Review: Third Claw of God by Adam-Troy Castro

The Third Claw of GodFormat read: paperback (purchased by reviewer)
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Andrea Cort #2
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Date Released: February 24, 2009
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Andrea Cort became a “war criminal” at the age of eight when an unexplained darkness invaded her soul.

Now, decades later, the Devil is calling her.

Employed by the Diplomatic Corps but secretly aiding the AI masters of the universe, Counselor Andrea Cort despises the powerful Bettelhines—unrepentant death merchants who have prospered from the annihilation of civilizations. Now curiosity compels her to answer a cryptic summons to their home world, where the only law is Bettelhine law. But a murder attempt greets her arrival at Xana’s orbital entry port—and far graver peril awaits aboard the elevator transport meant to carry Andrea to the planet’s surface.

Trapped miles above Xana—surrounded by suspicious Bettelhines, their slavishly loyal retainers . . . and a corpse liquefied by a 15,000-year-old weapon—Andrea must unmask an assassin or die an equally hideous death. But the true reason for her summons—and sordid secrets weaving through her own dark past—threaten to destroy Andrea Cort more completely than the Claw of God.

My Review:

Andrea’s life has drastically improved since Emissaries From the Dead. She is no longer alone in the universe, having found happiness (or as much happiness as can be expected from someone who has endured what Andrea has) with the Porrinyards. She now knows who was really responsible for the massacre that labeled her a war criminal at the ripe old age of eight. Last but not least, she “earned” an unprecedented promotion from her jailers/owners in the Diplomatic Corps and now has the first taste of freedom since her childhood.

Hans Bettelhine may have been an infamous merchant of death, whose munitions empire was even now fueling slaughter on a hundred human worlds, but I had to be fair: it was for precisely that reason that I wouldn’t blame him for today’s attempt on my life.


Still, there was no denying that his headquarters world, Xana, set an entirely new record for the shortest interval between my arrival at a place I’ve never been and the very first attempt on my life there.

I’m talking about minutes. Minutes.

Okay, maybe things aren’t going as well as they could be. Finding love, experiencing freedom, and hunting down the assholes who ruined her life are wonderful – but they don’t change the fact that Andrea Cort is and always will be a universally despised war criminal.

A fact that still bloody infuriates me. What the hell kind of fucked up government labels the 8 year old survivor of a community massacre a goddamn war criminal?! There was no war, so she could hardly be held responsible for violating the standard acceptable practices of wartime. She didn’t wield weapons of mass destruction, or commit atrocities. She just so happened to kill a man who was trying to kill her after seeing pretty much every single person she’d ever known or loved brutally slaughter one another. How the hell is this her fault? Why has she been subjected to a lifetime of assassination attempts, death threats, rape, torture, imprisonment, and hatred from hundreds of worlds? Why has one little girl been singled out for this kind of horrifying treatment?

That’s when he opened the trap door beneath my feet, left me realizing how much of my life had been based on a lie. “How come anybody even knows you’re a war criminal?”

Several seconds passed before I felt my heart beat again. “Come again?”

“What,” he said, “you think you looked exactly the same at twenty that you did at eight? I mean, the Dip Corps could have changed your name, your skin pigment, your nose, maybe your hair color, and a couple of other cosmetic things about you, given you a new ID file and a false history, and nobody but your bosses would have known that you were the same kid.”

But he went on, every word out of his mouth a fresh spike driven into the base of my brain. “Instead, they put you to work as Andrea Cort, child war criminal grown up, and willingly ate all the seven hundred flavors of crap they had to swallow because of the propaganda weapon they had just handed all the alien governments who wanted to paint humanity as a bunch of homicidal bastards who let their own get away with murder.”

I closed my eyes, desperate to shut him out, hating the way his voice insisted on making itself heard through the pounding of my heart.

He asked, “Why would they put themselves through that?”

Stop, I thought.

“Why would they put you through that?”

Please stop.

“And why would you let them?”

EXACTLY! Also, on a slightly related note, it’s a bit disturbing to me that Andrea had to visit an actual war monger’s private planet to get that kind of insight.

In The Third Claw of God, Andrea is invited to a war profiteer’s planet for mysterious reasons, promptly survives an assassination attempt, but is then called upon to investigate another murder. Whereupon she realizes nothing is as it appears when dealing with Space-Faring Stark Industries. A simple murder is only the beginning, and by the end Andrea is going to discover the answer to secrets she didn’t even know existed.

The second installment in the series is even better than the first. It opens with an assassination attempt and does not slow down until the last page. Warning: you will be up till 3am reading this book in one sitting.

Once again, it is difficult to discuss the story in too much detail without spoilers, but suffice to say that Adam Troy Castro’s skills with characterization and world-building continue to amaze…..and disturb. Particularly when he keeps peeling back the layers of society on the Bettlehines’ private planet. You think life on a war monger’s private planet is bad? Just wait until you learn about the employee loyalty program and various perks available to members of the ruling family. Andrea’s treatment by the Diplomatic Corps will seem almost benevolent in comparison.

Escape Rating: A- because Adam Troy Castro’s publisher has refused to continue backing Andrea Cort. They believe there is more money in YA, and so we will never reach a satisfying conclusion to Andrea’s story. INCONCEIVABLE! I burned through The Third Claw of God the night after finishing Emissaries For the Deadand am left hanging, desperately pleading for another installment.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Emissaries from the Dead by Adam-Troy Castro

Emissaries From the DeadFormat read: Paperback (purchased)
Formats available: ebook, audiobook, paperback
Genre: Science Fictions
Series: Andrea Cort #1
Length: 387 pgs
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Date Released: February 26, 2008
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & NobleBook Depository

Two murders have occurred on One One One, an artificial ecosystem created by the universe’s dominant AIs to house several engineered species, including a violent, sentient race of sloth-like creatures. Under order from the Diplomatic Corps, Counselor Andrea Cort has come to this cylinder world where an indentured human community hangs suspended high above a poisoned, acid atmosphere. Her assignment is to choose a suitable homicide suspect from among those who have sold their futures to escape existences even worse than this one. And no matter where the trail leads her she must do nothing to implicate the hosts, who hold the power to obliterate humankind in an instant.

