Review: Free Space by Sean Danker + Giveaway

Review: Free Space by Sean Danker + GiveawayFree Space (Evagardian #2) by Sean Danker
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Evagardian #2
Pages: 320
Published by Ace Books on May 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

In the follow-up to Admiral, the intergalactic war has ended and hostilities between the Evagardian Empire and the Commonwealth are officially over, but the admiral is far from safe. . . .
"I'd impersonated a prince, temporarily stopped a war, escaped a deadly planet, and survived more assassination attempts than I could conveniently count. After all that, there shouldn't have been anything simpler than a nice weekend with a charming Evagardian girl.
However, some corners of the galaxy aren't as genteel as the Empire, and Evagardians aren't universally loved, which is how I ended up kidnapped to be traded as a commodity.
Their timing couldn't have been worse. I'm not at my best, but these people have no idea whom they're dealing with: a highly trained, genetically engineered soldier in the Imperial Service who happens to be my date."

My Review:

What kind of story do you get when a completely unreliable narrator attempts to be at least semi-reliable? And when the rest of the story is from the perspective of someone who always plays it straight but in this case just doesn’t know what part or game she is playing?

It makes for one hell of a wild and crazy ride, in some ways even crazier than the ride in the first book in this series, Admiral.

We still don’t know the man’s real name. We know that he spent quite a few years pretending to be Prince Dalton of the Ganraen Empire. We know that he used to be an Evagardian Imperial Agent, and that now he is on the run from everyone on all sides. The Ganraens would execute him as a traitor. The Empire just wants to clean up their very loose end.

Whoever he is, he wants to live. But first, he wants one last chance with Jessica Salmagard, one of the three cadets he both bamboozled and helped rescue in Admiral.

But like so many of his plans, this one goes very, VERY “gang aft aglee”. Because the Admiral and Jessica get themselves kidnapped. By accident.

And that’s where all the fun and adventure really begins.

The story is one of those “out of the frying pan into the fire” and then into the oven and then into the blast furnace kinds of things. Events are always on the brink of disaster, it’s just that the disaster they are on the brink of gets bigger and bigger as they go along.

Until the disaster is so big that the only thing bigger is a black hole. And look, there one is, right on the event horizon!

And we’re left wondering who exactly ended up saving whom in this insane adventure. Not to mention, we still don’t know who the Admiral really is. And neither does Jessica. Possibly at this point neither does the Admiral himself.

We’re all left hoping that someday we’ll find out. If the Admiral can manage to escape, yet again, from whomever has captured him. This time.

Escape Rating A-: At the start of this book, there’s a brief portion where events seemed to take a bit to get going. And it takes the reader a bit to catch themselves back up on previous events. So much of Admiral was kind of a locked room (or locked ship) mystery, and it happened so much in isolation that we don’t get much of a handle on events in this universe.

And just like in Admiral, we pretty much get dropped into the middle of the story yet again.

But once this thing takes flight, meaning once they get kidnapped, the ever escalating sequence of perils keeps the reader hanging on tight until the very end.

Unlike in Admiral, the narrative here is split between the Admiral and Jessica Salmagard. The Admiral is a completely unreliable narrator. He never reveals what he’s thinking, what he’s doing, or who he is. He embodies the idea of wheels within wheels within wheels. He’s always playing a part. But in this book we start to get the sense that even he is no longer certain exactly what part he is playing.

But very early on in the story the Admiral and Salmagard are separated. This leaves part of the story tied to her separate actions and events. Unlike the Admiral himself, we don’t see Jessica’s story from inside her head, but rather in an omniscient third-person. We really don’t need to see inside her head, because she is much more of “what you see is what you get” kind of person. She’s mostly straightforward in her actions, even if she is starting to wonder about a whole lot of the things she’s been taught to believe.

The universe, and the people in it, do not conform to the simple stereotypes that she was trained to expect. The experience for her is both unsettling and eye-opening, often at the same time.

One of the great things about the way that Free Space progresses is that the separation works to throw some of the usual expectations on their heads.

Once they are separated, it’s Salmagard and another female soldier who break themselves out of captivity, shoot up a couple of space stations, steal a ship, and generally commit all the mayhem and badassery that is usually reserved for the male protagonists in this kind of story. The two women become the rescuers, and the Admiral and a male soldier kidnapped with them become the rescuees.

Also, it’s the men who suffer from the comedy of errors, falling from one bad situation to an even worse one, tied up, gagged and often drugged through the entire mess as they descend through what feels like, instead of a descent through the seven circles of hell, a descent through the seven circles of illegal intergalactic human trafficking as perpetrated by a pair of unprepared idiots.

This is an adventure where not only does the right hand not know what the left hand is doing, but all the participants are either incapacitated, incompetent, or just plain lying every step of the way. Including the hero and heroine.

