From Fantasy England to Realistic Space Battles

I had a spurt of reading energy so instead of giving you three weeks of reviews I decided to bundle them altogether into one article. Luckily for me I get to review books from two of my favorite authors.

The-Place-of-Dead-Kings_WilsonFirst up is The Place of Dead Kings by Geoffrey Wilson. Sequel to Land of Hope and Glory, I really enjoyed the first book so I was itching to get my hands on this one. That being said I need to get something off my chest before I begin the review.

Did I like The Place of Dead Kings? Yes. Did I like it better than Land of Hope and Glory? No.

The series is a nice mix of alternate history, fantasy and steampunk. Set in a parallel history where Islam conquered most of Europe and Indian colonial empires battle for supremacy, the great rebellion in England against Rajthana has failed. Bands of rebels are now being picked off one by one by a revenging Rajthanan army. Our hero from the first novel, Jack Casey, is training young rebels to use the conqueror’s magic until he learns about an Rajthana expedition into the wilds of Scotland. They fear a rogue sorcerer is building a weapon, but the rebels think it could be the Holy Grail, the mythical artifact from English lore said to defeat anyone who tries to conquer England. Jack doesn’t believe in the Grail, but he decides to infiltrate the expedition as a porter, in the hope that it could be a weapon he can use to save his family.

Dead Kings was slow to start, but picked up near the end and I liked the comparisons between British/Indian colonialism (witch burning vs. Sati). Plus I did enjoy the character development for the bumbling Saleem from the first book as he becomes wiser and braver. I always tend to latch onto characters like that (i.e. Samwell Tarly from A Song of Ice and Fire and Henchmen #21 from The Venture Bros.)

My big issue with the novel, however, was that it lacked the raw emotional power of the first. Watching Jack desperately fight Rajthanans and English alike to save his beloved daughter from death showed the powerful love between father and daughter. In Dead Kings, Jack is generally trying to save everyone, which is still noble and certainly there is more at stake, but it lacks the personal touch. I still recommend the book (and I hope Wilson makes a map and timeline one of these days), but read Land of Hope and Glory first since this is going to be a trilogy.

guardianNext up is The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Guardian by Jack Campbell (a.k.a. John G. Hemry). This is a continuation of Hemry’s long-running Lost Fleet series that follows the adventures of John “Black Jack” Geary, who was discovered floating in a suspended animation escape pod one hundred years after he made a last stand against an enemy fleet. He awakes find he has been turned into a mythical hero and he is the only hope for an Alliance fleet trapped deep behind enemy lines. As I mentioned before, the real hook for this series is the awesomely realistic space battles using real physics.

Guardian finds Jack and the Alliance fleet back in human territory after exploring alien space. The Syndics, however, are causing problems again. Although their empire is collapsing, they are adamant about slowing the Alliance’s fleet return to their home by using guerrilla warfare, but doing so in a way so they are not the ones who violate the terms of peace treaty. Jack now has to find a way to return home without restarting the war and returning safely to the Alliance the representatives of a new alien race, the Dancers, who have their own agenda.

Guardian was a satisfying chapter in The Lost Fleet saga. I enjoyed the tactics Hemry showcased when a minor power is forced to fight a more powerful foe and how they could use the limits of space travel against them. I also like how Hemry is continuing to expand his universe and filling it with a wide array of people and places. I am still bugged by Hemry continuing to be tight lipped about what the characters actually look like and a book cover that doesn’t actually match the action of the book. Those issues, however, are long-running problems and still haven’t stopped me or most fans from reading about the adventures of Black Jack.

tarnished knightI wish I could say the same for Hemry’s next book: The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight.

A spin-off series running parallel to the events in Beyond the Frontier, it features events from the perspective of the Syndics. Set on the Midway star system, a strategically located system on the edge of alien space, the former Syndic CEOs Artur Drakon and Gwen Iceni have rebelled and declared Midway to be an independent system. They now struggle to trust each other and build up their defenses in case the Syndics or the alien Enigmas ever return.

Despite getting good reviews, I found the whole story to be bland and uninteresting. When I first read The Lost Fleet I envisioned the Syndicate Worlds led by their ruthless CEOs as some sort of corporate republic gone wrong or a world had experimented with libertarianism and a powerful conglomerate of corporations had destroyed what little government was left. Instead I found life on Syndic World to be a lot like Orwell’s Oceania, except run by incompetent Thought Police. Perhaps the big issue is the setting just failed to live up to my imagination, but I generally do not recommend this series. Stick with The Lost Fleet if you want to check out Hemry’s universe.

From fantasy to science fiction, you have to admit that one of the best things about being a genre fan is the range of worlds we can visit. Poor normals, they only ever get one.

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