Book Review: “Heir to the Jedi: Star Wars” by Kevin Hearne

Heir to the JediIt’s been very interesting to see how the new Star Wars canon is beginning to come together after Disney removed the entire Expanded Universe from being and official part of the lore not that long ago. The first two books put forth some interesting backstory for Grand Moff Tarkin and the two lead characters of the new Star Wars: Rebels cartoon, but they did not deal at all with any of the big three characters of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, or Princess Leia. With Heir to the Jedi, Kevin Hearne introduces us to a Luke Skywalker from just after the destruction of the first Death Star, when he is a hero of the Rebellion, but is still trying to figure out what the Force actually does and how he fits into the big picture of the Rebellion in the future.

Luke makes his way through two missions during the course of the book. First, he is sent to Rodia to do some research about a new arms deal for the Rebellion. There isn’t a lot of money to go around, but Admiral Ackbar thinks that fostering a relationship with one Rodian clan in particular would be useful. To successfully complete the mission, Luke can’t take his usual X-wing because the Imperials would recognize it, so instead he uses a ship called Desert Jewel, which is owned by a woman named Nakari, a woman who also happens to be a rather accomplished sniper and is also bankrolled by a fair amount of family money if the need arises.

The mission to Rodia is relatively successful and upon returning Luke is asked to rescue a very talented slicer from Imperial captivity. This time he takes the Desert Jewel, but brings Nakari along with him as they’ve fostered a budding romantic relationship and seem to work well together on the whole. Ultimately, Luke and Nakari are able to help the slicer escape their Imperial captivity, but with some dire consequences along the way that will likely shape Luke significantly in future books.

Heir to the Jedi is doing a lot of work in establishing what kind of personality Luke Skywalker is supposed to have, and it does a pretty good job of setting him up as a man who wants to do the right thing, discover the secrets of the Force, and aid the Rebellion in whatever ways his skills work best. The problem for me comes when I realized that the Luke Skywalker in this book is very different from the Luke Skywalker we see in The Empire Strikes Back. This book is official canon, so I hope we get some more screen time with Luke in another book or two that will help flesh him out as a character while still letting fans of Star Wars love the character he is in the official movies. As it stands, after reading Heir to the Jedi, I don’t believe the Luke Skywalker from this book fits with the Luke Skywalker from The Empire Strikes Back.

I also had a tough time with feeling like Heir to the Jedi every really got started. Yes, there are action scenes, and yes, there are some interesting characters, but despite all of that, I felt like I was spinning my wheels a little bit as a reader. Maybe it had something to do with the first person viewpoint, a rarity in the Star Wars books, or maybe it was just the story that had been chosen for the author to tell. I’m not really sure. I’ve read other work by Kevin Hearne and never felt like I was spinning my wheels, so I found it a little strange to have it happen this time. Regardless, I hope that Kevin Hearne continues to get opportunities to work with Luke Skywalker as a character because I think he’s got a lot of good things in place at this point and I would hate to see it ruined by someone else.

So far the new Star Wars canon books have been solid in what they have done, but none of the three have really blown me away. I hope that they can get to that point sooner or later because some of the non-canon Expanded Universe has some really great moments that are not being matched by the new canon to this point.

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Book Review: “The Mirror Empire” by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror EmpireThe Mirror Empire was an incredibly difficult book for me to get through. It had nothing to do with the subject matter and nothing to do with the quality of the story, as both are wonderfully fantastic, but everything to do with my having not read a true epic fantasy book in a very, very long time prior to picking it up. The last six months of 2014 were filled with books that moved quickly, had lightweight world building, and in general were not very hard to comprehend or digest. To go from that straight into Kameron Hurley’s fantastic, complicated, intense, and frankly, rather weird storytelling was a challenge, a big challenge, but one I would not give back for anything.

For a decent amount of time went by where I constantly admired the cover art for The Mirror Empire, but was unsure if I should pick it up to read. It took a majority of the authors on my Twitter feed raving about the book over and over again for me to bite the bullet and take the plunge. Just as I realized if all the authors I loved were going to love this book I should probably read it as well, it happened to show up on sale for my Kindle, so I had the bonus of trying it without paying full price.

If I had known how good The Mirror Empire was going to be, I would have waited until after the sale and paid full price as a show of support to the author. As it was, I bought one of her other books to make up for it.

