Stacking the Shelves (153)

Stacking the Shelves

I didn’t get a lot this week, probably a good thing. But the one book I want to highlight is the Dark Beyond the Stars anthology. It’s a collection of space opera short stories written by women. While that would interest me anyway, I was alerted to the book by an article at The Mary Sue. It seems that there is an Amazon reviewer troll who used his review of the book to claim that women are incapable of writing good space opera, and oh by the way, he has some space opera that he wrote that is inherently better because he’s a male writer and space opera is, and I disgustedly quote, “a purely male domain.” This is purely bullshit as any reader of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga will heartily attest. My own personal protest to this idiocy was to buy the book. It was well worth $5.99, (and it would have been worth considerably more) to poke this troll in the eye with a sharp “buy this book”.

For Review:
Harvest Moon (Moon #4) by Lisa Kessler
Roth (Hell Squad #5) by Anna Hackett
Secret Sisters by Jayne Ann Krentz

Purchased from Amazon:
Dark Beyond the Stars by Blair C. Babylon, Annie Bellet, Elle Casey, Ann Christy,Patrice Fitzgerald, Autumn Kalquist, Theresa Kay, Susan Kaye Quinn, Sara Reine, Rysa Walker, Jennifer Foehner Wells
These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One (These are the Voyages #1) by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn
These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Two (These are the Voyages #2) by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn
These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Three (These are the Voyages #3) by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn


Review: The End of All Things by John Scalzi

end of all things by john scalziFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction, space opera
Series: Old Man’s War #6
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor
Date Released: August 11, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Humans expanded into space…only to find a universe populated with multiple alien species bent on their destruction. Thus was the Colonial Union formed, to help protect us from a hostile universe. The Colonial Union used the Earth and its excess population for colonists and soldiers. It was a good arrangement…for the Colonial Union. Then the Earth said: no more.

Now the Colonial Union is living on borrowed time—a couple of decades at most, before the ranks of the Colonial Defense Forces are depleted and the struggling human colonies are vulnerable to the alien species who have been waiting for the first sign of weakness, to drive humanity to ruin. And there’s another problem: A group, lurking in the darkness of space, playing human and alien against each other—and against their own kind —for their own unknown reasons.

In this collapsing universe, CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson and the Colonial Union diplomats he works with race against the clock to discover who is behind attacks on the Union and on alien races, to seek peace with a suspicious, angry Earth, and keep humanity’s union intact…or else risk oblivion, and extinction—and the end of all things.

My Review:

If Doctor Who is the story of a “madman with a box” then The End of All Things is at least partially the story of a brain in a box. While Rafe Daquin is only the point of view character for the first quarter of this story, he is one of the few characters who has at least some significance in all four parts – and that significance rests on his being, and continuing to be, a brain in box. At least for as long as it is useful.

Especially since that brain in a box is very expertly piloting a ship – with or without crew.

The Human Division by John ScalziLike its predecessor, The Human Division (reviewed here) The End of All Things was published in serial format first. However, unlike The Human Division, the four different parts of The End of All Things (The Life of the Mind, This Hollow Union, Can Long Endure and To Stand or Fall) all tell completely different types of stories, and use different point of view characters, although frequently they are POV characters that we have met before, either in The Human Division or in earlier parts of End. Like Rafe’s brain in a box.

The Human Division was much closer to classic space opera. The humans have to deal with a galactic and possibly catastrophic change in world view and the status quo, while facing a potential alien enemy and a shadowy organization that is maneuvering behind the scenes for nefarious purposes of its own.

In End, we see the shadowy nefarious organization operating in the shadows a little more clearly. Rafe Daquin in the first story is one of their victims. He is also not the first pilot to be kidnapped and crated in a piloting box on an otherwise uncrewed ship. But it is through Rafe and his dilemma that we begin to discover exactly what this new nemesis is up to, and also a little bit of the why.

This Hollow Union shifts back to a character from Human Division who is definitely not a human. Hafte Sorvalh is a senior level political operator in the Conclave, the alien coalition. We got some terrific insight into Sorvalh’s character in the epilog of Human Division, the delicious “Hafte Sorvalh Eats a Churro and Speaks to the Youth of Today” (available free at Hafte’s internal dialog on the political mess that she has to clean up in Hollow Union is trenchant and often darkly humorous, even before the entire thing gets dumped firmly and irrevocably in her lap. At the same time, she provides a different perspective on whoever or whatever is attempting to manipulate both the humans and the Conclave. This is a story about political maneuvers rather than starship fighting, but it is a necessary perspective and still keeps the story moving forward.

old mans war by john scalziCan Long Endure goes back to the humans, but it is a lower-decks (or lower-ranks) type story. Instead of getting the view from on high through the eyes of the political movers and shakers, we get to see how this whole mess works from the perspective of the human grunts who have to do the down and dirty fighting, no matter who is on top. They are in the place that we started in all the way back in Old Man’s War, with people who have lived their lives and are now grunts in this space force, starting all over again with young bodies and old brains. It is through this story that the author is able to show both that “boots on the ground” perspective and what this war means to the human factions – the soldiers are sent to suppress human revolts that think they have already paid for the freedom they enjoy, and don’t like the Earth humans changing the game.

We also get to see just how the shadowy conspiracy folks are playing both sides against the middle, because that’s what shadowy conspiracy folks do. Their motives are all too familiar in the end – they want intergalactic war because it will bring them immense profiteering opportunities. We’ve seen this one before in lots of stories set on lots of worlds, including our own.

The last section, To Stand or Fall, brings the story back together, and brings back the human B-Team that was featured in The Human Division. It is up to the diplomats to figure out how to defang the shadowy conspirators and build some kind of truce with both the Conclave and their own dissident human elements. It’s a tough job that can only be accomplished with the very able assistance of that poor brain in a box that we met all the way back in the first installment.

We end with a brave new galaxy, and a fresh start for whatever the author plans next in this universe. I’m looking forward to it.

Escape Rating B+: I enjoyed The End of All Things, but not quite as much as the other entries in Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, or even his single titles (so far) like Redshirts and Lock In. The ending didn’t stick in my head (for days in some cases) the way that those did. Especially Human Division and Lock In.

With The Human Division, even though it was released serially, the completed book in the end read like a single story. While there were a few chapters with different POV characters, most of the story follows Harry Wilson and his B-Team of negotiators in some fashion. They carried the “through-line” in the book. The scattered pieces from other perspectives read like interludes in the main story, and it worked.

