Book Review: Nobody’s Hero by Bec McMaster

Nobody's Hero cover

The time and place

The American southwest (inferring by the mention of Gila monsters), 2147 CE.

The suspension of disbelief

An asteroid hit Earth and darkened the sky back in 2083. This bore several alien viruses humans fell prey to, becoming revenants. The wargs (werebeasts) came from the US government mucking around with human test subjects, so it seems the world had already gone to pot. Sixty years later, reivers (raiders) and shadow-cats have joined the dangers prowling the Burned Lands. Humans live in fortified settlements, trying to weather whatever the world throws at them.

The quick summary

Lucius Wade, motivated by vengeance, kidnaps a damsel in the Wasteland. He believes taking someone from a settlement near Adam McClain’s will draw his old rival out. Not-really-a-damsel Riley Kincaid wants to keep her village safe from reivers and wargs, and is out a little too late getting rocs for food. Wade takes Riley to an abandoned testing facility for temporary holding. While he’s out, reivers attack. Seems Wade’s made some dangerous enemies, so Riley strikes a deal with him: if he helps her recover the boy the reivers have taken hostage, she’ll get McClain to come to him. McClain has long wanted Riley to shack up with him. Plans go awry, though, and Riley and Lucius become involved. Do they have a future together, and can they save one of the most important people in his life from his biggest nightmare?

My squees

I love the Mad Max-like setting. McMaster sets the story in America when her native Australia would have also provided plenty of excellent beasties, but the Southwest desert can be pretty breathtaking in a barren sort of way. It’s got some sufficiently-advanced technology that reminds me of paranormal elements, but the jeeps and bikes appeal to my SFR tastes. Gene testing creates fantastic creatures, and the reivers add an outlaw element to show us that it’s not just obvious monsters out for innocent blood.

Riley has both a soft heart and a strong will. She’s resourceful and caring. She’s very lonely, though, and that intertwines with her attraction to Wade. Wade was a bit harder to like, but he has complex and believable experiences, motivations, and feelings. When he finds that some the beliefs that kept him going aren’t true, he understandably loses his cool and complicates an already delicate situation at McClain’s settlement. Once he opens himself up, it’s easy to see why Riley thinks he’s worth spending her future with.

The action scenes flow well and are believable given the characters’ skills and wits. McMaster’s writing is crisp and evocative. I felt uncertainty, sorrow, and longing along with the protagonists.

My grumbles

The original kidnapping plot didn’t feel the strongest to me. Wade kidnaps Riley to use as bait for Adam McClain. What exactly was Riley’s value? Wade had hoped for a person from McClain’s settlement and thought to appeal to his honor? The deal they strike later makes more sense.

Several of the side characters seemed important, but didn’t get much attention, and are probably introduced for later books. Sometimes the pacing felt a bit uneven, but I can’t put my finger on why.

I’ve a little quibble with the timeline and technology offered: I’d put the darkening further in the future to make McClain’s old-fashioned ideas about society (and the technology available) be easier to believe.

Read if you

  • are an action romance fan
  • like your characters a little bit bad
  • enjoy zombies and other post-apocalyptic stories

Skip if you

  • are burnt out on post-apocalyptic stories
  • don’t like paranormal elements
  • are in the mood for something sweet and light

Final thoughts

I’m a long time fan of McMaster’s London Steampunk stories, and am so happy she has started two new series this year. The Burned Lands is a very original setting, and her further books will be auto-buys for me. I hope this somehow gets picked up by libraries.

Author site: Bec McMaster

Resources: GoodreadsAmazon / Kobo / iBooks

On ebook ownership and community

I love ebooks. I love that they don’t get dust, that they weigh nothing, are easy to take with me and move houses with, and that I can change the size of the text for my twitchy eyes. There is something I’d change if I could about ebooks, though: the ownership model.

On Amazon, ebooks are licensed, not sold. When I pay Amazon, they agree to let me ‘use’ an ebook for as long as I abide by their Terms and Conditions (which let me loan out some books once for a period of two weeks). If they think I am in violation of such (whether this is true or not), they may close my account, and I will lose access to the books I bought via them forever. While it’s unlikely that this will happen, I want to buy a book, not rent it indefinitely. Kobo allows me to download a book without DRM attached. I now have a file I can keep backed up. However, their Terms and Conditions say “Customers may not modify, transmit, publish, participate in the transfer or sale of, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, display, or in any way exploit, any of the content of any Digital Content, in whole or in part.” Again, even though I’m not so worried about things being disabled due to bugs, I still have very restricted use of the book.