The plot of The Mirror Empire revolves around two parallel universes colliding with each other as a satellite known as the dark star, among other names, rises into the sky giving greater power to certain magic users and taking away power from others. There are invading armies, warring kingdoms, feuding families, mysterious powers, killer plants, and so many other strange things in this book. One of the most interesting things about The Mirror Empire is the gender and sexuality orientations. Beyond the traditional male and female, half a dozen other options exist, all of which mix together into some interesting and dynamic family situations. I thought these new ideas on gender and sexuality were well thought-out and added a very rich layer to the story being told.

In this book your ideas of what is acceptable and what’s not are going to be challenged. The gender-bending moments, as well as the way people interact with each other really push the boundaries that most people are going to be comfortable with having. It took me a little while to settle into the book as a result, but I think by the time I finished I was glad I kept going and had the opportunity to see Kameron Hurley do what she is doing with the book. I think that the genre is better off for what she’s attempting with this trilogy.

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Book Review: “Soulminder” by Timothy Zahn

SoulminderI’ve read a lot of Timothy Zahn’s work over the years and most of the time I have a pretty good idea about what he’s going to bring to the table. I received a request to review Soulminder directly from the publisher and given that Zahn is one of my all-time favorite authors, of course I jumped at the chance. It’s always great to see what kind of new idea he’s putting onto the page for his readers.

This time around Zahn is delving into the world of what happens when a person dies and their soul leaves their body. Is that soul a tangible thing? Can it be captured and held for some amount of time? If it can be captured, could something then be done to repair the body it came from so it can be returned and let a person continue their life? If so, what kind of impact does that have on society when suddenly terminal illness, terrible accidents, and death are no longer necessarily the end of the line?

Adrian Sommer and Jessica Sands have managed to invent a machine that allows them to recognize and trap a soul when it attempts to leave a person’s body at the time of death. In doing so they open up a world of possibility regarding what the soul actually is and what sort of systems and policies should be wrapped around the use of their new Soulminder machine. Should it be available to everyone? Is it even morally acceptable to trap a soul and then force feed it back into a repaired body? Does the ability to do what the Soulminder machine does change how people view religion in some fashion?

Sommer is driven by the death of his son and never wanting another mother or father to have to sit and watch their child die in a car accident from injuries that are easily repaired as long as medical assistance can be reached. Jessica Sands is motivated by the idea that continued advancements of the Soulminder technology could perhaps bring about the ability for humans to be immortal. From the very beginning these differing motivations begin to drive a wedge between the two parties and they spend a lot of time involved in things that check and balance each other.

Over the course of the book the reader gets to see the Soulminder technology from its inception, to widespread national use, to abuse by criminals, all the way to government corruption using it as a way to enforce slavery on their citizens. The impact and consequences of capturing souls and placing them back into repaired bodies are widespread and impressive across the board.

This book has much more of a political thriller or espionage feel to it than most science fiction books do, but it delves enough into the technology and science behind the Soulminder machine to keep it firmly within its genre. I admit that the book was nothing like what I was expecting, but at the same time it was exactly what it needed to be in the end. A book that kept me on my toes and seemed very grounded in how cause and effect of such a machine would actually play out.

Wrapping these kind of themes and questions nicely inside of a compelling science fiction story isn’t the easiest thing to do, but Zahn manages to provide just enough plot to keep the reader engaged while still keeping the focus very much on the issue at hand. If someone is looking for rip-roaring science fiction action this probably isn’t the book for them, but I would still encourage everyone to give it a chance. Sometimes it does a person good to read a book in their favorite genre that spends more time making them think about what their own choices would be in certain circumstances than it does blowing up spaceships or exploring new worlds.

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Book Review: “Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier” by Myke Cole

Fortress FrontierWhen I finished reading Shadow Ops: Control Point I was entirely hooked on the world Myke Cole has created for his books. I had a hard time believing that he was going to be able to top the amazing work he had done when I picked up Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier to see what happened next to my favorite military sorcerers. Well, I was wrong, because I promptly read the entirety of Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier in about six hours. It seems that the idea of a military fantasy novel is right in my wheelhouse. I love these books.

