The first book in the SF series Mars Ascendant. It leaves some questions open at the end but can be otherwise read as a stand-alone

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook, kindle
Publisher: Fuzzy Slipper Publishing
Page count: 268 in the paperback version

Melanie Destin is a doctor aboard a company starship, a merchant freighter. However, the job doesn’t pay much and recently the captain was changed and Mel doesn’t like the new captain. Her only friend among the crew has gotten a better job, too. Mel is on leave at home, at Luna, until the ship leaves again. She’s saving up so that she can move to Mars and live in luxury there. One of the best ways for her to earn money is to sell medicines under the table which the new captain prevents. Also, when she returns to Luna she realizes that she’s done more harm than good to one of her former clients and so feeling enormously guilty she gives most of her saved money to the client’s family. But then reason returns and she realizes that she doesn’t have any other choice but to get back to what she was doing before medical school: prostitution. Unfortunately, she’s caught by Luna’s Morality Police and promptly fired. Fortunately, one of her old friends from med school can offer her a new job. However, that new job turns out to be something quite different than what she was told beforehand.

From the start, Mel is a shady character. But she knows it and sometimes tries to make up for what she’s done in the past. She’s also distrustful of others and looking out for herself, because nobody else will. But’s she’s extremely loyal and always trying to work herself up and out of her situation.

As you might expect, bad guys are really bad. They don’t hesitate to murder, blackmail, and manipulate. The main baddie, known as Regis Mundi, has a thing for Ancient Roman customs. Although it seems that the others have the same because the Terran military space ship which we see is called Athena and a couple of other space ships are called Helios and Requiem.

The plot has more mystery and intrigue elements than action. Many of the characters manipulate each other and the reader is left guessing which character is going to betray who next. Mel’s chapters are written in first person but the others are from third person POV. There are several other POV characters, most of them the bad guys, plotting to get what they want.

The world-building was good. We only visit one city on Luna, Armstrong, which seems to be pretty run-down place. There’s also a sharp contrast between the old freighter Mel is on first and the new spaceships. We don’t really see Mars yet just what people think about it. Pretty much everyone has cortical implants and nano-tech plays a big part.

Unfortunately, the book has lots of typos. Also, I ended up wondering why Mel didn’t rent her apartment when she was away. After all, she clearly needed the money and she knew when she was going to come back. But she did live in the seedy side of town so maybe it would have been too much of a hassle to try to get a reputable renter. However, leaving the apartment for squatters seems to me a lot riskier option. Also, sometimes the choices of some of the characters didn’t make much sense.

Otherwise, this was an enjoyable read. Mel was definitely an entertaining main character and the plot moved at a good pace.