The End of All Things reads like four separate novellas that were not quite stitched together. They are very different and very separate, with the “brain in a box” Rafe Daquin feeling like one of the few characters that has an important role to play in the whole story. I liked him, and I also liked how necessary it was for the mission that he stayed in his box. Taking the easy out of “rescuing” him would have muted the force of his character.

Also, The Human Division ended on one hell of a bang. I couldn’t wait to see how it got resolved. The End of All Things ends with almost a happy ever after, all the problems solved and a clean slate for the next adventure. The universe is too messy for that. Not that I didn’t enjoy seeing a whole lot of self-important and self-satisfied idiots get their comeuppance. And I like the point of the view of the B-Team, especially Harry Wilson, that we finally get in To Stand or Fall. But at the beginning of the section, Harry complains about being in the middle of that old curse, “May you live in interesting times.” At the end, his times weren’t quite as interesting as I might have hoped, although I’m sure Harry approved.

***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: The Terrans by Jean Johnson

terrans by jean johnsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction
Series: First Salik War #1
Length: 464 pages
Publisher: Ace
Date Released: July 28, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Jean Johnson’s first novel in an explosive new science fiction trilogy set in the world of the national bestselling Theirs Not to Reason Why series—set two-hundred years earlier, at the dawn of the First Salik War…

Born into a political family and gifted with psychic abilities, Jacaranda MacKenzie has served as a border-watcher and even spent time as a representative on the United Planets Council. Now she just wants to spend her days in peace and quiet as a translator—but the universe has other plans…

Humans have long known that they would encounter more alien species, and while those with precognitive abilities agree a terrible war is coming, they do not agree on who will save humanity—a psychic soldier or a politician.

But Jackie is both.

After she is pressured into rejoining the Space Force to forestall the impending calamity, Jackie makes an unsettling discovery. Their new enemy, the Salik, seem to be rather familiar with fighting Humans—as if their war against humanity had already begun…

My Review:

I picked Terrans up at lunch Thursday, and became so absorbed that I felt compelled to finish it. Compelled as in read until 4 am, get up and finish immediately. That kind of compelled. I couldn’t put it down, and almost didn’t go to sleep.

soldiers duty mediumFor anyone who has read Johnson’s Those Not to Reason Why series (start with A Soldier’s Duty (reviewed here) and start NOW!) this book is a prequel series. In her Those Not series the Terran United Planets are in the middle of a devastating and centuries long war. In The Terrans, we see the beginning of that conflict, and it will keep space opera and military SF fans on the edge of their seats.

I’m including military SF fans, even though The Terrans is not strictly a war story. This is a first contact story. It’s a different version of first contact, where the humans discover that they are on both sides of the contact, and that their various branches have more to offer each other, and more mess to get involved in, than anyone expected.

The ship Aloha 9 meets the V’Dan for the first time. And to paraphrase Walt Kelly in Pogo, “we have met the aliens, and they are us”. Because the V’Dan are definitely an unexpected offshoot of the human race. 10,000 of their, and our, years ago, a religious figure scooped their ancestors from Earth and deposited them on V’Dan.

It is just possible that the ancestor in question was actually Ia from Theirs Not playing with time and space, but we don’t know and it doesn’t actually matter at this point. But it is interesting speculation.

We meet the V’Dan because the last remaining members of a V’Dan warship are imprisoned by the Salik, who intended to eat them for dinner. I do mean eat for dinner and not have them over for dinner. The Salik, as established in Those Not, are cannibals who prefer that their food be live, sentient and struggling.

The rescue goes off without too many hitches, because the Terrans’ Ambassador for anyone they might meet is aboard the Aloha 9. Jackie MacKenzie is psi, and is telepathic, xenopathic and capable of telekinesis. She can not only read enough of the Salik thoughts to be positive about their dietary practices, but she can communicate with the surviving V’Dan captain well enough to enlist his aid in freeing his crew.

And that’s where the fun begins.

Captain Le’ith of the V’Dan is also psi, but very untrained. His rapport with Jackie from the instant they meet helps his crew adjust, and gives Jackie a far greater insight into the V’Dan than anyone might have expected.

It is not all smooth sailing. There is a psi-hating bigot among the Terran crew, and an equally xenophobic and obstinate civilian power-grabber on the V’Dan side. Neither of these idjits can see past the nose on their unreasonably prejudiced faces.

There is also a cultural roadblock. The V’Dan show that they are mature adults by developing a pattern of colors and spots during late puberty. It’s a virus that has become part of their DNA. They consider any V’Dan without those marks to be children. We Terran humans are the progenitors of the V’Dan people, but we don’t have those marks. The cultural misunderstandings abound, and have the potential to derail any possible alliance.

That’s if the surprising relationship between the captain and the ambassador doesn’t send everything to hell out an airlock first.

Escape Rating A+: The Terrans is both a very political story and a very personal one. Jackie Mackenzie, as an ambassador, former councilor (think senator), and re-instated military officer, provides the reader a way into the way that Earth works in the 23rd century. She’s been a politician, a civil servant, and a middle-ranking warrior. She’s seen a lot and done a lot. She is also a high-ranked, in the capability sense, psi, so she is able to show the reader how psi powers are used, regulated and received in a world that knows that some people are weapons.

What they don’t know is why psi powers suddenly started manifesting in the previous two centuries. The have the capability of measuring them, but they don’t know how they were created in the first place.

While I have my suspicions because I read the first series, I don’t know. And the capacity to guess or not has no bearing on enjoying this book without having read Those Not. But again, why would you?

A lot of this story revolves around the politics and procedures surrounding first contact. There is a lot of security and medical procedures. We have to be exposed to each others’ bugs and find ways to prevent epidemics on both sides. There is clear evidence that we’ve learned from our history.

But the big issues are political. And even though politics and process can be tedious, in this book they simply are not. The future world that the author has envisioned is one that mostly works, while at the same time it provides commentary on what has been learned from our history and ways that things could be done better. People have mostly gotten better, if only because they have learned from our deadly mistakes.

By introducing the V’Dan to our world, it gives the author a plausible and excellently used reason to explain 23rd century Earth to them, and therefore to us as well.

But as the story progresses, it also becomes a story about individuals. Not just Jackie and Le’ith, but also both crews and a few of the civil servants (politician is a pejorative term) who get close to the center of their storm.

