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Children of Zero, Andrew Calhoun

Children of Zero, Andrew Calhoun

Children of Zero (The Planet Zero Trilogy Book 1)

Children of Zero has an original take on the multiple-universe theory, positing a system of portals between worlds. One is our Earth. Another link in the portals is VGCP Eleven, home to a female-dominated society in the pre-steam age. Yet another is the dead world of Zero. When Merrick Kettle boards a transfer flight off Diego Garcia, he’s expecting a routine flight to his next posting, but instead he ends up on VGCP Eleven, a prisoner of mutineers and possessed of an uncanny ability to understand their language.

The settings for this story were richly-detailed and convincing, and the multiple-world setting allowed author Andrew Calhoun leeway to bring in everything from modern-day armed forces to pirates to advanced civilisations. In some respects, the multiple settings and the multiple characters that went with them made the story feel fractured, and difficult to get into; it felt as if every time I got immersed in a story, it switched point of view. Possibly related to this, there were key items underpinning the story (like the Enders and the world of Zero) that drove a lot of the action, but didn’t get a lot of airtime. I did enjoy the book, but it would benefit from a detailed developmental edit to smooth out the transitioning and shore up the background.

 

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The Rise of Ares, Serge Alexandr

The Rise of Ares, Serge Alexandr

The Rise of Ares: Mortal Sins (Volume 1)

Serge Alexandr’s The Rise of Ares: Mortal Sins is the story of an intricately-envisioned future solar system. Humanity has reached the outer fringes of the Oort cloud, and most policy is de facto formed by the Bank. Privilege is marked by the amount of genetic and machine modification that an individual can afford. Ares, raised in the underbelly of stations through the solar system, has defaulted on his education loan to get his hands on as much illegal tech as he can, and he’s dangerously close to being sucked into the rising underground movement. Evading the fallout from an illegal station entry in a back-alley bar, the last thing Ares expects is an encounter that will change his life…

The Rise of Ares showcases rich world-building and believable characters, and Serge Alexandr’s complex solar system politics add an entire twisty dimension to the plot. Immense corporations monopolise everything, and their CEOs, in turn, bow only to the Bank. Unafraid the explore the interface where man becomes machine, the author experiments with everything from genetic modification to bio-mechanical clones, and the suppression of the less-privileged and less-modified underclasses shades in a chilling and contemporary backdrop. With explosive action and a series of double-crosses, this story will leave you begging for a sequel.

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Ghostlight, Rabia Gale

Ghostlight, Rabia Gale

Ghostlight (The Reflected City Book 1)

Trey’s job is to keep Lumen safe from marauding spirits. After the Great Incursion, that job is something that cannot be taken lightly. So when he comes across the spirit of a young lady on his way home from a night out, his duty is apparently quite clear; send her on. Somehow, it doesn’t quite happen as he expects, and instead, Trey and Arabella find themselves in the position of having to work together to defend Lumen from a much greater threat – and form an unlikely alliance in so doing.

Ghostlight is the first in the Reflected City series, and as always when I open a Rabia Gale novel, I found myself hooked from the first page. Whether it’s steampunk sci-fi or gaslamp fantasy, the author’s story-telling ability is unquestionable. It’s also refreshing to read novels where the interaction between characters is based on personalities and common goals, rather than who’s going to fall into bed with whom. The world-building is excellent, evoking a solid sense of place and period without getting hung up on the details. Trey is a most original protagonist; he manages to embody the somewhat crotchety ‘get off my lawn’ personality in the person of the young and highly eligible Lord St. Ash, and the conflict between society’s expectations of him and his personal inclinations adds ongoing hilarity to the read. Overall, I highly recommend this book; I was laughing and reading out bits to my partner within minutes of opening it.

The Hills of Mare Imbrium, Carleton Chinner

The Hills of Mare Imbrium, Carleton Chinner

The Hills of Mare Imbrium (Cities of the Moon Book 1)

Jonah Barnes is a rich-kid junkie, sent to the Lunar Peoples Republic of Jiangnan to get him out of his family’s hair – and to scatter his brother’s ashes. With no plans for his future, he falls in with the first friendly face he finds, Lucien Jones, one of the Moon Folk. With the current Lunar administrator close to retirement, the pressure on resource production and bias against the Moon Folk has reached new heights, and when violence nearly kills both Jonah and Lucien, Jonah discovers that Lucien is more than he seems.

The Hills of Mare Imbrium is a strong debut sci-fi thriller with some clear homages to the Heinlein classic, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Author Carleton Chinner has set the story in a Lunar future where China has taken charge of the Moon, and those who have adapted to Lunar conditions, the Moon Folk, are a discriminated-against sub-population. I found the story concept and some of the settings were a very strong point in this book; the characters would have drawn me in more with a little more development, and the Moon Folk dialect tended to waver between scenes, but the backdrops to the adventures were richly-imagined and well-written. I would recommend this book to sci-fi fans and especially to those folk who enjoy both sci-fi and RPG gaming.

Blood and Ink, Holly Evans

Blood and Ink, Holly Evans

Blood & Ink (Ink Born Book 2)

Dacian Corbeaux and his tattoo partner Keirn have fled to Prague, and are living embedded on the edge of the Magical Quarter, under the protection of a powerful wood elf named Fein. However, rumours of an ink magician in the city are spreading despite all the protection the elf can give, and Dacian’s relationship with the ink is still uncertain – too uncertain to allow him to interpret the message it’s trying to give him so urgently that he can hardly focus on the work he does to earn his protection. Between that and personal crises in his household, the situation in Prague is precarious.

Blood and Ink is a strong sequel to Stolen Ink, with a strong focus on Dacian and Keirn and a completely new setting. The book would stand alone, but reading the first one provides more context to the backstory, and the world-building is more than rich enough to merit reading both. The skilled pacing and story-telling that shone in the first book are still present in the second, although I did feel that the characters’ personal lives detracted some of the focus from the main plot. It’s hard to get too worried about this, however, as the characters are one of the key strengths of the series – cynical, well-developed, and part of a truly unique magic system. I would recommend this book – and the series – to any readers of urban fantasy looking for something new.