Review: The Final Dawn by Jess Anastasi

Review: The Final Dawn by Jess AnastasiThe Final Dawn (Atrophy #5) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Atrophy #5
Pages: 400
Published by Entangled Publishing: Amara on March 22, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Rian Sherron is a lot of things. Captain of the spaceship Imojenna. Ex-war hero. Ex-assassin. For years, he's traveled from one end of the galaxy to the other, both trying to escape his demons and get revenge on the shape-shifting aliens responsible for his slow demise into hell.
That all changed the day Rian rescued an Arynian priestess from slave traders. Ella Kinton is everything Rian both fears and admires. Ella is everything he never let himself admit he wanted. Together, they must face a harrowing choice—come together and defeat Reidar, or fall apart, leaving the universe in total chaos.

My Review:

I picked up The Final Dawn because I enjoyed so much of the Atrophy series – to the point where I gave more than one entry in the series an SFR Galaxy Award.

The Atrophy series began as more than a bit of a Firefly-alike, and when it began back in 2015 with Atrophy, later republished as The Last Sky, it filled a Serenity-shaped hole in my heart as it had not been all that long since I finally got around to rewatching the oft-recommended and much-beloved TV series.

The series continued with Quantum in 2016 (now titled The Lost Stars), Diffraction in 2017 (now The Dark Moon) and then Entropy in 2018 (now The Empty Night). And then nothing. It was obvious from the ending of Entropy and there was more to come in the series, but real-life entropy set in and … crickets.

Until now. The Final Dawn is the final book in the series, but it’s been three years since the previous book. Long enough that I’m not entirely certain that the reason this book didn’t feel like it really followed on from the previous is because I’ve forgotten too much or because it doesn’t follow nearly as well or as tightly as the previous books did.

And that matters because the books in this series are not true standalones. The romantic pairing is different in each but everyone stays together to fight the good fight and all of the prior action and worldbuilding gets tied up in this final book in the series.

So this one follows everything that came before, and on top of that felt both rushed and like more than a bit of kitchen sink got thrown in. To reference another late and much-lamented science fiction TV series, it reminded me a bit too much of the way that Babylon 5 nearly ended at the end of season 4, so all the plot threads had to start closing in a hurry, only for there to be a reprieve giving us a season 5 after all, albeit one that had more than a bit of filler because so many plot threads had been closed.

As this series reaches The Final Dawn, the characters are separated, everything spins downward towards the dark, and it all takes on a spiritual/metaphysical direction that just did not feel like it was part of the original action/adventure story that I enjoyed so much.

Escape Rating C: In the end, The Final Dawn was a book that I so very much wanted to love, but just didn’t. And I’m rather sad about that. The first four books in this series were wonderful, the characters were fascinating, the worldbuilding was complex and the overarching story of an underdog crew fighting against an enemy that no one else even believes exists was compelling.

I’m still glad to know how it all ended. Mostly. At least I think I am.

Review: Entropy by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Entropy by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayEntropy (Atrophy, #4) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Atrophy #4
Pages: 387
Published by Entangled Publishing on August 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Captain Qaelan Forster is used to trouble. He lives on the wrong side of the law and he’s on the most-wanted lists. He’s mixed up in his cousin's mess who has problems on a cosmic level—like shape-shifting aliens who want them dead. But Qaelan’s not prepared for the cheeky kind of trouble called Camille Blackstone, whose infamous father has any man interested in his daughter executed.

After Camille drags Qaelan into an impulsive act of rebellion, she finds herself trying to defend the sexy captain from her overprotective father's wrath, even if she has to handcuff herself to the captain to keep him alive. However, it soon becomes apparent there are much more dangerous things lurking in the dark corners of the universe than a vengeful pirate lord. And she's just landed in the middle of it.

My Review:

Initially Entropy has more of the feel of the Blood Hunter/Dark Desires series by Nina Croft (which are awesome BTW), or this author’s own Valiant Knox series than it does the earlier books in the Atrophy series. Then a significant part of the focus switches from Captain Qaelan Forster to his cousin Captain Rian Sherron, and we’re back at Firefly – or at least a version of Firefly where Captain Mal Reynolds and River Tam are combined into one crazy person with Mal’s dark moods and unsavory enemies along with River’s insane powers and even more insane nightmares.

And where it turns out that this universe’s version of Inara Serra has more than a bit of River Tam in her, too.

If you’re not still mourning Firefly, or if the resonances just don’t work for you, it doesn’t matter. The Atrophy series is not a clone of Firefly by any means. But if you still have a Serenity-shaped hole in your heart, it does come more than close enough to staunch that wound.