Sometimes I want to loan out a book or give it away. Lending a book to a friend is a way of making a personal connection, and something I’ve enjoyed doing for decades. It’s a way I can share something. It builds community. With the rental-purchase model, I give up that connection and say that ownership of books is all to be mediated by a company. Which I say is not a person. Why don’t you just buy print editions, you ask? Lots of books I like are not available in print! With Amazon and All Romance Ebooks, I can at least gift a copy of an ebook. Throw money at the problem, I guess. But it my objections about eroding community stand.

I don’t think it’s in authors’, publishers’, or distributors’ interest to let me give a book away. If I thought boycotting ebooks until they changed ownership models would be at all successful, I’d do it. I’m willing to pay more in exchange. In the meantime, I’m going to start buying print books of authors I like and put them in the Little Free Libraries about town and donate them to library book sales. Plus loaning them to friends. I hope one day someone else can share the love of books sent out into the wild.

I don’t think a boycott would be successful because I assume I’m in the minority for what I’d be willing to give up to get ownership of my e-library. Would you pay more to own your ebooks?

So you want to read some SFR: recommendations for science fiction readers

N.B. These curated lists are for the gentle reader who is intrigued by the concept, but doesn’t know where to start. For a more comprehensive guide of everything out there, check out Corinne Kilgore’s SFR Station! It has excellent categories. Without it these posts would have involved a lot of swearing on my part.

Science Fiction Romance is definitely a niche genre. Readers and writers come to it from both the romance and the science fiction angle. A few days ago John asked me what SFR he should read. If you love science fiction but aren’t entirely sure about whether you’ll like SFR, I recommend these books to start (as an SF fan for decades). I’ve featured all of these on the SFRB Recommends.

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach

Fortune's Pawn Cover

Devi Morris has big career plans. She’s working as a mercenary, but wants to become an elite powered-armor guard for the God King. When she gets the chance to work aboard The Glorious Fool, she jumps into a galaxy-spanning conspiracy that could leave her and all she cares for obliterated.

This book will appeal to those who love stubborn badass heroes, epic scope, truly out-there aliens, layers of political wrangling, human augmentation, and almost insurmountable odds in their science fiction. The love story is a subplot that still feels epic in scope: two dissimilar characters drawn together by their fierceness. This book is first in a trilogy.

Riveted by Meljean Brook

RIVETED, A Novel of the Iron Seas cover

Annika Fridasdottir endangered the secrets of legendary Iceland five years ago. Her sister took the blame and went into exile. Annika’s been searching for her ever since. David Kentewess is leading an expedition to Iceland and is desperate to solve the mystery of his own origins. When he meets Annika, he knows she may be the key to understanding his family and the legend itself.

The steampunk worldbuilding is fantastic. Brook has built an amazing alternate history with impressive bestiaries, geographies, and inventions. David and Annika manage to be both unique and play the everyman hero very well.

Overload Flux by Carol Van Natta

overloadflux

Luka Foxe, forensic expert, gets in over his head when follows the murder of a friend to some trouble involving space mercenaries, Big Pharma, and the pan-galactic military. Also, his psychic ability is killing him. He recruits Mairwen Morganthur, eerily competent ninja guard, on his investigation as its death toll grows. Can they survive, learn to trust each other, and also get to the bottom of the murders?

If you like government conspiracies, super soldiers, and some suspense with your space colonies, this blends all of those with spaceship (and non-spaceship) action. The developing relationship between Foxe and Morganthur fits very well into the context of their mission.

Enemy Within by Marcella Burnard

Enemy Within cover

Months after Ari Idelle was freed from bug alien captivity, she’s still traumatized and moping around on a scientific expedition. Then space pirates board her ship, and she has to use all of her wits to get to the bottom of what they, the bugs, and her chain of command want from her.

Wheels within wheels and some very strong characters make this book work. The cultures and ideas of the various factions should tickle your space opera senses, and the layers of intrigue Ari and space pirate Cullin have to navigate will keep you guessing. The first chapter is available free in Portals: Volume One.