One of the things I enjoyed very much is that, in spite of the way that Terran humans appear to the V’Dan, both Jackie and Le’ith are well into adulthood. They are both in their mid-30s, and have significant life-experience under their belts. So while they will lead a universe altering change for their peoples, this is NOT a coming of age story. And I’m glad of it. I found Jackie to be a woman I could both identify with and aspire to.

I’ve never made a secret of having loved the entire first series from beginning to end, as well as Johnson’s fantasy series and even her fanfiction. If you have any interest in space opera and/or epic science fiction, Theirs Not to Reason Why and The Salik War are well worth losing yourself in.

Vdan by jean johnsonThe second book of the Salik War, The V’Dan, is scheduled for release in January 2016. I will be haunting NetGalley until it appears.

***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: Inherit the Stars by Laurie A. Green

inherit the stars by laurie a greenFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: The Inherited Stars
Length: 401 pages
Publisher: Array Press
Date Released: March 29, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon

To escape the merciless Ithian Alliance, Sair, a fugitive slave, makes a desperate deal with Drea Mennelsohn, captain of the prototype ship, Specter. But putting his life in the hands of a woman as mysterious as she is beguiling could turn out to be the biggest mistake of his life, especially when the price on his head begins to escalate.

Drea seems to want far more from the fugitive than just payment for his passage on her ship. Though neither can deny the sizzling chemistry and growing bond between them, Sair must soon make an agonizing decision that could result in the loss of the remarkable woman he has fallen in love with—and their chance to inherit the stars.

My Review:

Inherit the Stars is a completely absorbing science fiction novel of the “plucky Rebels vs. the evil Empire” school, with some fascinating twists. Among those twists is a heart-stopping and panty-melting sexy romance.

But while the romance provides some of the heart and depth to the story, it’s the way that the good guys take out the bad guys (for loose definition of “good”, “bad” and “guys”) that will leave you pondering long after you finish the story.

The story begins when the escaped slave Sair is reluctantly welcomes aboard the spaceship Specter, and once we start the wild ride, the tension never lets up.

While I’m not overly fond of the “Mars needs women” trope of sex slave fantasies in SF and SFR, this version turns that trope on its head.

Sair has been a stud, or sex slave, for ten years in the Ithian Alliance, the last several years in the household of the planetary premier. The way that the old trope is turned on its head is that the purpose of sex slavery on the Ithian planets is not the sex. It’s not even the production of more slaves.

The Ithians are cannibals. The sex slaves are effectively farm animals.

It’s the discovery that all the children he has sired during his years as a slave have been auctioned off in literal meat markets that drives Sair to escape – right into the arms of a rebellion that he doesn’t know exists.

The Ithian Alliance is the most powerful political and economic force in the human-settled portion of the galaxy. All the planets in the region pay the Ithians a slave-tithe, except for a few that have been allowed to remain free, and that’s probably only a matter of time.

Sair was part of a slave-tithe from his home planet – a planet whose military also serves as the Ithians bully-boys. When he escapes, he becomes a target not just because of the mysteriously ever-increasing price on his head, but also because his own people are hated and despised.

But Sair jumps out of the frying pan and into the fire when he begs for passage on the Specter, because neither the ship nor her Captain are exactly what they seem.

The Specter has way more capabilities than any ship her size should possibly have, and her Captain, Drea Mennelsohn, is married to her ship in a way that makes her much, much more than just a captain, and sometimes makes her feel much less than a woman.

In spite of their various handicaps, hang ups and extremely heavy baggage, Drea and Sair are attracted to each other. Even though they try to hide and ignore their growing feelings for each other, they can’t let each other go. Even when they should.

But when Sair finally earns the respect of Drea’s first mate Zjel, the tight bond of something more than mere friendship invokes what Zjel’s people call a Fate Storm. Together, the three of them will change history. But only if they help each other.

And history needs changing. The Specter and her crew are part of a much bigger plan to bring down the Ithian Alliance, and Sair turns out to be the perfect bait in their trap. But only if he is willing to forget everything that Drea means to him, and everything that the rebels have taught him about who and what he really is.

He might save the galaxy at the cost of his and Drea’s souls, and still count it worth the bargain. But is it enough?

Escape Rating A+: I didn’t just love this, I simply couldn’t stop reading it. I started at lunch and finished in the same evening. I was so eager to find out what would happen next that I kept picking the book up during game saves and cutscenes, to the point where I bowed to the inevitable and stopped playing to just finish!

After having read Video Game Storytelling a couple of days ago, I found myself looking for the logic behind the motives, particularly for the villains of the piece, the Ithians. Cannibalism is just hard for us to swallow, even in situations of extreme danger like the Donner Party incident in the 1840s. The Ithians are not in anything like Donner Pass, they live at the center of a vast economic and political empire, and can afford to buy anything that they need or want. But one of the Ithians describes the circumstances under which cannibalism became traditional, and it makes bad sense. Meaning that the reader can see how it came about for them, while totally rejecting the idea that it is good, or right, or even justifiable to anyone else.

The final baddie is a bit evil for evil’s sake, but not too much. And he’s also not the boss, he’s the final catalyst for the story to reach its ending. And he’s admittedly crazy by the end, but again, with reasons why he’s crazy.

Drea’s situation is interesting, but also slightly familiar to anyone who read Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang, or anything that derives from it. Drea’s situation isn’t quite the same as Helga’s, but they would see each other as cousins. IMHO.

The pace of this story makes it an edge-of-the-seat read. It’s not just that there is always something happening, and usually going spectacularly wrong, or that they are always being chased by someone out for Sair’s bounty or Drea’s smuggling. It’s that around every corner there is a new revelation, and each time something is revealed, the story twists in a new direction.

I loved Zjel’s concept of Yele, the Fate Storm. The three of them are change bringers if they work together, but it is work together. This isn’t a threesome and isn’t about sex. Friendship powers their Yele, and with that power they can change the universe. If they are split apart, things go bad very quickly. But watching Zjel change from someone who hates Sair’s people on sight and for good reason, to someone who accepts Sair as a friend and colleague, was lovely.

Last, but not least, I want to say something about the methods that the rebels use for breaking the Ithian Alliance. It is not something I’ve seen before, and while it makes sense in context, it does make you think. A lot. It was certainly a novel solution, and it did arguably work. But whether it was the right thing to do, or not, is something that the reader will have to judge for themselves.

I’m still mulling that one over. But any book that makes me think that hard while delivering a mighty punch of entertainment is absolutely awesome.

