Book Review: Without a Front – The Warrior’s Challenge by Fletcher DeLancey

The time and place

This book picks up right where Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge ends. Read that book first.

The suspension of disbelief

See Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge.

The quick summary

Andira Tal is recovering from an attempt on her life with her new love by her side when the machinations against her finally bear fruit. Her resources are depleted, and she has very little time to counter the threat. Can she get out of this mess with her job, her family, and her life intact?

My squees

DeLancey has given a ton of attention to detail in the world and plot. I felt Alsea as very real and cohesive, and the plot is complex but not difficult to understand. The action scenes are easy to follow, and so are the foreign-to-me celebrations and traditions we see.

The love story has some credible conflict and two incredible women, and the familial and friendship relationships are rich and believable. Andira’s lady shows incredible resolve and strength while remaining human. She grows to assert herself even more in this book, and that makes Andira grow and change for the better in response.

My grumbles

The idea of someone (divine or technological) selecting soul mates for each other doesn’t grab me. As TV Tropes says, your mileage may vary.

Some of the issues highlighted in the first book felt like a distant memory here. I wanted to know the status of the named asylum seekers and troubled veterans, since I’d grown to care about them and I thought they were situations that still needed more addressing. Perhaps that will come up in further books.

Read if you

  • Can handle many twisty plot threads
  • Want many strong characters to sigh over

Skip if you

  • Can’t deal with a little nonhuman biology (think Star Trek aliens)
  • Need a quick, light read
  • Are creeped out by empaths

Final thoughts

I received a review copy, but also borrowed this book from the library for the time it took me to read it. Almost everything gets wrapped up in this novel, after three long books! The couple and memorable secondary characters each get their deserved resolution or at least a break after so many exhausting trials. I’m curious to know what will be next for the world of Alsea- I look forward to reading about the further adventures of several intriguing characters. I’m no television buff, but I believe that these books would translate well to a miniseries. Someone pick up that option!

Resources: Author siteGoodreads / Amazon / Kobo / Ylva Publishing

Book Review: Jumper’s Hope by Carol Van Natta

Jumper's Hope cover art

The time and place

About a thousand years from now. Action takes place on fairly backwater planet Branimir, on the passenger-freighter Faraon Azul, and in the city of Ridderth on planet Mabingion, the site of a brutal city riot several years before the book begins.

The suspension of disbelief

Humans have colonized many planets and developed space travel. Some humans have psychic powers, referred to as “minder talents.” These talents include mind control, healing, telekinetics, detection of other powers, and plenty more. Those who have them are often pressed into the Minder Corps of Citizen Protection Services: essentially the galactic police.

The quick summary

Retired pilot Kerzanna crashes on the planet Jess has retired to. It’s no simple accident—someone wants her dead. Jess finds and rescues her, to both their confusion, as they were each convinced the other died several years ago. The two try to lay low and make their escape, but somebody has a tempting offer for them that could give them a chance of a future together. All they need to do is deliver some information. Easier said than done when the baddies are still after Kerzanna.

My squees

Kerzanna is one of the most interesting cyborgs I’ve read about in SFR. Cybernetics aren’t all sunshine and roses while we still have flesh. Like prosthetics now, they cause stress on other systems and need constant tweaking. I like how the CPS deactivated some of her capabilities and there was a side market for restoring them, it felt very punk. Kerzanna and Jess are mature adults who use their experience wisely during the course of the story. Though he’s retired, he has problems due to some mismanagement by his workplace. There’s a bit of upside to that oversight, but of course there is also a price for taking advantage of that. It makes me think hard about how organizations treat their employees.

The villainous troupe is entertaining. Davidro is an easy fellow to understand, and watching the way he tries to handle his underlings keeps making me snicker. I felt sympathy for Vahan, who may be cold-blooded and callous, but has to deal with a difficult job. Renner the electric talent has gotten more interesting through the series, and Georgie the forecaster and the others are memorable. Those who slip Davidro’s leash still have parts to play, even if they pay vividly terrible prices.

There’s a battle in space, and it’s exciting. Keeping track of the minor characters involved there is easy. Van Natta is good at making them distinctive and choosing interesting names.

My grumbles

I had a lot of trouble visualizing the layout of the passenger-freighter ship. That could just be my own spatial reasoning problems. What’s a nav pod, and why can it do what it does in the story?

There are several time jumps near the end of the book. Sometimes it felt like events were skipped over a bit abruptly, which made keeping track of them a little difficult for me.

