Book Review: Return to Dark Earth by Anna Hackett

The time and place

Earth in our far future, as intimated by the title- it’s got all kinds of irradiated beasties and killer plants! The opening takes place on a jungle planet, Mazona V. There’s also some time aboard spaceships.

The suspension of disbelief

Nuclear war rendered Earth pretty much uninhabitable. The survivors escaped into space to found new colonies. Artifacts from Earth are considered valuable archaeological treasures.

The quick summary

Niklas Phoenix left the Galactic Institute of Historic Preservation on acrimonious terms and took up treasure hunting with his brothers. The Institute has found him, though, and makes him an offer he can’t refuse: an expedition to Earth, with Nera Darc also going. Nik has a fascination with Darc he can’t get rid of, and he distrusts the Institute enough to join up to see what they are up to. Nera has always found Nik rare and intriguing, but their rivalry and the remnants of her own issues have kept them apart. Finally working together on the expedition, they have the luxury to decide what they mean to each other. But first, they have to survive zombies, giant mutant cats, acid-spitting plants, and internal sabotage.

My squees

Our protagonists, separately and together. Niklas is, as Nera says, a good man. The two have been tangling since the beginning of the series, and I do recommend reading the first three Phoenix Adventures books before this one for a little more background on them. Niklas makes a great Indiana Jones, scholar and adventurer, and his respect for Nera is evident even while dirty things are happening. I was a little worried Nera’s character would get watered down from what I read in earlier books, but those worries were put to rest (by zombies!). Nera Darc continues to be the baddest treasure hunter in the galaxy, with human issues that she’s somewhat dealt with, like most of us. She’s not completely trapped by her past but it does give her hangups. The way she falls for Nik and opens up to him feels natural, and her protectiveness (while trusting his competence and letting him stand on his own) made me feel all warm and cozy. They make an excellent team, and I cheered them on through the whole story.

The action is filmic. Chase scenes, booby traps, sword and gun fights, gladiator rings, it can make your head spin. With all that, I still somehow have a good idea as to the sequence of events. It’s more coherent than the majority of action movies I’m familiar with. Everything is consistent and ties together nicely. Heck, why isn’t this a movie?

It’s also fun to see the radioactive world Hackett has built, abounding with monsters, mutants, treasures, and environmental hazards. The horrors are vivid and scary. The ruins of my beloved New York City got me thinking, “Could we really do this to ourselves someday?” We also make stops in savage Mexico and Peru, and I was always curious to see what the team would discover next!

My grumbles

The villains are shallow. Their motives are believable but not complex, and I believe there are actual villainous cackles. It’s a sharp contrast to the well-developed protagonists.

I am very burned out on zombies. These are well-done and not garden-variety, but they’re still zombies. Your mileage will vary a great deal.

Read if you

  • Enjoyed Uma Thurman’s action sequences in Kill Bill
  • Like a hero who isn’t intimidated by a lover who could slice him to ribbons
  • Spend time thinking about the ramifications of nuclear war
  • Like everyone to get what they deserve

Skip if you

  • Are allergic to zombies
  • Want to see all the different grays of morality
  • Need things slow and easy

Disclosure and final thoughts

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Also, I have a pronounced weakness for loyal scholarly types who like badass women on top. More books like this for me, please, I will buy all of them. You can read this book as a standalone story, but previous books do build up to it.

Author site: annahackettbooks.com

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Smashwords / ARE

Book review: In the Devil’s Nebula by Anna Hackett

The time and place

See the title. Lots of action happens on planet Lucifa, the Assassin’s Guild base, but there’s also some on a cowboy western planet and in space. As for time, unspecified, but in our far future.

The suspension of disbelief

Space travel exists. Long ago, people fled Earth after nuclear war, scattering its treasures and museum pieces everywhere. Those are now valuable. There are several humanoid races around, perhaps all descended from us. People live on both low and high-tech worlds.