***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: Unbreakable by W.C. Bauers

unbreakable by wc bauersFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: military science fiction
Series: Chronicles of Promise Paen #1
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: January 13, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The colonists of the planet Montana are accustomed to being ignored. Situated in the buffer zone between two rival human empires, their world is a backwater: remote, provincial, independently minded. Even as a provisional member of the Republic of Aligned Worlds, Montana merits little consideration—until it becomes the flashpoint in an impending interstellar war.

When pirate raids threaten to destabilize the region, the RAW deploys its mechanized armored infantry to deal with the situation. Leading the assault is Marine Corps Lieutenant and Montanan expatriate Promise Paen of Victor Company. Years earlier, Promise was driven to join the Marines after her father was killed by such a raid. Payback is sweet, but it comes at a tremendous and devastating cost. And Promise is in no way happy to be back on her birthworld, not even when she is hailed as a hero by the planet’s populace, including its colorful president. Making matters even worse: Promise is persistently haunted by the voice of her dead mother.

Meanwhile, the RAW’s most bitter rival, the Lusitanian Empire, has been watching events unfold in the Montana system with interest. Their forces have been awaiting the right moment to gain a beachhead in Republic territory, and with Promise’s Marines decimated, they believe the time to strike is now.

My Review:

If you like military science fiction, especially military SF of the space opera school, you will like Unbreakable. And if you enjoy the Honorverse, particularly the first several books before Honor became a walking deux ex machina, you are going to absolutely love Promise Paen.

Which also invites some inevitable comparisons, because Promise and Honor are at least cousins under the skin, if not sisters.

The world setup will seem rather familiar to those who enjoy military space opera (let’s call it that). Promise grows up on a boundary world colony caught between two star empires that have been making cold war on each other for decades if not centuries.

Her planet, named Montana, is a member of the Republic of Aligned Worlds, as opposed to their, well, opposition, the Lusitanian Empire. Unfortunately for Montana, she is in the borderlands, and both empires want to use her and the space she controls as a buffer zone from the other. Even worse for Montana, although they are still developing their world’s resources and economy, they are rich in minerals and other natural resources. So the place is strategic from any number of standpoints.

This is a cold war, so the great powers are using proxies to either defend or destabilize the region. The Republic of Aligned Worlds (RAW for short) isn’t sending nearly enough defenders to fight off the surprisingly organized and well-equipped pirates that the Lusitanians (usually shorted to the offensive “Lusies”) are using as proxies. The Lusies want to create enough disruption that they can pretend to come in to keep the peace. They’ve done it before.

Promise and her father live on a rather remote farmstead. One day while 18-year-old Promise is out for a run, her home is destroyed by pirates. She watches from a distance as her dad tries to talk to the pirates, and they gun him down in cold blood.

After the bloody dust settles, Promise is certain that whatever she wants to do, she wants to leave Montana above all. Her father was a pacifist, her mother was a soldier. Promise joins the RAW Marine Corps and goes off to see the galaxy. She doesn’t so much recover as bury her grief under a pile of duty.

She doesn’t want to ever return to Montana. But years later, after Promise has some experience under her belt and has risen to the rank of Sergeant (and platoon leader) she is ordered back to her former homeworld.

That cold war is heating up, and it has become obvious to the powers that be in RAW that Montana is going to be the first frontline. And they have finally responded to the clue-by-four that they don’t have nearly enough of a garrison on Montana, and that the Montanans are pissed that RAW hasn’t kept their promises.

The military wants to send a native Montanan to head the garrison that they are leaving on planet. It’s a very, very understrength garrison – one company of 40 Marines, plus a ship in orbit. Unfortunately for the Montanans, that really is all that RAW can spare.

Fortunately for Montana, they send Promise. She’s going to have to be everything that they need. Unfortunately for Promise and for Montana, they are all going to pay a cost in flesh and blood and lives to keep Montana safe. Or at least free.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this book, and pretty much poured through it as fast as possible. The more the situation goes out of whack, the higher Promise rises to the occasion. Pretty much of a 24-hour occasion by the end, as the hits just keep on coming.

The book is described as “Book 1 in The Chronicles of Promise Paen” and thank goodness for that! I want to read more of Promise’s career, because she is definitely a rising star.

Other reviewers have compared Unbreakable to Heinlein’s classic Starship Troopers (minus the bugs), which I confess I haven’t read. For this reader, the comparisons were more towards David Weber’s Honor Harrington, with a bit of Torin Kerr from Tanya Huff’s Valor series.

But mostly the Honorverse.

When the story started out, the world felt surprisingly familiar. I say surprisingly because this is the author’s first novel. I can’t have read it before. But it felt familiar because the setup is similar to the Honorverse. They even use the same acronyms for their military departments.

In both stories, a young woman rises higher and faster due to planetary or empire-wide disasters that are not of her making. They are both fast rising stars in empires that need someone to step up and be a standout hero.

Promise’s rise seems more sudden than it actually is, because we don’t see her go through the Academy or watch her in her first assignments as a Marine. We don’t see her in the academy because she doesn’t go – Promise is a non-com like Torin Kerr. Also a Marine like Kerr – Honor is in the Navy.

We catch up with Promise’s career as she really starts living up to her promise – the military operation begins when she is promoted to sergeant. It’s what happens after that makes the book so interesting.

We also get to see a lot of how she feels about it. And sometimes tries NOT to feel about it.

As a military officer, Promise is an expensive miracle who pulls solutions out of her ass with amazing and sometimes frightening regularity. She is also astonishingly lucky – but if she weren’t, she’d be dead.

It’s not that her “luck” isn’t very expensive, her company and the native Montanans pay a huge price for their freedom – but that Promise is always in the right place at the right time with the right tools, even if some of those tools don’t survive. War is still hell.

The situation that Promise faces may be a SNAFU, but it is a SNAFU that is deliberately caused by the Lusies. It’s not just that the Lusie fleet sent for “training maneuvers” in Montana space is there to take advantage of any opportunity, or even that they create those opportunities through the use of their pirate proxies, but that they are deliberately starting a war with extremely underhanded means and a total lack of human compassion. Or human conscience.

They know that Montana and her people will be totally exploited and infinitely worse off under Lusitanian rule than they currently are under RAW’s benign neglect. RAW wants her worlds to be successful, where all Lusitania wants is to suck her colonies dry.

I found the Lusies to mostly be cardboard cutout villains. Not just because they were painted as the bad guys, but because their actions were always the stupidest and/or the most venal and depraved. They always cheat, they never play fair, and they operate under the assumption (possibly correct) that as long as they win they can manufacture enough spin to make their actions seem plausibly justified in universe opinion.