Read if you

  • Enjoy a tale of reunited lovers
  • Like an interesting stable of villains
  • Are really into competent cyborg heroines

Skip if you

  • Want your heat level higher than sweet
  • Shy away from violence
  • Prefer a primary focus on the love story

Disclosure and final thoughts

I received an advance reader copy for review purposes.

Don’t read this book on its own. Earlier books introduced these villains and their motives, and that makes the experience much richer. The leads get their happy ending, but there’s a twist for some characters which makes me very excited to read the next book. The way the characters have been built over time makes me curious about where some of them will end up.

Each entry in the Central Galactic Concordance is a bit different in tone. This one felt most like Overload Flux, with some spaceboard and plenty of hand-to-hand action. If you’re curious about other books in the series, I also reviewed Minder Rising and Pico’s Crush.

Author site: http://author.carolvannatta.com/

Resources: Kobo / Goodreads / Amazon / Google Play / iBooks / aRE

Book Review: Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge by Fletcher Delancey

The time and place

The time is the far future. On Planet Alsea the inhabitants are humanoids with empathic powers. Most of the events take place in Blacksun, the capital, and the landholdings of the Opah family, called Hol-Opah.

The suspension of disbelief

Empathic humanoids with forehead and pelvic ridges developed on another planet. In the previous book, we learned that the ancient human settlers here might have tinkered a bit with fish people to produce the Alseans. An alien spaceship crashed on Alsea not long ago, and with it Alsea had to fight off some technologically advanced aliens. Now that Alsea has contacted greater galactic civilization, its populace must figure out how to handle all the new technology they have access to.

The quick summary

After repelling an alien invasion, Alsea’s leader Andira Tal now has the really hard work to deal with. Plenty of veterans and other civilians question her methods used to defend Alsea. She has squabbling castes who have differing views on what to do with the matter printers Alsea now has access to. How and when should they be introduced into the economy? The producers are afraid it will destroy their livelihoods. One such producer issues a challenge to Tal to live as a field hand for a month. Tal agrees, and finds new respect for the producers, and a chance at a life-changing love. However, a villain conspires to control Tal, and is just waiting for her to fall into his trap.

My squees

Delancey does an amazing job of describing landscapes and pageantry. The reader experiences so many aspects of society: farming, politics, the prison system, how castes work, and ceremonial swordfighting. Everything feels like it’s been carefully thought out: Alsea is a complete and detailed world, and its struggles felt convincing to me.

The romance builds slowly, and the relationship between Tal and her belle is a slow build from grudging respect to love as they interact with each other more and see beyond their preconceptions of who the other is. Tal’s lady is more than a match for the leader of Alsea- according to Tal herself! Speaking of Tal’s lady, so many characters have awesome and original names. They’re pleasant sounds in my mind.

Early on, Delancey handles questions of prisoners of war, euthanasia, and the unexpected victims of warfare. There’s a lot to consider here, given the events of The Caphenon, and all the consequences of war and alien contact are given due consideration.

My grumbles

I’m somewhat allergic to the ‘soul mates’ trope. Although Delancey handles the relationship well, with the women figuring out they would have bonded without divine intervention, it’s something that tweaks me in any circumstance.

This book is long and ends on a cliffhanger. The pace is slowed down by occasional vignettes about Tal’s adversary. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much to latch on about the villain. He’s vague about his machinations and his motivations seem pretty simple. I would have liked some more details (like his pet rabbit or something) about him to make him more intriguing to me.

Read if you

  • Are starved for f/f romances in science fiction
  • Want to read about mature and thoughtful adults trying to do right by those who care for them
  • Love rich details about worlds and societies

Skip if you

  • Need a quick or R-rated read
  • Hate talk about planetary politics

Final thoughts

Read The Caphenon before reading this. It will make the issues surrounding the Voloth and Tal’s despondence at the beginning of the book much clearer. I’ll definitely read Without a Front II: The Warrior’s Challenge.

Resources

Author site: Chronicles of Alsea

Goodreads / Ylva Publishing / Amazon / Amazon UK / Kobo

Book Review: Eros Element by Cecilia Dominic

Eros Element Cover Art

The time and place

London, Paris, and Rome. An alternate summer of 1870 in which the American Civil War is still going.

The suspension of disbelief

Scientists have discovered aether, the substance between matter, and can isolate it. It’s the “stuff” (medium) light passes through. There are airships with floating gondolas. Also, some people have psychic powers.