What we do have is a band of misfits and rebels out to save the galaxy from itself. Because this crew of rebels and misfits has found itself in the midst of a galaxy gone terribly, terribly wrong. We’ve been invaded, not by the usual bug-eyed monsters, but monsters nevertheless.

The Reidar are shapeshifting aliens from another galaxy who think that homo sapiens is so far from sapient that they’re using us as lab rats while impersonating key members of every planetary government in the system.

Only Rian Sherron and the crews of the Imojenna and the Ebony Winter know the threat. And Rian Sherron is out to eliminate that threat any way he can – even if that means allying with pirates and taking the Reidar out one at a time.

But Rian’s lost his ship, and his crew has been laying low in the Barbary Belt, a notorious pirate haven run by an even more notorious pirate. And that’s where the trouble begins. It’s not even Rian’s fault – at least not this time. At least it’s not all Rian’s fault.

His cousin Qaelan Forster makes the mistake of getting involved with the pirate’s daughter. Cami Blackstone. Her father has killed plenty of men for a whole lot less. Instead, he sends Qae on a wild goose chase that might get him killed – or might pay off what the pirate sees as Qae’s debt to him. Mostly the pirate sends him on a dangerous and possibly suicidal mission just to protect his own street cred. The man is, after all, a notorious pirate.

Cami has other plans. Her plans, her father’s plans, Qae’s plan to pay her daddy back, and Rian Sherron’s plans to get his ship back all collide in one big ball of wrong that might just have a chance or turning out right.

But has a much higher chance of getting them all killed. All in a day’s work for the crew of the Imojenna – even when the Imojenna herself is nowhere to be found.

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot going on in this entry in the Atrophy series, and all of it turns out to be a rip-roaring good time. But be warned, while Atrophy is not so much like Firefly that you won’t get it if you don’t remember the show, it is very much like unto itself. This is a series where the action and the overall story build from one book to the next. So if this sounds like your kind of trip into the black, start with the first book in the series, Atrophy. (If you love SFR you’ll understand why this series has won multiple SFR Galaxy Awards.)

The relationship between Qae and Cami is a big part of this story, but not by any means all of it. They are an interesting couple. Qae is openly flirtations with anyone of any gender. Think of Captain Jack Harkess in Doctor Who and Torchwood, or the character of Reyes Vidal in the video game Mass Effect Andromeda. Qae has plenty of charisma, no humility whatsoever, and a trail of previous lovers from one end of the galaxy to the other. He doesn’t lead anyone on, but he also doesn’t leave anyone with even a chance at a piece of his heart.

Cami, on the other hand, is buttoned up tight, and with good reason. Her daddy, the pirate Rene Blackstone, has “disappeared” any guy she’s ever looked at twice. She doesn’t know whether those guys are dead or just far, far away – and she’s way too scared to find out. She’s caught in the middle, working for her father, living at home, treated like a teenager when she’s well into her 20s, and too scared to go out on her own. She’s both afraid of her father and afraid of the kind of people who will go after her in order to get at her father – and she’s right to be afraid.

Literally chaining herself to Qae is her chance, not only at rebellion, but at putting her demons to rest and making a life for herself out from underneath her father’s heavy thumb. That Qae, Rian and their crew are strong enough to stand up to her father is a big part of her reasoning.

In addition to the romance, there is also a big piece of this book that moves the overarching story forward. Rian goes after his missing ship after a year dirtside. His need to get his ship back lines up very well with the older Blackstone’s need to get back at his deadliest rival – AND – gives Cami a chance to take her life back from the bastard who stole her confidence and her innocence years ago. It’s going to take a big, bold plan with a lot of moving pieces to make good on all of the competing and conflicting agendas in play. There are so many ways it can go pear-shaped – and so many times it very nearly does.

This story feels like a turning point in Sherron’s one-man crusade against the Reidar. He finally finds a way to take the fight to them, and it’s clear that things are going to heat up – and get a whole lot bloodier, from here.

And I’m all in with his crew. I can’t wait to see what crazy twists and turns this series goes through next, as well as which crew member finds that one person in the galaxy who makes them whole – and fills an empty spot on the ship’s roster!.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Jess is giving away a $15 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: Diffraction by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Diffraction by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayDiffraction (Atrophy, #3) by Jess Anastasi
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Atrophy #3
Pages: 352
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on January 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

After his unusual reaction to a weapon, Commando Varean Donnelly is accused of being a shape-shifting alien and imprisoned onboard the Imojenna. Sure, he has abilities he keeps hidden from everyone--including the gorgeous doc examining him--because the government makes sure people as different as him disappear. For good.
Imojenna doctor Kira Sasaki knows there's something different about the handsome commando the captain's thrown in their brig. She doesn't think he's Reidar, although he might have been a victim of their cruel experiments. But when Kira learns the stubborn commando's racial make-up, she finds herself torn between defending him to Captain Rian Sherron and his crew or urging Varean to escape while he still can.