No one seems to care that their actions violate every tenet of the equivalent of the Geneva Convention. I didn’t hear much if any internal dialogue on the part of the Lusies to justify their actions, at least not in the same way that Victor Cachat in the Honorverse often does very bad things for reasons that he feels are good. I missed that sense of decent people doing bad things for good reasons.

The people on Montana, on the other hand, are the classic brave and plucky colonists. At the same time, there are some definite individuals who stand out. President Annie is a fantastic leader who knows just how far she can push her people, and is personally brave into the bargain.

The leader of her all-volunteer almost-militia is an interesting man who we don’t see nearly enough of, and Promise doesn’t either. She is very conflicted about her feelings for Jean-Wesley Partaine, but knows that her life doesn’t include the time or the space for a long-distance relationship.

On a side note, every time I see the name “Jean-Wesley Partaine” I want to shoot the author. In my mind, that name is a combination of “Jean-Luc Picard” and “Wesley Crusher” from Star Trek Next Gen, and just no. It makes me groan and laugh and the character doesn’t deserve that. But that name – OMG.

The star empire cold war reminds me very much of the starting lineup in the Honorverse, with some name reversals. RAW feels very much like the Manticore Empire in its sensibilities, and the Lusitanian Empire is the stand in for the Republic of Haven. Montana is even a good approximation of Grayson if you squint. If the author is planning to revisit the Napoleonic Wars through star empire proxies as the Honorverse does, I would not be totally surprised.

But I would love to see a new interpretation. The Napoleonic Wars are a source for terrific fiction that just keeps on giving.

I loved Promise’s adventures. The action is pulse-pounding, the people are all fascinating (some in a good way, some definitely not) and the world building, while familiar, definitely works for this reader. I can’t wait for the second adventure of Promise Paen – I sincerely hope that it will be just as terrific as this first installment.

Reviewer’s note: I met the author at Worldcon in 2014. We got onto the topic of the Honorverse, and I mentioned that while I enjoyed the books, especially the early ones, Honor’s internal voice just didn’t feel like a woman’s to me. The author said he hoped to do better in his own book. Achievement unlocked.

***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: Star Trek: Shadow of the Machine by Scott Harrison

star trek original series shadow of the machine by scott harrisonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Length: 99 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books
Date Released: March 9, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

An e-novella set in the Original Series universe—taking place immediately after the events of the 1979 film Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

After its recent encounter with V’ger, the U.S.S. Enterprise has returned to dry dock to finish its refit before commencing its second five-year mission. The crew has been granted a two-week period of shore leave before preparations for their next voyage begins. Shaken by their encounter with V’ger, Kirk, Spock, and Sulu travel to their respective homes and must reflect upon their lives—now forever changed.

My Review:

Star_Trek_The_Motion_Picture_posterThis short novella is not exactly a story. Instead, it reads like three character profiles of people we know well. We see Kirk, Spock and Sulu at a pivotal point in their lives – the immediate aftermath of the V’ger incident portrayed in the movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

It is also, for each of them a meditation on the place that is called home, and a glimpse into their relationships with people that we know of but are not necessarily familiar with.

The poet Robert Frost once said that, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Which does not mean that you necessarily want to go there, that you want to stay, or that it still feels like home to you.

For Jim Kirk, it is not a place that he wants to go; for Spock, not a place he wants to stay, and for Hikaru Sulu, not a place that feels like home to him.

Jim Kirk is called back to his family farm in Iowa. (“I’m from Iowa, I only work in outer space”) His nephew Peter is being raised on the family farm, by Jim Kirk’s aunt and uncle, making Abner and Hanna Peter Kirk’s great-aunt and great-uncle. We’ve met Peter once before, in the episode Operation: Annihilate. His father, Jim’s brother Sam, and his wife Aurelan were killed in the invasion of the energy suckers. Only Peter survived.

Peter seems to have lost his way, or been lost in the black depths of depression after V’ger. He thought he was safe on Earth, but it has just been brought home to him, and everyone on Earth, that there is no such thing as a safe place. The teenaged Peter has lost interest in any future, and Jim’s Aunt Hanna hopes that something he might say to the boy will bring him back. That both is and isn’t the way it works.

Spock returns to Vulcan to tie up the loose ends related to his abandonment of the Kolinahr ritual at the beginning of the V’ger incident. Everyone he meets assumes that Spock plans to return to the ritual, but in meeting V’ger, he discovered that his human (and emotional) side has as much value as his logical and Vulcan side. He has been denying his own place in the IDIC principle (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) in his mistaken attempt to become fully Vulcan, which he is not.

In meeting with both his human mother Amanda and his Vulcan father Sarek Spock’s new knowledge of himself helps to further heal the family rifts that were apparent in the episode Journey to Babel.

Last, but in this case not least, Hikaru Sulu comes home to await the birth of his daughter, and while he is awed by the love and responsibility of becoming a new father, his partner also makes him aware that she understands him as much as she loves him. She is making a home for herself and their daughter, knowing and accepting that Sulu’s life is and will always be in space and not on Earth.

He discovers that he has a home, but it is not truly his.

Escape Rating B: While I enjoyed this, it is not so much a story as it is a visit with old and dear friends. The character portraits in this novella are definitely for the fans – there isn’t enough story to draw in anyone who is not already very familiar with Star Trek.

While this is an original work, there were quite a few points where the dialogue between the characters felt spot on – I could hear their voices in my head, including those that we will not hear again. For that gift, I thank the author.

Star Trek GenerationsThe bit of the story that was most original was Sulu’s story. He is not featured in as many of the stories as might have been – the Original Series was much less of a true ensemble than Next Gen, but in this case we learn a bit that has not been known before. Demora Sulu appeared in Star Trek Generations as the current helmsman of the Enterprise B, and Kirk greets her as Hikaru Sulu’s daughter – but no one ever knew anything about her mother or where she came into the story. This is that story, and it is illuminating.

I originally picked this book after reading and reviewing The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell. That true space science story had so many resonances with ST:TMP that I couldn’t resist reading a V’ger story. After the news about Leonard Nimoy’s death, I moved the book as far up the schedule as I could find a slot. It is only coincidence (but an excellent one) that this Sunday (March 22) will be William Shatner’s 84th birthday.

Live Long and Prosper.