The quick summary

Iris McTavish, an archaeological expert, stands in for her father on a scientific expedition to find ways to use aether as a power source. She needs the money the project backer promises to retain her independence from an unwanted and unscrupulous suitor. While on the expedition, she finds herself drawn to Edward Bailey, the aether scientist. But nobody on the expedition is what they seem to be. With enemies determined to disrupt the trip at every turn, can Edward and Iris unlock the potential of the Eros Element?

My squees

Not everyone would like the hero, Professor Bailey, but he makes me go squee. He’s querulous and neurotic and sweet and intelligent and tenderhearted. The high-maintenance professor type. His admiration for Iris is a complex thing: they share a passion of discovery while constantly challenging each other.
Our heroine, meanwhile, is plenty paranoid. If she touches significant objects with her bare hands, she has uncontrollable visions of the people and places the object has been associated with, and this has made her see ugly things. She chafes at the restrictions her gender and economic consequences have placed upon her. At one point, someone calls her on her detachment, thinking it’s unnatural for a woman to be so composed when she’s witnessed something so horrible. That’s her way to cope, though, she’s smart and means well. The secrets she keeps are understandable and she has good reason to not confide in people.
The baddies are convincing. There’s a visceral immediate threat, and also a more mysterious far-ranging one.

My grumbles

Despite the title, this book is PG. I don’t mind that when I expect it, but I did wonder if there would be more of the sensual in dealings with the Eros Element.
I felt that the cast’s traveling around was a whirlwind, and I didn’t get the feel of all the cities as differentiated from each other (except the culinary details).
There was also lots of setup done in this book that fleshed out the secondary characters, not because of their importance now, but because they might be the foci of later books in the series. The book raises a lot of questions it doesn’t answer probably until later in the series.

Read if you

  • Require keen intellect in your reads
  • Enjoy ensemble casts
  • Are interested in ancient conspiracies

Skip if you

  • Want a he-man hero
  • Are looking for a high heat level
  • Hate airships

Final thoughts

I chose to review this book because its hero is a little different. There’s a mix of science and the paranormal in this steampunk read.

Resources: Author site / Goodreads / Amazon / Kobo / iBooks / Google Play

Book review: Through Uncharted Space by Anna Hackett

through_uncharted_space cover

 

The time and place

The far future, all over space. We see action aboard a deep space convoy, Planet Sulla, and a marine planet. Planet Sulla has a very civilized-looking society with some giant underlying problems.

The suspension of disbelief

Humans have colonized the galaxy after they made Earth uninhabitable with nuclear weapons. There are plenty of humanoid aliens around, but I’m not clear on whether they are offshoots of humanity or were already out there by the time we were exploring space.

The quick summary

Scam artist Dakota Jones is on the run from terrorist organization Golden Nova, which she infiltrated in order to steal a treasure map from. When she finds the treasure, she’ll sell it so she never has to be dependent on anyone again. However, the convoy she’s escaping on is run by Dare Phoenix, who figures out she’s not the meek worker she’s pretending to be. He offers his protection from the assassins after her if he can join her search for the treasure. She agrees reluctantly, because Dare Phoenix is dangerous to her heart. He in turn is intent on finding all there is to know about her, in every sense.

My squees

The underwater exploration sequences are amazing. All the action is clearly described and well-paced, so I felt excited but never lost. Fight scenes and adventure are well-choreographed. And of course, there’s plenty of steam (with some kink that I didn’t find distracting) so our heroes can, er, let it off when they have some moments to themselves.
The factions and locations in this story are original and detailed. Nothing feels lazy in the construction of societies and motivations. The characters are unique and fun, so I don’t have them confused with each other, or characters from other novels.

My grumbles

The situation on Sulla didn’t seem resolved, and I wondered what would become of the characters that we’d met. The planet isn’t mentioned again later, so I felt like I’d been left hanging.
I was also confused about the final confrontation with the planet’s inhabitants. After some of the trouble they’d caused, I was puzzled when they just let the Phoenixes and Ms. Jones go. I think I would have caused more of a fuss.

Read if you

  • Like undersea nature documentaries
  • Enjoy risk-taking, independent, scrappy heroines
  • Want ziplines and other action thrills to go with your sexy scenes

Skip if you

  • Need a detailed twisty noir
  • Avoid any mention of spanking or bondage
  • Require complex villains with inscrutable motivations

Disclosure and final thoughts

I received a free copy for review purposes because I am on Anna’s launch team. This is a comfort food book: if you’ve read other Hackett books you’ll be pleased to know it’s what you’d expect. To keep things interesting, the underwater world and light D/s elements aren’t something I’ve read in her other books.

 

Author site: annahackettbooks.com

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon US / Amazon Not-US / Kobo / aRe