Review of The Fortress in Orion: Dead Enders Book One (Pyr, Dec 2, 2014) by Mike Resnick
It’s the first volume in his new space opera series set in his Birthright Universe. Cyborgs, aliens, convicts, or war heroes can all make interesting main characters. But what if you make them into an ensemble cast of a space adventure book? Resnick has taken these different character types and made them into a mostly non-military special ops team.
This is old-school space opera with the only military character leading a bunch of civilians. There is plenty of intrigue and some interesting characters that use brains and special skills to do their jobs, not just guns. Three members of the group are women: Snake, Pandora and Circe are all strong characters, but each of them shows strength in a different way. They have very distinct looks, personalities and skill sets. The other two team members are a male human and an alien who looks like a male human, but that is really a visual illusion; his appearance won’t fool electronics or cameras.
The team has to go to a space station full of aliens to switch an alien military leader with a clone version trained to lead the aliens to peace with humanity. Nothing goes quite according to plan, of course, but we do get a battle and some very impressive fast-talking from the clone.
Your Humble Reviewers really enjoyed this book and greatly appreciated the believable relationships of the women with each other and with the male (or visually male) members of the team including the alien clone. We look forward to more volumes of Dead Enders tales.
Originator: A Cassandra Kresnov Novel (Pyr, Jan 6, 2015) by Joel Shepherd
This is the sixth volume in his space adventure series. The series is military SF from the viewpoint of a synthetic human but is more about Cassandra’s growth and change as a character than about the big picture plot. The big picture impacts her quite a bit, so you see it, but it is really about how the events impact her life, not about the events themselves. The series has quite a great deal to say about what it means to be human and what makes humans want to be parents, even when they didn’t have parents themselves. It has enough action to satisfy space adventure and special ops fans, but is centered on characters and so should satisfy readers who want more character-driven stories.
The League civil war is escalating. The alien Talee are upset by this because they have seen this type of technology lead to civilization collapse before. The Federation, including Sandy and her three children, are in the middle. So there are three entities each with at least 2 factions on opposing sides and the different factions keep mixing and matching together to align for specific jobs , but really they are all only out for their own group. Revealing that some of the other entities factions are controlling part of the Federation government leads to potential chaos but Kresnov and her friends manage to use their underground hacker/tech contacts to get everything under control.
While they are trying to keep chaos from overtaking the government, the tech in Kiril’s head makes him a target. Some think the technology in his head (which is expanding as he grows) is going to save everyone, but others think that anyone with such technology should be eliminated. So Sandy has to save him while cleaning up the mess of the Federation government.
There are many well-choreographed fight scenes in this volume, with the ones where Sandy has the kids with her being especially well done and very moving. There are some interesting explanations of tech in this volume, concerning planet wide computer nets, the origin of synthetic people, and the security of people both natural and synthetic who have active implants in their heads. This universe and the synthetic humans are very interesting, so hopefully we will get more volumes.
Slavers of the Savage Catacombs (Baen, Jan 6, 2015) by Jon F. Merz
It is Book 2 of the Shadow Warrior series. This is a fantasy quest story set in a world with a strong Asian influence since Ran is basically from an alternate Japan. The setting is a welcome change from the large number of Eurocentric fantasy tales. You get more cultural background in this volume because Ran actually meets some other people from his homeland and their conversations tell the reader quite a bit about Nehon.
Ran has successfully seen Jysal to the temple and is heading to the city of Chulal to join a trade caravan heading west. He needed to head west to reach the kingdom of Valrus to find the Princess Cassandra. Ran encounters some bandits attacking a village and after killing several to keep them from attacking a farm girl, he acquires a horse which speeds his travel to Chulal.
He finds adventure, intrigue, and betrayal as he tries to get to the Princess but also finds unexpected friends along the way. Ran is a complex and interesting character and unlike some quest main characters doesn’t seem a slave to the author’s complex plotting. Ran’s adventures take twists and turns but they seem driven by supporting characters and make sense, so the hand of the author is almost invisible. Ran is alone in his questing for most of this story, with the other characters being there, but none on the same journey. Maybe the next volume, Temple of Demons, will have others on the quest with him.
Your Humble Reviewers had been looking forward to this second volume and it doesn’t disappoint with good fight scenes and some excellent ninja deception/sneaking. For readers of ninja manga, this is about the best novel series out there. We both read ninja manga so ninja and samurai fantasy is our favorite, but are unfortunately in short supply except in the younger readers section. May Ran’s adventures run to many volumes!
The Lady (Pyr, Dec 9, 2014) by K.V. Johansen
This is Marakand Volume 2. The Lady is one of the three main gods of Marakand but her current physical representation has been taken over by something evil. Thirty years previously, the other two gods were thrown out of Marakand after a battle and this ultimately led to the current situation. Two factions in the city are trying to get control. The Red Masks of the Lady were invincible but suddenly someone is sending the undead sorcerers in red to permanent death, and this diminishes the Lady’s power level as each one is lost.
This is a plot and setting oriented book with some slightly interesting characters, but because there are so many of them, most of the supporting cast is rather flat. The plot is entertaining and it is paced pretty well but one can’t help but wonder that, if the plot was simplified and the 443 pages reduced, it wouldn’t grab the reader better. The beginning is so slow that many readers are probably lost by page 2. Any book which needs nine pages of dramatis personae at the beginning of the novel probably needs some editing and rewriting. If the characters are not memorable enough from the information given to distinguish them that the readers need a list, something was wrong with the storytelling.
If you like really dense slow fantasy with seemingly millions of characters to keep straight then this might be for you, but Your Humble Reviewers will probably pass on future volumes of this series.
The King’s Deryni (Ace, Dec 2, 2014) by Katherine Kurtz
This is the third volume of the Childe Morgan arc, and Alaric is finally old enough to be an interesting main character. This volume takes him from about ages 7 to 14 when he is exiled from the capital because of a Deryni-hating queen. He is made Duke of Corwyn and Earl of Lendour in this volume and he begins to fulfill his role to protect the king. You see the relationship with King Brion which results in the situations setting up the Chronicles of the Deryni. We also see as side characters many who will be important in The Chronicles of the Deryni. Because Alaric and Duncan are children learning to use their powers, a fuller explanation for how some of the magic works is presented as they learn.
Council members play small roles in this volume but it is clear they are keeping an eye on Alaric and Duncan. Alaric has to watch a Deryni priest be burned at the stake but another priest that readers know to be Deryni is ordained in this volume, so what impact this will have on Duncan (who is thinking about the priesthood) is as yet unclear. Hopefully, someone will explain how Duncan can get ordained without being discovered before Alaric has a nervous breakdown from worry.
Katherine Kurtz says there will be more volumes so maybe they will fill in the time between 1106 and 1120 so we see Alaric as a young adult and see the mystery of Duncan’s ordination solved.
This series has held Angela’s interest since reading library copies in the 1970s. It is a different type of fantasy with no Absolutely Good or Irredeemably Evil characters, only ones who believe different things about magic use. The church in Gwynedd is similar to the Catholic Church and plays a major role in the medieval culture of the setting as the Catholic Church did in medieval Europe.