***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: In the Devil’s Nebula by Anna Hackett

in the devils nebula by anna hackettFormat read: ebook provided by the author via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Adventures #2
Length: 179 pages
Date Released: July 14, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance

He lost it all.

His career, his woman, his sanity.

Two years ago, on a deadly mission to the lawless Devil’s Nebula, Commander Zayn Phoenix’s life imploded. Now the former Strike Wing pilot fills his days with dangerous adventures alongside his treasure hunter brothers.

But his nights are another story: haunted by nightmares of one unforgivable act.

Until an assassin lures him into a hunt. A hunt for her freedom from the Assassin’s Guild. A hunt for a derringer used in an ancient and infamous assassination—of old Earth president, Abraham Lincoln.

Zayn is compelled to join the perilous adventure with Ria Dante that will take them straight into the heart of the Devil’s Nebula, but not for money, fame or treasure.

He joins because Ria has the face of the woman he left for dead in the Nebula years before.

My Review:

This is a book to read for the sheer fun of it. And if you are a Firefly fan, also for the extra dose of Firefly-like space-western nostalgia. The Serenity cut a much wider swath through SF and SFR imaginations than would be expected for a show that had such a short run, and it’s awesome.

But don’t let my squeeing about Firefly dissuade anyone who hasn’t watched it. This story definitely stands on its own. But if you watched the show, the sense of it in the background warms the heart.

The Phoenix Adventures are space opera of the mercenary treasure hunter type. (If you like Phoenix, try Ruby Lionsdrake’s Mandrake Company for a similar feel)

at stars end by anna hackettThe Phoenix brothers, Dathan, Zayn and Nik, are professional treasure hunters. It seems to be a family business, and we see a bit more of the rest of their family, and the family’s operation, than we did in the first book in this series, the awesome At Star’s End (reviewed here).

But Star’s End was Dathan’s story, and In the Devil’s Nebula is Zayn’s. In the first book it was obvious that Zayn wasn’t happy about something that happened before he rejoined his brothers. Zayn is their pilot, and he used to be a military pilot. Now something is eating him that caused him to leave the service.

Zayn misses flying fast and far. He misses the adrenaline. But something went very, very wrong on his last mission, and he can’t find a way back from it. Until a new rival turns into a new client, and forces him to return to the scene of his biggest regret.

Ria Dante is a member of the Assassin’s Guild, and she wants out. Membership in the Guild is essentially life-long slavery, and Ria has had enough. She doesn’t even like killing people unless it’s necessary, but the Guild raised her from infancy and she’s supposed to owe them her life. Until she dies on a mission somewhere.

Instead, Ria concocts a plan to steal one of the Guild’s most famous artificacts, the gun that killed Old Earth President Abraham Lincoln. (This gun really exists and is part of the museum collection at Ford’s Theatre). Ria’s plan is to offer the gun back to the Guild in return for her freedom.

Of course, she has to steal it first. And for that, she needs the Phoenix Brothers.

The plan is almost over before it starts. Because Ria is the spitting image of the mistake that Zayn can’t get past. Zayn had feelings for his fellow Strike Wing pilot, Viktoria. But when they were captured by the Assassin’s Guild on their last mission, Vik was raped and tortured. By the time Zayn managed to escape his captors, Vik was too broken to move. She asked for a mercy shot, and Zayn gave it to her. Saving her hours if not days of continued torture before her inevitable death.

He’s never gotten over it, not just what he did, but what might have been. Ria is a stark reminder of the woman he cared for and failed.

Zayn can’t help but want to act on the feelings that he had for Vik with her doppelganger. But Ria wants to be loved, or even just wanted, for herself. No one wants to know they are a stand-in for someone else.

The mission to free Ria takes priority, but Zayn finds himself falling, not for the woman he used to know, but the person that Ria is in the here and now – a woman who may look like Vik, but doesn’t act like her.

And just when they think they may finally have a way to finish the mission, they make a discovery that changes everything they thought – about each other, about themselves, and about the Assassin’s Guild that is hunting them to the far reaches of the galaxy.

Escape Rating A: This has been my week for SFR, and I have to say that they have all been marvelously fun reads.

There is an element of serendipity or coincidence that made one of the central puzzles in this book very similar to one in yesterday’s book, Through the Static by Jeanette Grey. It made it easier than it should have been to guess what the big secret was, but the way that Zayn and Ria find out was still an emotionally gripping scene. (Just because I knew definitely doesn’t mean they did).

One of the terrifically fun characters in this story is Lastite Lala, a 15 year old explosives savant. Also more than slightly bonkers. Lala lives on a planet that has a culture much like that of the American West. It is a desert, people mostly ride horses and have farms or ranches, and whoever settled this place decreed “no advanced tech” and managed to enforce the edit. Very Firefly space-western-esque, and Lala is oodles of crazy fun.

Then there’s the romance. This is one of the few cases where the insta-love thing works. In fact, Zayn has to fall out of love with Vik so he can fall in love with Ria, even while he thinks they might be the same person. So he has to convince Ria that she is the woman he sees and is making love to, and not the ghost of the pilot Vik. He screws up fairly often, Ria has no experience with relationships, and they have a lot to figure out as they go along. Only to have it all blow up in their faces at the end.

In the Devil’s Nebula is a tremendously fun SFR romance/caper with a lot of heart. I had so much fun with this one that I bought the rest of the series!

***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: Damnation by Jean Johnson

damnation by jean johnsonFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook,
Genre: military science fiction
Series: Theirs Not to Reason Why #5
Length: 385 pages
Publisher: Ace
Date Released: November 25, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

It began with a terrible vision of the future. Compelled by her precognitive abilities, Ia must somehow save her home galaxy long after she’s gone. Now Jean Johnson presents the long-awaited epic conclusion to her national bestselling military science fiction series…

With their new ship claimed and new crewmembers being collected, Ia’s Damned are ready and willing to re-enter the fight against the vicious, hungry forces of their Salik foes. But shortly after they board the Damnation to return to battle, a new threat emerges. After several centuries of silence, the Greys are back, and the Alliance must now combat both a rapacious, sadistic enemy, and a terrifying, technologically superior foe.

Ia has asked nothing of her crew that she herself has not been willing to give. But with two wars to bring to an end—and time running out—Ia must make and execute the most terrible choice of all…

My Review:

There are two themes that have resonated, at least for me, in SF in the last couple of decades. They have both been said before with slightly different words and in different circumstances, but the SF versions are the ones that stick in the mind. Both play out in the interwoven themes of Jean Johnson’s Theirs Not to Reason Why series, and especially in the final book in the series, Damnation.

