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The first book in the Planetside SF duology.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 8 hours 38 minute
Narrator: R. C. Bray

Colonel Carl Butler is on semi-retirement from active duty. Many think of him as a war hero. When his old friend Admiral Serata contacts him about an investigation job on a far away planet of Cappa Three, he’s not thrilled. It seems that the son of a powerful politician has gone missing and the politician is demanding answers. The son is a lieutenant in the space force. Butler is reluctant to agree because he has bad history with Cappa Base. But he does agree.

When Butler, his young aide, and a seasoned bodyguard arrive on the base, after three months in cryosleep, the base is still fighting against alien population. Most of the soldiers on the base view him with distrust and suspicion but he tries to put their fears to rest. The official report shows that the young lieutenant was wounded and disappeared on the way to the hospital. The soldiers are tight-lipped, so Butler has his work cut out for him.

The book is told in first person. Butler is a seasoned soldier who doesn’t really think of himself as part of the brass. He’s no-nonsense type with a dry sense of humor. He drinks hard, which surprised me a bit at first, but it understandable when we find out about his history. He’s married and the book has a few mentions of his wife Sharon but she doesn’t appear. In the past, he has been sent to war on far away planets which is done by putting him into cryosleep. At one point he says that thanks for cryosleep he’s already 13 years younger than his wife.

Butler focuses on unraveling the mystery on Cappa Base. This is a mystery story as much as military SF. In this world, Earth has conquered several planets and basically plundered them for their natural resources. On Cappa Three, 90% of the population supports trade with Earth but the remaining 10% fight a guerrilla war against the Earth forces who want to practically strip-mine the planet. However, we don’t see much of the aliens as the action is focused on the human military. In fact, the Cappans feel like they’re just an afterthought or a substitute for a historical enemies. (They have yellow skin and big, slanted eyes…)

However, the mystery pulled me in, even if the world-building could have been deeper. I enjoyed Butler’s first-person POV and his attitude.

The narrator was very good and suited the voice of Butler very well.

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A stand-alone trilogy of science fiction novellas: Collision, Impact, and Maelstrom. With dinosaurs!

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 36 minute
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller, Andrew Eiden, Amy Landon

These three novellas were a fun ride! Each has a different point-of-view character and a different narrator. All of them are in first person and present tense.

Doctor Elizabeth Callie works in a rural Chinese hospital. When a man fights with the security guards in the hospital, Elizabeth calms him down and does what she can for someone she thinks is the man’s father. The locals claim that the man and his father are tribesmen from nearby desert. But in the X-rays she finds something remarkable: the men have deformities which mean they aren’t modern humans. They are, in fact, neanderthals. Elizabeth thinks that she’s found a neanderthal tribe which has survived to modern day. She takes the man and one collage, Chen, and they head to the desert. But the place is heavily guarded by Chinese military and Elizabeth finds out more than she bargained for: the tribe if from another Earth. Also, there are portals between different Earths in different dimensions and the Earths are heading for collision which will destroy them.

In “Impact”, NYC mounted police Mark finds himself in an alternate world when our Earth collides with another. He teams up with a paramedic Vicki and together they try to survive, help other people, and even find a way back home. They fight saber tooth cats as well as some dinosaurs

The third book has another point-of-view character and most of the characters from the previous novellas meet. It’s good conclusion to the story.

These are fun and fast-paced SF thrillers. The main characters were mostly distinct from each other: Mark tried to be the stoic police officer while he has to make some very difficult choices, Elizabeth is a scientist and a doctor, excited by a potential new discovery. I also really enjoyed the portrayal of the neanderthals. They’re different from humans but clever in their own way. I also enjoyed the scenes where Elizabeth (and later another character) was communicating with the neanderthal man.

I also enjoyed the ending but I think some readers might be disappointed with it. There’s some romance but it doesn’t take over.

A stand-alone science fiction mystery.

Publication year: 1981
Format: print
Publisher: Del Rey
Page count: 246

This book in set in another world, Egara, which was originally habited by a telepathic sentient species, the Iregara. However, when Iregara sent a group of their own people to Earth, as a peaceful embassy, the telepaths were suddenly in contact with thousands of human minds and they burnt out. They became Silent, not able to send or receive telepathy. Their children were also Silent. Because the Iregara culture assumes that everyone is telepathic, the Silents have a lot of trouble and aren’t able to blend in. Indeed, even the jobs they can have are quite limited. A small group of humans have moved to Egara, as well.

Reluctantly, the Iregara have realized that they need a police force in Egara. They’ve never before needed such people and so they turn to humans. They set up a small police force, Conservators of Peace or cops, to start with, 300 cops for 300 000 people. The new police force’s results are also strictly monitored and some Iregara aren’t happy that more humans are in the world and in such visible position.