My Review:

atrophy series by jess anastasiThe Atrophy series is still hitting my “I miss Firefly” button, but as the series goes on the linkages both get more obvious and more tenuous at the same time.

Let me explain.

The universe of the Atrophy series, along with its protagonists, feel very much like the crew of the Serenity, but with some significant differences.

Rian Sherron at first seemed like a ringer for Mal Reynolds, but a Reynolds who had gone way, way further into the Dark Side than even the gloomy and driven Reynolds seemed to have reached. As the series has continued, we learn a whole lot more about why, and the why is where things diverge.

The evil forces in Atrophy are not the mindless Reavers, but the sound-alike but not really do-alike Reidar in the Atrophy universe. The Reidar are shapeshifting aliens, and they have spent the last several decades, if not far longer, placing shapeshifted Reidar into positions of power and authority all over the human Alliance.

For several years, Rian Sherron, Alliance military hero, was a brainwashed captive of the Reidar, forced to act as one of their elite assassins. He escaped, with the help of Arynian priestess Ella (yes, think Inarra Sera, it’s close enough). Rian managed to claw some of himself back from the brink, and now the Reidar and all their operatives are hunting Rian and Ella across the galaxy.

In Diffraction, the Reidar manage to capture Rian’s ship Imojenna, and his crew is scattered as they attempt to continue their mission to expose and eliminate the Reidar. Meanwhile, Kira Sasaki, the Imojenna’s ship’s doctor, has managed to find her own version of River Tam, but she certainly doesn’t see Commando Varean Donnelly as a sibling.

She also doesn’t see him as someone she can keep in her life, no matter how much she wants to.

Escape Rating B: This is a solid entry in the series, but it doesn’t rise to the level of the first two books, Atrophy and Quantum. It mostly feels like a middle book, as in between all of the chases and captures, the arc of the story-as-a-whole is trending downwards.

The crew of the Imojenna have found a weapon against the Reidar, but no way to mass produce it, or even ship it. They’ve lost some of their own, and currently have more questions than answers to the mess they find themselves (and their galaxy) in.

In the middle of all the action is the romance between Kira and Varean. Varean is a mystery to the Imojenna crew. He reacts to the Reidar weapon, not exactly like a Reidar, but definitely not like a human. He’s something other, and they don’t know what. Under the circumstances, that they don’t trust what they don’t know is hardly surprising.

What is surprising is the doctor’s reaction. Kira is incensed at the way Varean is being treated, and it leads to an emotional involvement that springs just a bit out of nowhere, even in these desperate circumstances. There’s been a lot of insta-love in this series, and in this particular case it’s on a hair trigger. At the same time, there is absolutely no time for these two to fall in love. They just do. I hope the romance in the next book in the series takes just a bit longer to build.

This is a series that almost requires being read in order. While the romances in each book are separate, the overall story builds from one book to the next. Also, the relationship between Rian and Ella is something that we see glimpses of in each book, but is nowhere near any resolution – at least not yet. The long arc of the series is fascinating. How do you manage to defeat an enemy who could be anyone, anywhere, and can command all the resources of your own people against you at every turn? I definitely want to know what happens next.

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~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Jess is giving away one copy each of the first two books in the series, Atrophy and Quantum, to lucky winners on this tour.

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Review: Quantum by Jess Anastasi

Review: Quantum by Jess AnastasiQuantum (Atrophy, #2) by Jess Anastasi
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Atrophy #2
Pages: 325
Published by Entangled Publishing on August 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Someone wants Captain Admiral Zander Graydon dead. Like yesterday. Zander’s convinced his attractive assistant knows more than she’s willing to say, and if he can stop running long enough, he’ll find out exactly what she’s hiding. Lieutenant Marshal Mae Petros is determined to keep her CO safe. Before she tips her hand, however, Mae has to figure out if the alluring man she’s protecting is the real Captain Admiral Graydon. Or an alien shape-shifting imposter.
On the run and no one to trust…not even each other.
Captain Admiral Zander Graydon has seen a lot of action, but almost getting killed three times in one day is pushing it. Only the company of his new assistant, Lieutenant Marshal Mae Petros, makes things a little easier to swallow. Except the delectable Lieutenant Marshal Petros is hiding a number of secrets, and her presence might have something to do with the continued attempts on his life.
It’s no accident Lieutenant Marshal Mae Petros finds herself in the firing line alongside the charming but very off-limits Captain Admiral Graydon. She’s taken the job as the admiral’s assistant to determine if a shape-shifting alien has killed the CO and assumed his form. Whether the admiral is human or not, Mae finds herself getting way too close to him as they run for their lives.
Military to the core, Mae and Zander will have to overcome their suspicions of each other to work together, when they realize the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