The summary

Someone’s stolen a rash of artifacts before the Phoenix brothers, treasure hunters extraordinaire, have been able to get to them. Somebody wants their attention. They track the thief to the Devil’s Nebula, where they find an assassin named Ria Dante who wants their help stealing the Lincoln Derringer so she may buy her freedom from her Guild with it. Zayn Phoenix, an ex-Strike Wing pilot, is flabbergasted to realize Ria looks just like Viktoria Anders, his late commanding officer who he still has nightmares about. Something fishy is going on here. The brothers agree to help Ria out to stick it to the Assassin’s Guild. On their hunt for the derringer, Zayn and Ria fall in love, only to discover dangerous secrets that could destroy Ria’s life and their relationship.

My squees

Fighter pilot and assassin? Yes please. These two go toe to toe with each other physically, have lots of fun together and are well-suited for their adventures. He’s got a need for speed, and she enjoys adventure thrills. He does muck things up a few times, but it is understandable. They respect the heck out of each other and their caring becomes selfless: Ria wants to protect Zayn from the punishment for her good deeds.

Zayn has gun issues. They get him into trouble, which I appreciate. His reasons would turn me off guns, of course. Although he deals with it in one instance, he isn’t miraculously cured after that. At least, he doesn’t say so.

This book is longer than At Star’s End, which I remember I feeling was a bit short. In the Devil’s Nebula gives us a little more time with the characters so the love story feels organic. The action-adventure keeps the story moving along at a fast clip, though.

The secondary cast is varied and vivid. Eos and Dathan return, Nik continues his bizarre game with Darc, and we meet a crazy teenager who’s an explosives prodigy.

My grumbles

Zayn plunges into a nightmare pretty early in the story, but keeps his PTSD a secret from his brothers. It’s a bit surprising since they seem so close.

There’s a character at the end who spills all the details of a complicated operation to enemies. He does this with very little threat or prompting. Why does he tell all of this to people he knows are hostile? I would have preferred our heroes to put the pieces together, perhaps researching/hacking a console at the site.

This is the third Phoenix Adventures book in a row I’ve read where the female protagonist does not have (by birth or by grooming) a certain kind of body hair and the male considers this sexy. That kind of squicks me out with its consistency.

Read if you

  • Enjoy action-adventure plots
  • Have a soft spot for wounded warriors
  • Like your love scenes picante

Skip if you

  • Want a slow, deliberate love story
  • Avoid swear words
  • Think people without hair that a bikini would cover are a giant turn-off

Disclosure:

I’m a member of Anna’s Launch Team. I purchased this book on my own.

With what Zayn’s been through, I’d assume he needs a psychologist. Although he can face the events on Lucifa with some closure now, I doubt the horrifying scenes he remembers will just fade away. Ria also has plenty left to process at the end of the story, and I hope we see those ideas explored in their appearances in further books. I do recommend you read At Star’s End to get a bit more on Zayn, but it’s not necessary.

Author site: annahackettbooks.com

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Kobo

Book Review: On a Cyborg Planet by Anna Hackett

The time and place

Centax, a space colony in our future.

The suspension of disbelief

Space travel exists. Long ago, people fled Earth after nuclear war, scattering its treasures and museum pieces everywhere. There are several humanoid races around, perhaps all descended from us. The Centaxians put cybernetic implants in all of their citizens to make them better/faster/stronger, but more implants tend to deaden emotions.

The quick summary

The head of government on Centax, Axton Saros, is recovering from a coup attempt and traumatized from his torture and imprisonment. Centax Security officer Xenia Alexander is sent with him to recover an Old Earth artifact, the Codex da Vinci, so the national museumq can open on schedule. Axton has figured out that Xenia does have emotions and comforted him when he was in a bad way. She’s caring and protective to him, loyal to his brother (Xenia is Axton’s brother’s second in command at CenSec), good at her job, easy on his eyes, and can move “like liquid lightning” or electrocute someone in melee combat. That’s everything Axton wants from a partner, so he decides to make the most of the mission. Xenia has her reservations, though, because although she would totally tap that delicious and amazing-smelling man, she believes herself ill-suited to his life. It also wouldn’t do for people to discover she’s not the perfect emotionless Centaxian Security cyborg. How do the two of them recover the artifact and connect with each other on a dangerous retrieval job?