Ten Kampachalas is one of the new recruits from Earth. He’s been a leo, a law enforcement officer, for five years and is eager to get to know the new world and its habitants. However, in this time, leos on Earth must provide protection for citizens in cities which resemble warzones (some of the citizens apparently fight the leos), so the Iregara way of life is very different to him and all the other new cops. While the cops are expected to solve crimes, they’re mostly expected to act as mediators to keep the peace and to sooth the people against whom a crime has been committed.

Another new aspect is the telepathy, of course. The Iregara can’t turn it off nor use it selectively. They use it all the time on everyone. Even their languages are mostly verbs and nouns designed to arouse emotions and thoughts which the others’ can pick up and understand what it meant. This is, of course, a very challenging to the humans and to the Silents. However, Ten does his best to cope.

The other, more minor, view point character is Director Devane Brooks. In addition to getting the new department going in a new culture and on a new planet, he has a young son and a wife who only came to Egara because of Devane’s career. She’s humiliated and annoyed that the Iregara can read her every thought.

Someone starts to kill the cops. Ten and the other cops must find the killer as quickly as possible.

The book is focused on exploring the telepathic culture and on the culture clash between the humans and the Iregara. It’s not a fast-paced book but I enjoyed the new culture a lot and found the book very interesting. The world-building was much more intriguing than the plot or the characters. The Iregara are bipedal sentients and while they aren’t completely incomprehensible, they’re far more alien than most aliens.

This is a collection of two novellas and two short stories in the Ruby Callaway urban fantasy series. Each happens in a different time period: 1812, 1993, 1959, 2006.

Publication year: 2016-2017
Format: ebook, kindle
Publisher: Watchfire Press
Page count: none in Kindle

Bone Realm (1812): Rebecca Callaway is working in her late father’s business: Liberty Printworks which has also an unofficial apothecary for magical stuff. When a terribly wounded man and a talking dog enter the shop, Rebecca knows that she’s in trouble, especially when the dog reveals that the man’s half-demon. However, for a high price Rebecca (who will soon change her name to Ruby) agrees to try to help him. But the half-demon’s pursuers manage to get into the shop because they’re local policemen. During the fight, the shop is burnt down. Rebecca manages to save very little and must flee with the half-demon and the talking dog. Soon, she must find a way to defeat 1600-year old werewolf or die herself.

This novella sets up is Ruby’s life as a magical bounty-hunter and introduces the world to readers.

Silver Tempest (1993): An Elven King has hired Ruby to find his daughter who has run away… to live with vampires. Elves are very good creatures, and this is a terrible thing to happen to an elven princess. Getting her away isn’t going to be easy at all.

Kentucky Clear (1959): Ruby was hired by an old vampire because someone has stolen a shipment of blood. She’s tracked the thief to a remote log house which has a distillery. But the situation soon becomes very complicated and dangerous.

Going Home (2006): Ruby has been hired to take down a rogue Fae who lives to create chaos. He starts by holding an entire upper-class restaurant to hostage. Things get complicated from there.

For the most part these were enjoyable reads. Ruby has a hot temper and, as she’s fond of thinking, she isn’t there to help widows and orphans. She wants easy gigs so that she can get the money, but things rarely go smoothly. However, she does sometimes help people almost reluctantly. She’s quick to act and talk, and thinks later. She also often takes instant dislike to people and isn’t afraid to say so, usually with a string of profanities. The only partner she wants is her enchanted shotgun.

However, the first novella was somewhat disjointed. Couple of times it seemed that quite a lot of time had gone by and rather mysterious things had happened. The other three are more straightforward and action oriented.

The world-building was very interesting. Earth seems to be just one realm out of nine and Ruby can go from one realm to another but only from specific locations. This last bit was revealed in the final story so during the previous stories I wondered a couple of times why she wouldn’t just jump out of danger but apparently she can’t do that. Her powers aren’t well defined: in addition to being able to walk from one realm to another she can see “wisps” around people or things and these tell her something. She calls it intuition which give her nudges to one direction or another.

The world seems to have demons, the underworld, various fae, and other supernatural creatures such as vampires and werewolves. They’re hiding from ordinary people.

The first book in a modern thriller series about assassin Will Robie.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Page count: 423

Will Robie is an assassin working for the US government. And not just any assassin, but the best they have. We see two of his jobs right at the start of the story. Both targets are vile men, one a drug lord in Mexico and another rich and powerful Saudi-Arabian prince who wants to return the whole world to Middle Ages, especially for women. In work, Robie is ruthless, meticulous, and utterly focused. In his civilian life, he’s alone and prefers that way because his job would make it extremely hard to maintain any relationships and they could be used against him. But an attractive young woman has moved next door and Robie is attracted to her. He’s also just turned 40 and is wondering how he can continue to do his physically very demanding job and what could he possibly do instead.

However, during the next jo, everything goes wrong. Robie is assigned to kill someone he thinks is a terrorist cell member right in D.C. But when he goes to her home he finds out that she’s a government employee and a single mother to two young children. In the end, he can’t kill her, but a back-up sniper does the job for him. Robie didn’t know about the back-up. He leaves the surviving baby with a neighbor and under alias boards a bus to New York. He knows that his former employers are now after him.