One is the admonishment that Ben Parker recites to his young nephew Peter, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Just as Peter Parker is grounded by the reminder that his superpowers come at a great price, so Ia in Damnation, and all the previous books in the series, is confronted with cost that will be exacted by her use of both the power invested in her high military rank and the superpower of her near-perfect precognitive abilities. She never loses sight of that ultimate cost, even as she struggles to ensure the tiny-percentage future of sentient survival that she sees in the timestreams.

The other theme is Spock’s quote from Vulcan philosophy in The Wrath of Khan. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one.” Spock gives his own life, so that the crew of the Enterprise will survive. Their many outweighs the cost to himself, even though it is the ultimate cost. Ia has spent the last twelve years of her life weighing that same dilemma, writ large. She must sacrifice some so that the greater majority can be saved from extinction. Because Ia is working on a galactic scale, even the few she knows must be lost are relatively large numbers. She feels the weight of her decisions, and of all the deaths that will be laid at her door. But for her, the only right choice is always Spock’s.

soldiers duty mediumIa has spent this series working toward a very long future that she knows she will not live to see. If she can navigate the sentient races of the galaxy through the next two wars, in 300 years they have a slim chance of surviving the third war that is coming. When she begins her work in A Soldier’s Duty (reviewed here) at the age of 15, the chance is very slim. She devotes her life to making that slim chance become a reality.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, Ia’s ability to see all possible futures in the timestreams, she herself suffers from a constant lack of time throughout Damnation. She is still only human, and it takes her finite amounts of real time to nudge history. Also, her nudges often rely on her ship and crew being in a specific place at a specific time to fight a particular battle. Even with FTL and OTL (faster-than-light and other-than-light) speed capability, the ship still needs time to get from system to system, time that Ia is forever running out of.

The decisions Ia makes are always hard ones. She operates in the shades of grey that allow her to sacrifice an entire race to save all the other sentient races. It is never easy, and her own thoughts show how much of her humanity she loses sight of along the way. Also how much she keeps, with the help of her friends and crew.

Ia is brilliant, in the way that the brightest stars flare just before they go out. Her story, from beginning to end, is utterly captivating. I never wanted this series to end, but the way it ended was absolutely stunning.

Escape Rating A+: This entire series, but especially Damnation, gave me incredible book hangovers every step of the way. I am still having a difficult time pulling back from my immersion in the world that Johnson has created with this series.

If you enjoy military SF, I can’t recommend this series highly enough. Ia is a fascinating heroine who commands every scene and every page. It shouldn’t work, having a heroine who knows all the possible futures. You would think that she would be all-powerful and that there would be no dramatic tension. But the tension increases throughout the series, as Ia has more and more to accomplish and less and less time to finish her own tasks and lay the groundwork for what she knows will come.

Her humanity is sometimes sacrificed by the duty she has taken onto herself, but it shines in scenes where the necessary hits close to home. She cuts off her own home planet and her family in order to save the future, and it cuts deep, for both Ia and the reader.

I am not revealing the ending. It is something that needs to be experienced after the fullness of reading the series.

Above, I said the ending was absolutely stunning. I am still stunned.

***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: Tethered by Pippa Jay

tethered by pippa jayFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Length: 158 pages
Publisher: Breathless Press
Date Released: July 25, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

She can kill with a kiss. But can assassin Tyree also heal one man’s grief, and bring peace to a galaxy threatened by war?

For Tyree of the Su, being an assassin isn’t simply something she was trained for. It’s the sole reason for her existence. A genetically enhanced clone—one of many in Refuge—she’s about to learn her secluded lifestyle, and that of all her kind, is under threat by a race capable of neutralizing their special talents to leave them defenseless.

For Zander D’joren, being a diplomat has not only cost him his appearance, but also the love of his life. Scarred, grieving, he must nonetheless continue in his role as co-delegate to the fearsome Tier-vane or risk a conflict that could only end one way.

Now both of them need to keep each other alive and maintain a perilous deception long enough to renegotiate the treaty with the Tier-vane, or throw their people into a war that could wipe out Terrans and Inc-Su alike. But there’s more at stake than humanity, whether true or modified. Can the love growing between them save them both? Or merely hasten their destruction?

My Review:

Tethered is a high-stakes romance between two people who have to discover the depths of their own hearts and the secrets of their identities while dodging assassination attempts and trying to cement a treaty between two interstellar factions who are both capable of tearing the universe apart.

After all, they’ve done that bit before. The treaty is supposed to keep them from doing it again.

Tyree is a member of the secretive Inc-Su race. While descended from humans, the Inc-Su broke away centuries ago to develop their ability to kill through sex. Inc=incubus, and Su, in context, is short for Succubus. The Inc-Su can absorb a person’s life force during sex. Fairly spectacular sex, so their victims die in ecstasy.

The Inc-Su are a race of contract assassins. In between assignments, they all live together on Refuge, a planet that may indeed be a refuge, but is also a prison. Inc-Su do not live away from Refuge and its rules, unless they are so flawed that they do not possess the Inc-Su powers.

Mirsee was a flawed Inc-Su. She served as a diplomat for the Terrans and even life-bonded with her fellow diplomat, the human Zander D’joren. Mirsee is dead at the hands of mysterious assassins, and the treaty that she and Zander worked so hard for is about to collapse, throwing the universe back to a space-spanning war between the Terrans and their allies, and the feline, predatory Tier-vane.

There is one hope – the Inc-Su can send Mirsee’s clone-sister, Tyree, to take her place as ambassador. Only the intimate members of Zander’s party can know the difference, or the treaty will be declared null and void before it can take effect.

Tyree has two assignments; flawlessly substitute for the sister she never knew she had, and protect Zander and herself from yet another assassination attempt before the treaty is signed and ratifies.

Falling in love with Zander is not part of the assignment. It is not even a likely outcome, as Zander is still mourning for her sister, and Tyree doesn’t have a frame-of-reference for what love is.

Tyree doesn’t do a very good job at most of her assignment. She never seems to be able to sniff out the assassination attempts before they happen – again and again. She even falls in love with the scarred but resolute Zander.

In the moment of victory, she is lost. Zander is left to determine if the treaty was worth the cost of losing the woman he loves. Again.

Escape Rating B+: There were a LOT of things I really enjoyed about this story, and a few things that make me quibble.

