run goes slightly awry, Zahli returns to the ship after killing a prison officer who attempted to add her to his count of rapes and murders. And the ship has one extra passenger – Tannin Everette, the prisoner who helped Zahli cover up the body.

As Zahli’s relationship with Tannin becomes more emotional (as well as explosively physical) than either of them bargained for, the young lovers run directly into Rian’s twin goals of protecting Zahli and revenge on the Reidar. Because it turns out that Tannin has run into Rian’s enemies before – the trumped up charge that got him sent to Erebus was part of a plot to put a Reidar operative into his planet’s government. And it worked.

When Rian’s obsession causes him to pick up a woman who is either a political prisoner or a telepathic weapon (or both), and keep her from the agents of the Reidar, the Immojenna becomes a primary target of Reidar agents all over the galaxy.

And Rian has his hands more than full trying to keep everyone safe. But when it comes to keeping Zahli safe from Tannin – Rian takes on a force that no one, and certainly no interfering and even homicidal big brother, could ever possibly stop.

Even in a galaxy that is this messed up, love still conquers all.

Escape Rating B+:The Imojenna is a ship on a mission. And it’s a ship where the captain is one slip away from being a homicidal maniac, and the crew never knows who is out to get them, but they are always aware that someone is.

When things go to hell in a handbasket, people cuss. A lot. Especially when bullets and plasma bolts are flying at them. I understand the impulse to create cuss words – the ones we use now may not survive the centuries. Howsomever, while “frak” worked as a substitute for “fuck” in Battlestar Galactica, “freck” just doesn’t do it. At least not for this reader. I cringed every time I saw “freck” or “frecking” and it whacked with my willing suspension of disbelief.

But the story in Atrophy definitely does work.

There’s a romance here, between ex-prisoner Tannin and Rian’s sister Zahli. While their romance contains a high quotient of insta-love, they do bond under very stressful circumstances. And there are other elements – Zahli is the first person who has ever given Tannin a hope of redemption, and for Zahli, Tannin is the first man in her life who isn’t completely under big brother Rian’s whacked-out thumb.

The wild card on the crew isn’t Tannin, it’s actually the telepathic priestess Mirella. She seems to be a pawn between the Reidar, their agents, and Rian. However, her telepathy gives her insights into Rian’s character and his horrible experiences that he finds both soothing and irritating at the same time. He needs help, but he’d need to let down his guard to get it. And he’s afraid that if he does, he’ll lose control and kill someone before the healer can put the genie back in the bottle. So Rian is afraid of Mirella, because he needs her and can’t accept it. I hope that their relationship gets some resolution in later books in the series, because the depths of Rian that Ella is plumbing are dark and scary and need to be brought out into the light. As a reader, I found myself more intriqued by the hints of Rian’s and Ella’s crazy possible relationship than the obvious hot spark of Tannin and Zahli.

I’ve been trying to figure out how the title “Atrophy” fits. On the surface, there isn’t anything atrophying, or wasting away. However, a deeper dive reveals that it might be Rian’s humanity that is atrophying – his thin edge of control is all that is keeping him from going permanently postal – or so he fears.

But the human controlled universe is also atrophying, at least in a way. One of the causes of atrophy, at least according to Wikipedia, is mutations. Part of the ongoing war with the Reider is their infiltration of human space by replacing human leaders with Reidar operatives. In other words, mutations.

Food for thought as the series progresses, anyway.

And speaking of that progression, the series continues (thank goodness) with Quantum and Diffraction, hopefully next year. And they look awesome.

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