My Review:

If you are bemoaning the lack of Firefly in your life, take heart. Quantum and the Atrophy universe are here to fill that Serenity-shaped void in your heart. Get ready for a wild ride on the Imojenna with Rian Sherron, as well as a heart-stopping adventure following Zander Graydon and Mae Petros as they dodge shipwrecks and shape-shifting aliens to stay alive.

At the beginning, it feels like there are two stories here. One is almost a classic survival tale. Someone is out to kill Zander Graydon. They just keep missing. Well, almost missing. Whoever it is doesn’t have any qualms about collateral damage. But then, the shapeshifting alien Reider think we are about as intelligent as chimpanzees, or maybe less. Alien scientists don’t care how many lab rat equivalents they kill on their way to global domination.

But as Zander thwarts an assassination attempt in a public bathroom, followed by a clearly engineered shuttle crash followed by a missile strike, it’s hard for him not to get the message that someone is out to get him. The problem is that he’s not sure if that person isn’t his new Admiral’s Assistant, Mae Petros. He knows that Mae is keeping some big secret from him, he just doesn’t know what that secret is.

Mae is on a mission – not for any of the human military agencies, but for Rian Sherron, the leader of a motley crew of space salvagers, on a one man mission to eradicate the shapeshifting aliens from our galaxy. Rian saw his old buddy Zander’s name on a list of potential Reider swap-targets, and Rian wants to get there first.

Instead, Mae gets there just in time to help Zander survive those repeated Reidar assassination attempts. And to fall for the man she’s still worried might be an alien copy. Not that he trusts her either.

And just when they think they are out of the woods, literally as well as figuratively, it all goes pear-shaped. And stays that way until Mae, Zander and Rian can finally join forces. Just in time to turn Rian’s one-man crusade into a little fleet of berserkers set to finally take a little bit of this battle to the enemy. If they can just figure out who they are.

atrophy by jess anastasiEscape Rating B+: At first it seems as if this story is only tangentially related to the one in the first book, Atrophy. But when the band gets together, the single narrative becomes much clearer. So definitely read Atrophy first.

Quantum itself almost feels like two books. The first half, the crash and rescue, is one story that could have ended on one hell of a cliffhanger. The second story really gets going when Zander and Mae finally make their way to Rian’s Imojenna. The story switches from a fairly tight, fall in love under threat of death story to the much broader arc of the series, which is a story about taking back the galaxy from the alien infiltration. That bit is going to take several books to resolve, and we only see the first real skirmish here.

We also see a lot more of Rian Sherron’s tortured relationship with the priestess/sorceress Ella. She’s clearly this universe’s Inara Serra, although I think we will finally get to see where that relationship would have gone if the series had continued. Eventually. In the meantime, we see a lot of Rian’s demons and Ella’s attempts to, if not exorcise them, at least calm them down a bit. She’s only partially successful at the best of times.

And now for a couple of little quibbles. I mentioned in my review of Atrophy that the use of made-up profanity takes me out of the story every time. It’s not just that “frecking” does not feel like a reasonable substitute for “fucking” as profanity, but that the change sounds wrong to my ear, especially when used in the profane combination of “frecking Christ”. This is not a comment on religion or the lack thereof, but if “Christ” has survived the centuries as an epithet, then so have the words “fuck” and “fucking”. Especially in the context where “shite”, currently used in the UK and Ireland for “shit” has also survived the ages. People do cuss. Let them.

Second quibble. Military titles. It would feel less jarring if the author had either used something completely made up, and provided a glossary, or used what we have now, on a reasonable extension that military ranks serve a purpose. Weird combinations like “Captain Admiral” and “Lieutenant Marshall” dropped me out of the story every time, and confused me as well. Where does a Lieutenant Marshal fit into the hierarchy? Is it like a Lieutenant in the military, or Marshal as in Sheriff?

Which did not stop me from licking the whole damn thing up with a spoon. I enjoy this series as much for what it is trying to be as what it actually is. But then, I really do miss Firefly. And since there’s no more Firefly, I’ll be waiting eagerly for book 3 in the Atrophy series, Diffraction, hopefully before the end of the year!

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