Trojan: Hollow Moon of Jupiter, Brian Dingle

Trojan: Hollow Moon of Jupiter, Brian Dingle

Trojan: Hollow Moon of Jupiter

Trojan: Hollow Moon of Jupiter follows chronologically from Trojan: Nefra Contact. Humanity has colonised Trojan to ensure that the Nefra can never use it as a beach head to invade Earth. Despite the social unease, and the myriad incorrect theories flying about the Nefra, there are a number of Nefra living among the colonists, mostly working in the armed forces and law enforcement. However, something is mysteriously killing street people, a fact that doesn’t attract much attention until one of the victims doesn’t end up dead – and turns out to be the brother of one of Trojan’s most notorious crime bosses.

Brian Dingle’s characters form the strong point of this book, from the seminarian-turned-crook to the sunny-natured Nefra policewoman who helps to break the string of murders, and the world-building is detailed and convincing. The main points of philosophy are told, rather than shown, which is a shame as they’re good points, but the overall story will gain the reader’s sympathy despite that, with good action scenes and dialogue. The science behind Trojan is also refreshingly well integrated into the plot, placing the story firmly as a science-fiction crime thriller, rather than a crime thriller where the characters happen to have spaceships rather than taxis. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys sci-fi.

Heartless: A Shieldmaiden’s Voice, S. R. Karfelt

Heartless: A Shieldmaiden’s Voice, S. R. Karfelt

Heartless: A Shieldmaiden’s Voice

Heartless: A Shieldmaiden’s Voice provides a thrilling prequel to S.R. Karfelt’s Kahtar: Warrior of the Ages, introducing us to Carole Blank, an orphaned, violent misfit in the USA’s foster system. Carole’s earliest memories are of other people like her: people who can hear thoughts, people who can’t abide the chemical, processed materials and foods of the modern world. However, as those memories age, Carole begins to wonder if they weren’t merely hallucinations. Her unique fighting abilities get her into trouble right through school, and draw her into the US Marines as soon as she completes her education, where her gender and abilities lead her into unlisted service in a black ops team. Both her extraordinary skill set and her mentality make the job a perfect fit … until the unexpected happens and Carole has to make some hard choices.

This is a stunning prequel novel in the Covenant Keeper series, filling in much of the series’ back story and bringing depth and colour to the story of a unique lead character. Heartless: A Shieldmaiden’s Voice is a great read as a stand-alone book or as a part of the Covenant Keepers series. The story is decorated with scenes from all over the world and punctuated with vivid secondary characters who add their own insights into the plot. S.R. Karfelt uses Carole’s adventures to highlight a central issue in today’s society, where a female, no matter how talented or successful, is expected to sacrifice ambition and career for family. Carole’s struggles with this expectation, even more than her struggles with her alienation from society, make this a compelling, thought-provoking read.

Reviewed for Reader’s Favorite.

Black Wings, Iryna K. Combs

Black Wings, Iryna K. Combs

Black Wings

The world of Black Wings is one where humanity has been irrevocably altered by science so that their exteriors reflect the most black-and-white view of their inner desires and beliefs. On the one hand, there are the Anlights, the winged and beautiful representatives of the best aspect of humanity, and on the other, the Varkins, gray-skinned, yellow-eyed predators formed from the criminals and outcasts. Annabel, the last surviving Anlight imprisoned by the Varkins, the only member of her race with black wings, has just about given up hope of ever rejoining her people when the unexpected happens: the leader of the entire Varkin race develops a sexual interest in her.

Iryna K. Combs’ Black Wings offers the reader a parable of a society with no gray areas of morality, the moment of the transformation deciding for each entity and its descendants whether good, or evil, is their lot. The action through the first two chapters is well-structured and paced, but unfortunately the middle two-thirds are much slower, the main focus being Annabel’s romantic entanglements. The action ramps up again abruptly in the last twenty pages to culminate in the final battle of good against evil, winding up the story begun in chapters one and two. Overall, this is a fairly light, easy read, well-suited to younger readers, with good scene-setting that in many ways forms the main strength of the story.

The Block, Richard Seaman

The Block, Richard Seaman

The Block: Just Live ‘cuz You Can

One day, the stock markets crashed and kept on going. A victim of its drive to world disarmament, the United States government finally admitted bankruptcy, and the shockwaves travelled out in many directions. The Block: Just Live ‘cuz you Can is the story of the Baby Boomers in the early 2020s, with the central government placing the responsibility for their care on the states, pension plans vanished, and healthcare slashed to skin and bones, finding a new way to survive and look after each other. Doug Richards and his wife are two of the earliest arrivals in a community made available under the Federal Real Property Repurposing Act of 2025. It will come to be known as The Block.

The Block is a near-future what-if story, showcasing Richard Seaman’s incredibly strong characterisation as he describes how an incredibly motley group of older people band together and find ways to cope without the healthcare, the pensions, and the government support they’d been told to expect all their lives. Doug Richards is the protagonist of the story, and his first-person narration lets you experience his resilience and courage first-hand as he and his neighbours learn to look after themselves, working odd jobs and gleaning crops when they need to, and using barter for skills and equipment around the neighbourhood to make sure that everyone can eat. This book will give you a glimpse of ordinary people in old bodies and extraordinary circumstances, and make you smile through tears.

Vassal, Marissa Ames

Vassal, Marissa Ames

Vassal

Marissa Ames’ Vassal gives us a window into the life of Aislin, orphan, lady of a fief more or less by tolerance under the abusive lord whose ward she is. Aislin keeps her head down and obeys the laws, insane as they sometimes appear, trying to keep her people safe and fed and herself far from any official notice. Violence is racking the kingdom apart, magic users are hunted and registered to the point where concealing one is an offense punishable by torture, and Aislin’s unpleasant overlord is looking at her to be his latest wife. If that weren’t enough, a group of strange men have turned up from nowhere to work on her fief. It doesn’t take lengthy acquaintance for Aislin to get the feeling that they’re going to be trouble, but even she doesn’t guess how much.

Vassal is a wonderful example of the epic fantasy genre. The storytelling is evocative, but the characterization is where the story truly shines. This story focuses on a group of people who won’t give up on what they believe in, no matter the dangers, and no matter the odds. The world the story is set in frames the interactions perfectly, providing drama and action in plenty. Marissa Ames’ characters have worries that are very understandable, flaws that made them worthy of sympathy, and humorous moments that made me laugh out loud. I found it a really enjoyable read, the kind of book that you find yourself thinking about afterwards – definitely recommended for the fantasy readers out there.

Reviewed for Reader’s Favorite.