In science fiction romance (AKA SFR) both the worldbuilding and the romance have to work equally well for the story to be a solid A Rating. Tethered comes close, but there were just a couple of things…

The romance in this story is between a man who has lost his bondmate to a terrible tragedy, and that woman’s clone-sister. So Tyree looks exactly like Mirsee, and she has to for the diplomatic deception to work.

Tyree is not anything like Mirsee, they just look identical. So Zander ends up falling for his late wife’s identical twin. The growing emotional and sexual tension between Zander and Tyree does sell the romance, but…there’s never a scene where they talk, or Zander talks to himself or whatever, about his change of heart.

He really did love Mirsee. How much of his love for Tyree is based on their iidentical appearance? What changed his heart? Has he just healed in 6 months (possible) or is it, as another book I read called it “foxhole love”. They are stuck in a desperate situation and only have each other for comfort.

Zander is an admirable man. It is easy to see why Tyree falls for him. What is difficult is her acceptance that he loves her and isn’t transferring his love from her “sister” to her without dealing with the consequences. If she does accept it, I wanted more internal dialog, or even external dialog, that she had considered the risks. He hurts her once by calling her Mirsee in a private moment, so this issue doesn’t feel resolved.

On the other hand, she gets kidnapped the second the treaty is signed, so there isn’t a lot of time to deal with crap after their job is done.

The way that Zander was able to rescue Tyree, involving sudden and remarkable revelations about her parentage, felt a bit deus ex machina. In other words, terribly, terribly convenient. She needs to be rescued, very desperately, but the solution was too easy, even if emotionally difficult.

Because the story is relatively short, I wanted more explanation of the current state of the universe than there was time available. How did the Inc-Su split off from the Terrans, and why? The internal politics of both the Terrans and the Tier-vane needed a bit more detail to understand why they reached this state of near-war.

At the same time, the constant state of tension produced by the frequent assassination attempts kept me turning pages furiously to find out what would happen next. There is so much going on in this universe, and I want to see more.

***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: Temporal Shift by Nina Croft

temporal shift by nina croftFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Blood Hunter/Dark Desires #4
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Entangled Select
Date Released: November 17, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

Caught between destiny and desire…

After diving into a black hole in search of the source of Meridian, the key to immortality, the crew of the Blood Hunter finds themselves stranded in an alternate universe.

Engineer Devlin Stark doesn’t want immortality. He just wants to live long enough to get his revenge on the man who murdered his brother. Now, he’s trapped in a strange world with a crazy woman who claims he’s fated to be her lover.

Saffira Lourdes has a destiny: to save humanity and lead her exiled people to the Promised Land. Haunted by visions of the past and future, she’s been sustained through the years by a dream lover. Unfortunately, Devlin doesn’t believe in fate. But it’s obvious there’s a connection between them, one that will soon be tested by the limits of time and space. Saffira is about to make the crew of the Blood Hunter an offer they’ll find impossible to refuse.

They’re heading back to Earth, and they’re going back in time…

My Review:

First, I want to take whoever decided to play with the series title, and whoever chose the strange series listing for Temporal Shift at Goodreads and Amazon, and shake them until their teeth rattle.

break out by nina croftIt is extremely unobvious in a lot of the blurb copy, but Temporal Shift is very definitely the fourth book in Nina Croft’s awesome science fiction romance series, Blood Hunter. The series starts with Break Out (reviewed here) and continues with Deadly Pursuit (here) and Death Defying (here). Temporal Shift makes way more sense if you’ve read the other stories first.

The series is also being renamed Dark Desires, which I find less descriptive but possibly more saleable, but that just adds to the confusion.

The action in Temporal Shift follows directly from the harrowing events at the end of Death Defying, but the whole thing only works if you have at least some understanding of the players and the set up.

The owner of the ship, El Cazador, is a vampire named Rico Sanchez. The year is 3048, and the Earth as we know it was destroyed centuries ago. Only a select few made it out on large colony ships, but somehow, both the vampires and the werewolves managed to get themselves aboard those ships. (People in cryosleep don’t notice that a vampire is taking a sip, after all)

The story in Temporal Shift contains more than enough time travel to cause the crew of El Cazador to question whether everything they thought they knew about their history is actually true, or whether that temporal shift is more of a loop.

It all starts by falling (or fleeing) through a black hole to an unknown destination. When you are being pursued by not just one but two space armadas, any port in a storm, even a potentially deadly wormhole, looks like a viable escape.

But they don’t find a safe haven. What they find is that they are the starring players in a centuries old prophecy, and that it’s a bit difficult to figure out exactly where, or when, they are. What they discover is that they may have looped back to the beginning of their own history. Which means that they are in the unfortunate position of being able to screw it up completely.

Everything hinges on the local time-mancer (read prophetess) Saffira. She’s been saving herself for her destined sacrifice to history, and for a man who loves her in her dreams. Both arrive in the El Cazador, but not in the way that she expects. Finding a way to help her people escape, and getting the very angry and closed off Devlin to fall in love with her, is going to take way more time than it should. Centuries in fact, but only for her.

When the woman who returns is not quite the same woman who left, no one is sure whether any of the complex plans they have laid will work. But they have to try, or they are all doomed.

Escape Rating B+: I think this story only works if you’ve read the rest of the series, or at least the expanded edition of the first book, Break Out (which is totally awesome).

The thing about time travel stories is that they can be totally confusing if you don’t know all the history involved in the time being traveled to. And I’ll confess to getting confused, even though I have read all the books. At the same time, it was a lot of fun to meet Rico back in the 15th century. Also bloody and terrifying, but neat to see the time streams cross.

The whole story is about crossing the time streams. Callum Meridian was on the original voyage, but his ship survived and he discovered the immortality drug, Meridian. So the ship in orbit on the planet inside that black hole represents his own personal past, dropping into the middle of his present.

There is a lot about messing with time, and trying to figure out how to make sure that they all (or their ancestors) act in time to get saved so that they are not on Earth when the disaster strikes. But this is all a giant time loop, and they caused the future they now live in. This is obvious at the end, but not so much in the middle.

I never did get how Saffira’s people came to live on the planet in the black hole. In the end, it’s not as important as what she does to get them all out. It was obvious how she was going to solve the central dilemma, but that didn’t make it any less painful when she does.

I’ve enjoyed the entire Blood Hunter series quite a lot. This is science fiction romance mixed with a very interesting bit of world building. And that world building only gets more convoluted (and fascinating) with the time travel explorations of Temporal Shift. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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