At the end, we’re left gasping, wondering if this was a real rescue, or just a setup for even more (and probably worse) yet to come.

In the next book. May it be soon.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I really enjoyed Free Space (and Admiral) so I am very pleased that the publisher is letting me give away one copy of Free Space to a lucky US/Canadian commenter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Admiral by Sean Danker + Giveaway

Review: Admiral by Sean Danker + GiveawayAdmiral (Evagardian, #1) by Sean Danker
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Series: Evagardian #1
Pages: 320
Published by Roc on May 3rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

“I was on a dead ship on an unknown planet with three trainees freshly graduated into the Imperial Service. I tried to look on the bright side.”   He is the last to wake. The label on his sleeper pad identifies him as an admiral of the Evagardian Empire—a surprise as much to him as to the three recent recruits now under his command. He wears no uniform, and he is ignorant of military protocol, but the ship’s records confirm he is their superior officer.   Whether he is an Evagardian admiral or a spy will be of little consequence if the crew members all end up dead. They are marooned on a strange world, their ship’s systems are failing one by one—and they are not alone.

My Review:

This is a story where the reader gets dropped into the middle of a situation – but so do all the characters. So it very definitely works.

It’s not a good situation, either. One person’s sleeper cell malfunctions, and three others open normally, but for very relative definitions of normal. The dysfunctional sleeper cell belongs to an unnamed admiral, and the other three belong to recent graduates of the military academy, destined for service on the flagship of the Evagardian fleet.

A war has just ended. The Evagardian Empire won, not by force of arms, but because the flagship of the Ganraen star empire crashed into their capitol building, decapitating and decimating their government in a single stroke. This isn’t peace, it’s a surprise cease fire.

But the ship that they have awoken on isn’t military. It isn’t even Evagardian. And it is echoingly empty. The ship has no power, and the four stranded travelers are sitting ducks for whatever knocked out the ship and its admittedly small crew.

If they are to have even the remotest chance of surviving this mess, they have to band together. Even though none of them believe that their nameless “Admiral” could possibly really be an actual admiral, or that he is even on their side.

But he’s the only one of them with the remotest idea of a plan. So it’s follow him or die. Or for all they know, follow him and die. There’s only the slimmest chance at all that every outcome doesn’t end in “die”, but they have to take it. Together. Or certainly die.

Escape Rating A-: For a science fiction story, this one has a very large mystery element. Where are they? How did they get there? What happened to the crew of the ship? And who the hell is this “Admiral” anyway?

The question about the admiral lingers until the very end, with relatively few hints for a long stretch of the story. This is both fascinating and frustrating, because the story is told entirely from the first person perspective of that admiral. And like most of us, he does not tell himself his own name or circumstances within the privacy of his own head. This frustrates the reader no end, but also makes sense – in real life, we don’t think about our own names all that much. We respond to them, but since no one knows his, there’s nothing for him to respond to.

The only hints readers get at his identity are his flashbacks. He has PTSD, not a surprise in the aftermath of an interstellar war, and in those PTSD episodes we start to get a glimmer of who he might be – a glimmer that only makes sense as we learn more about the war and its sudden ending.

The immediate story is a survival journey. This intrepid band of unwilling explorers has a very narrow window to possible survival. Each time they make two steps forward in their journey, they are forced to take at least one step back, as every attempt at a solution also (and sometimes only) brings on more and more challenges.

They are in a place where everything is literally out to get them, and may very well succeed.

As a group, they remind this reader of parties in a video game. (This story would probably make a good video game) There are four and only four people, and they have exactly the skills necessary to make it through, if that is possible at all. Nils is the engineer, he can fix or hack pretty much everything. The entire journey is mostly a series of hacks. Salmagard is their negotiator, in the sense that negotiating usually involves a big knife and a lot of heavy firepower. She’s their tank. Deilani is the doctor and scientist, she analyzes things. She’s also the resident skeptic, never believing that the Admiral is anything at all he says he is.

It also reminded me of a video game in the way that the story compelled me to read “just one more page, just one more chapter” to see what happened next. And next. And after that. I got completely absorbed and just couldn’t stop.

The Admiral himself serves as both leader and trickster. He’s the man with the plan. And even though he is much too young to actually be an admiral, he is clearly a decade or so older than the newbies. And he’s also clearly used to thinking and planning on his feet. What we don’t know is why or how he got that way.

The story in Admiral follows the pattern set in Winston Churchill’s famous quote (about Russia!), “ It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key.” The parts about how did they get to be where the story finds them, what happened to the ship and its crew, and how they get themselves out of this mess supply the riddle and the mystery. The Admiral is an enigma until the very end. And even after.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

The publisher is giving away one copy of  Admiral to a lucky U.S. commenter:

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