Meanwhile, Julie Getty is a 14-year old who is in and out of foster care because of her parents’ drug abuse habits. But now her mother has sent her a note that they’ll all go to New York and start a life together. Julie escapes from her foster parents, who also drug users and take kids in just for the money, and sneaks to home. But she returns only to see her parents killed by a strange man. Julie runs and boards the bus going to New York. The same bus where Robie is.

Robie notices that a man tries to kill the girl and he stops it. They get off the bus and moments later it explodes. What is going on and whom can they trust?

This was a quick, fast-paced read. The twists come quickly and make it impossible to know whom to trust. The bad guys seem to have infinite pockets and the ability to turn even trusted government agents into enemies. The writing style is terse with little descriptions. The dialog, too, is quite trimmed down. This fits the story and make the mood tenser and keeps the reader turning pages.

Robie works with FBI agent Nicole Vance but has to constantly watch what he tells her. Vance is a great character: dedicated to her job and competent. Julie is quite mature for a teenager because she knows that her parents are struggling with drug-use, and she’s seen quite a lot of nasty things in the foster care system. She acts tough. She’s very focused on finding her parents’ killer, even going into danger to get them.

Baldacci touches on some serious real-life issues, such as US Army veteran treatments and homeless people.

This was pretty entertaining read and a nice change of pace.

The first book in the Risen Kingdoms fantasy series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 18 and 27 minutes
Narrator: Erin Bennett
Publisher: TOR

Jean-Claude is a young, loyal musketeer to the king of l’Empire Céleste, Leon XIV, and the king has commanded Jean-Claude to go and witness the birth of a noble child. Jean-Claude has never been comfortable in sky ships but when the king commands, his musketeer spends six weeks on a sky ship. Even when the child will be born to the comte and comtess des Zephyrs who are evil people by any standard. After a terrible journey, Jean-Claude arrives just in time for the birth. But things go wrong because instead of a son the comte hopes for, the child is a girl and her left hand is malformed. Only Jean-Claude’s quick thinking saves the girl from a quick death because the Temple says that all malformed children are evil and should die at birth.

The king orders Jean-Claude to stay with the girl, Isabelle. She grows up in the vile household and her father tests her often for any sign of magic. Des Zephyrs are descended from saints and therefore have inborn magical talent for blood magic; as Sanguinare they command their shadows which require blood sacrifice. Unfortunately for Isabelle, she doesn’t seem to have inherited any magic. Her father makes it very clear that she’s a disappointment to him and even goes so far that when she and her best friend Marie are 14, the comte makes Marie into a bloodshadow. Essentially, the young girl’s spirit is dead, but her body still shuffles around, without a will of her own, and the comte can use the girl to spy on Isabelle, or anything happening near Marie. Driven by guilt, Isabelle takes on the duty of caring for Marie who can’t care for herself anymore.

Isabelle’s future is uncertain but she’s a smart girl and enjoys studying mathematics and science, including the science of magic. However, women are forbidden to study them, and she must do so in secret. Jean-Claude protects her as much as he can even though he has to pretend to be a wastrel and a drunk.

The story really starts when an artifex brings a message that prince Julio of the Kingdom of Aragoth wants to marry Isabelle in order to secure a peace between their two countries. Isabelle’s mother is King Leon’s aunt so she’s part of the royal family and can make such alliances. However, because of her congenitally deformed hand, many people see her as evil and even heretical, so she’s very surprised by the offer. But in the end, she’s eager to escape her father and to see the world and so she agreed.

However, she and Jean-Claude quickly realize that she’s in great danger. Not only are the people who want to see someone else married to prince Julio, there are many other factions in play. Julio’s father is dying and the battle for succession is just starting.

Isabelle is a very determined and compassionate young woman. She’s loyal to her friends and still takes care of Marie herself because her maids are too scared of the bloodshadow. She’s smart, too, and shows it. Jean-Claude is a middle-aged man who is also showing his age. Still, he adores Isabelle and doesn’t regret essentially losing a lot of years of his life while guarding her when she grew up.

This book has a very interesting world with magic and religion. There are two kinds of magic, at least as far as we know: blood magic and mirror magic. Blood magic is used in I’Empire Céleste and mirror magic is used in Aragoth which is traditionally Céleste’s enemy. Mirror magic makes for a great weapon for Isabelle’s enemies because the Glasswalkers can use mirrors to go to different places and escape them.

The world-building is very complex but woven well into the story. It has lots of intricate stuff and I think I missed some of them when I listened it as an audiobook so a relisten is in order before the next book. Still, I greatly enjoyed the book, the characters, and the world. The pace is somewhat slow at times (it’s not a thriller!) but never too slow for me. In addition to magic, this world has pistols and gunpowder, men who are half a person and half clockwork creature, airships and floating continents. It all works surprisingly well together! In fact, this is another excellent addition to the “fantasy musketeers” category.

Despite being the first book in a series, it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger and can be read as a stand-alone.