Alan Bookbinder is the new viewpoint character featured in Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier to go along with a few appearances by Oscar Britton to keep the story cohesive along the way. However, the very first part of this book had me a little bit confused because Bookbinder arrives at FOB Frontier to be the new logistics whiz after coming up latent himself with a magical power nobody has any clue about and when he arrives he is introduced to Oscar Britton. I had to go back to my copy of Shadow Ops: Control Point to confirm that Britton had in fact ended the book not at FOB Frontier. After a few more chapters it became clear to me that Bookbinder’s viewpoint was jumping into the story at about the halfway point of Shadow Ops: Control Point and then running in tandem for a little while and extending the story to a new point by the time it was finished. Once I managed to get the timeline right I was fine, but a little more clarification at the beginning might be helpful to readers.

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier deals with FOB Frontier being cut off from the Home Plane as a result of Britton’s actions as he and several members of the SASS escape from the base and begin forging their own path. When Britton kills the SOC’s only Portamancer in his escape, it leaves FOB Frontier with no way of getting ammunition, food, support, or anything else from the Home Plane. They are on their own with limited resources. To top everything off, Bookbinder, who has been barely holding on to his sanity while trying to deal with the commander of the base, is suddenly thrust into command by the assassination of Commander Taylor by rogue goblins. Bookbinder has to take action and take it fast in order to prevent the base from plunging into chaos.

While Bookbinder is dealing with the survival of FOB Frontier, Britton is trying to find a safe haven for himself and the small group of sorcerers that escaped the base with him. They first try to fix the problem they created by letting Scylla out of her imprisonment, but they are beaten back rather handily and realize they don’t have the skills and/or power to deal with her on their own. Their next plan is to escape back to the Home Plane and take refuge with one of the larger Selfer groups and try to work at overturning some of the discriminatory laws against Selfers. At first it seems like their plan is going well, but then they realize the leader of the Houston Street Selfers has been replaced by an SOC agent.

Alan Bookbinder turns out to be the more compelling character for me in Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier. I still like Oscar Britton, and will continue to do so, but for all the strengths that Britton had in the first book, Bookbinder is even more well-written from characterization standpoint. Bookbinder’s unique magic leads to some very interesting choices he needs to make for the survival of his group. I liked that he has to make those choices and that he has to be careful about who he lets know about his power. At one point it even threatens to undo all of the work he’s done in helping FOB Frontier survive.

The conclusion of Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier has Bookbinder, Britton, and even Harlequin coming together to do the right thing and throwing the President of the United States into some seriously hot water. The setup for the third book is amazing and I can’t imagine what Myke Cole is going to do next with the series. These books are absolutely a must read for any fan of military fiction or fantasy.

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Book Review: “The Trilisk Revolution” by Michael McCloskey

The Trilisk RevolutionI’ve had a really good time reading the first four books of the Parker Interstellar Travels series by Michael McCloskey. However, The Trilisk Revolution sort of fell apart at the seams for me. I understood what the author was trying to do with the book, especially with bringing all of the characters back home to Earth. It was inevitable that they had to return at some point and it might as well be because the Trilisks have managed to infiltrate the entire upper power structure of the ruling government.

The hardest thing for me to deal with in The Trilisk Revolution was how all of the characters are now officially duplicates of themselves using the Trilisk columns that Shiny has set up and I felt like that really took a lot of the gravity away from the situation. It felt a little like there was no cost for the group of them at this point because they were not really putting themselves at risk. There needs to be an appropriate amount of risk for me to believe that characters have something to lose.

I did enjoy how the crew of the Clacker, especially Telisa, had a plan to take down all of the Trilisk infiltrators in one fell swoop with a coordinated, well-timed attack across the entire planet in order to prevent any Trilisks from escaping. The book did still tell a decent enough story, but at just under 200 pages, it felt like the story was rushed and incomplete. None of the books in this series have been particularly long, but this one really would have benefited from another 75 pages or so of extra content.

Of more import than anything during the course of the book was how Shiny so suddenly turns his back on his human friends. Granted, I’m not sure he ever considered them his actual friends, and I was fairly certain that he was going to betray them at some point, but I wasn’t sure it would be so quickly after the end of the fourth book. I did hear from the author after writing my review of The Trilisk Hunt and discovered that The Trilisk Revolution is not actually the end of the series, but that it will be continuing with another book sometime in the next few months. That makes me happy because I don’t want my last experience with what has been a fun series to be a bit of a letdown.

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