My squees

Lady cyborgs are a big reading inducement for me. They make me think of how we can extend our bodies’ capabilities. There is a convention in heterosexual romance stories where the male lead is presented as ‘other’ to the female lead in society: alien, werewolf, vampire, cyborg, super spy. In On a Cyborg Planet, everyone’s modded, but Xenia exceptionally so. People who are exceptional, ‘other,’ or different can feel uncomfortable in most surroundings and like interacting with the average person is foreign and difficult. Speaking directly is often a liability when interacting with people. Overcoming these difficulties to forge human relationships is a subject I find fascinating. Xenia may have trouble showing how she cares, and joining his life and interacting with the public is going to be a learning experience for her. I’d love to read more about that, but it would be a lot slower paced than the rest of the book is, so I surmise it would feel jarring.

The romance is high-octane. Xenia and Axton leap off the page and then she roundhouse kicks you and he does something naughty. Axton finds her roundhouse kicks totally hot. He’s a fictional character after my own heart. He is sweet, respectful, responsible, steady, and can talk dirty very well. When I read about them getting physical, I thought about fanning myself.

My grumbles

The letter X. Centax. Axton Saros. Xander. Xenia Alexander. The city of Haxx, the rebel Dax. It felt a little much. Even if the planet uses the letter a lot along with C and S, it holds a place in my head with silly things like xylophones. It’s not as inherently funny as ‘Kalamazoo,’ but my mirth did break my immersion.

It’s a novella. The subtleties of the characters aren’t explored- there isn’t time. There’s a late scene about a conflict that goes by in a blink and seems slightly cliche (love conquers everything?) to me. The courtship from uninvolved to engaged is also very quick.

Disclosure and final thoughts

I received this book for free for joining Anna Hackett’s mailing list. This review is unsolicited. I want more about Axton and Xenia, please- it was over too quickly for me. That would roundhouse kick everything.

Author site: annahackettbooks.com

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon / ARe / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

Book Review: At Star’s End by Anna Hackett

The time and place

The future, on various planets, spaceships, and nebulae. See the title.

The suspension of disbelief

Space travel exists. Long ago, people fled Earth after nuclear war, scattering its treasures and museum pieces everywhere. Those are now valuable. There are several humanoid races around, perhaps all descended from us.

The quick summary

Dr. Eos Rai, an astro-archaeologist at the Galactic Institute for Historical Preservation, is desperate to find Star’s End and a piece of the Mona Lisa. She can’t secure the Institute’s help, so she recruits a notorious band of treasure hunters, the Phoenix brothers. As they search, she gets involved with Dathan Phoenix, but to what end?

My squees

Eos is not a nitwit. She does not go into working with disreputable thieves with just a prayer. She already knows and trusts one of them because she used to work with him. Dathan finds her smarts super hot, and a woman who knows how to use her brain does not intimidate him.

The secondary characters are a lot of fun. The other Phoenix brothers are well defined and appealing, if susceptible to masculine idiocy (there’s a scene where they fight each other due to what I call testosterone poisoning). There’s also the treasure hunter Nera Darc, who I hope shows up again because she’s got just enough evil ninja badassery to keep the brothers on their toes. The sassy AI BE ll also kept me smiling.

There’s a cute Chekhov’s Gun moment that makes the market scene with the first kiss multipurpose. As I’ve been trying to plot a story, I mumble to myself, how do I make sure each scene is as relevant as possible to slim down the story? This scene is compact and accomplishes a lot.

My grumbles

The auction scene feels a bit contrived. Let’s make our heroine a damsel and need comforting later! Wait, what? I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to get out of it, the results of her ordeal would have happened organically without it.

Dathan and Eos are people I’d enjoy going on an adventure with, but not that complex compared to the secondary characters. Their motivations are similar and easily understood.

Read if you

  • Like tattooed bad-boy protagonists
  • Want your science fiction romance action-packed
  • Thought a lady could make a great Indiana Jones

Skip if you

  • Are tired of hearing about daddy/mommy issues
  • Have read about enough slave auctions and kidnapping
  • Prefer slow attraction and explorations of human emotions and relationships

Final thoughts

There’s considerable heat level in this short novel, both in sensuality and in action. I’m going to keep reading the Phoenix Adventures because I want to hear more about Zayn, Darc, and Niklas.

Author site: annahackettbooks.com

Other resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Carina Press / Barnes and Noble