But Andrea Cort is not about to hold back in her hunt for a killer. For she has nothing to lose and harbors no love for her masters or fellow indentures. And she herself has felt the terrible exhilaration of taking life

My Review:

Andrea Cort is considered a War Criminal by the standards of her society. Not because she participated in genocide, created weapons of mass destruction, or otherwise participated in a war. Andrea Cort has been a war criminal since the grand old age of 8, when she dared to survive the homicidal frenzy that whipped through and ultimately decimated her community.

The things that happened one night on Bocai had caused such a diplomatic firestorm that the authorities, including the Confederacy and the Bocaians themselves, had declared the survivors better off permanently disappeared.

I still don’t know what happened to most of the others. I suspect they’re dead, or still imprisoned somewhere. But I’d been shipped to someplace I don’t like thinking about, there to be caged and prodded and analyzed in the hope of determining just what environmental cause had turned so many previously peaceful sentients into vicious monsters.

My keepers spent ten years watching for my madness to reoccur. It had been ten years of reminders that I was an embarrassment to my very species, ten years of being escorted from room to room under guard, ten years of being asked if I wanted to kill anything else. The people who studied me during these years were not all inhuman. Some even tried to show me affection, though to my eyes their love had all the persuasive realism of lines in a script being read by miscast actors. Even the best of them knew I was a bomb that could go off again, at any time; if sometimes moved to give me hugs, they never attempted it without a guard in the room. Others, the worst among them, figured that whatever lay behind my eyes had been tainted beyond all repair, and no longer qualified as strictly human—and being less than strictly human themselves, treated themselves to any cruel pleasures they cared to claim from a creature awful enough to deserve anything they did to her.

Even freedom, when it came, came in a form of a slightly longer leash.

“We’ve gotten your latest test scores, Andrea. They’re quite remarkable. You deserve every educational opportunity we can provide for you. But we can’t quite justify letting you go. There are just too many races out there that don’t believe in pleas of temporary insanity, and unless we come up with some solution that stays their hand, they’ll do whatever they can to extradite you. But if you want, you can walk out of here and enjoy Immunity. All you have to do is allow us to remain your legal guardians, for the rest of your natural life.”

We meet Andrea well into her lifetime of servitude to the government that blamed a child for surviving a massacre, and subjected her to a cycle of hatred, rape, and torture before it realized the financial advantages of enslaving her mind in addition to her body.

Andrea is thus titled a Counselor – a Prosecutor for the Diplomatic Corps – authorized to conduct investigations into crimes occurring on various diplomatic bases, and prosecute the identified offenders. All while her supervisor continuously raises legal challenges to her Diplomatic Immunity and the criminals she prosecutes bask in their moral superiority over the Counselor busting them. They may sexually enslave their subordinates or brutally murder their colleagues, but they, at least, are not infamous War Criminals.

The primary plot of Emissaries for the Dead is pure murder mystery, as Andrea investigates the two deaths that brought her to the diplomatic nightmare that is One One One. These murders unexpectedly lead Andrea to uncover the long-buried truths of her past and the massacre that defines her existence. Both plots are skillfully intertwined and engaging, jumping with ease between the two so that we share Andrea’s fatigue and frustration at being forced to simultaneously juggle so many personal, professional, and political issues, but also cannot wait to discover what exactly is going on at One One One.

The supporting cast of characters, ranging from spies to victims to world-weary bureaucrats are as carefully developed as the protagonist. Andrea’s tendency to distrust ensures that she refuses to accept anyone at face value, and keeps digging until we have a full comprehension of each character we meet.

Adam Troy Castro creates an impressively vast world for Andrea to inhabit. There is never any doubt that she exists in a universe filled with hundreds of sentient species, thousands of governments, and one giant bureaucratic clusterfuck that barely manages to pull together the unified human front necessary for our species to navigate impossibly complex interstellar relations. He also manages to skillfully include one of the most apt descriptions (and criticisms) of administrative government that is as true today as it is in the future inhabited by Andrea Cort and the other denizens of One One One (just exchange the futuristic bonds to get off-world for modern student loan debt):

“As far as I’m concerned,” Lastogne said, with weary contempt, “the Dip Corps is a meritocracy in reverse. By its very design, nobody who sticks around is any good. The genuinely talented work off their bonds quickly thanks to incentives and bonuses. The incompetent get fined with extra time and find themselves shunted to more and more irrelevant assignments. Everybody in the great big mediocre middle, and everybody insane enough to fall off the scale entirely, winds up assigned to Management—and Management’s never been interested in really doing the job, not at any point in human history. Management’s true agenda has always been making things more pleasant for Management.”

Perhaps this is why the Diplomatic Corps went to such lengths to enslave Andrea? In the normal course of things, brilliant young minds such as hers flee government servitude, while she has been forced to embrace the slightly larger cage offered by her tormentors. I guess you’ll just have to read Emissaries From the Dead to find out!

Escape Rating A for Andrea Kicking Ass! In the end it is impossible to disclose too much about the plot without spoilers. It is safe to say that this War Criminal Turned Space Lawyer is a riveting read that you will not be able to put down. The world-building is top notch, the characters are fully-developed and consistent. The plot is a page turner that kept me up all night and forced me to immediately delve into Book 2, The Third Claw of God, which I will be reviewing next week. (Spoiler Alert: Loved It!)

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.