Sunday, November 22, 2015

Book Reviews

A look at some recently read books. First, two licensed novels in familiar universes, handled in vastly different manners. Then, the first in a wonderful new 19th Century supernatural series. 

Star Trek Mirror Universe: Sorrows of Empire by David Mack 

Mack knows the Star Trek Universe like the back of his hand. Here he takes a cue from part of evil Spock’s final speech in the original series episode Mirror, Mirror. He continues the ideas and events from that show. In the episode, evil goateed Spock admits to our universe’s Kirk that on its present course, his empire will fall within the next 140 years. Kirk tells him that is an illogical waste of resources and mental and physical capital. In this novel, after much consideration, Spock agrees and goes about changing things. He uses the assassination device in evil Captain Kirk’s quarters to gain mastery over the Enterprise, then uses that, guile and strategy to become the undisputed ruler of the formerly evil empire. Along the way he finds some surprising allies who support his mission, including a familiar character as a mate/partner. Of course his realignment strategy requires attitude adjustments from those presently in power, and Spock and his team have to contend with major resistance. The kind with large, destructive weapons. 

The story takes place over at least a decade, with Spock’s ultimate triumph depending on his ultimate defeat—but the timing has to be perfect. Will he end up betrayed and going down in flames too soon? Will his allies stay with him to the end despite the cost? The answers are a blast to discover. 

I actually don’t read many licensed books on any property, most of them just aren’t very good. Because I love the Mirror Universe I thought I’d try this one, and it was outstanding. This is the first Star Trek novel I’ve read by David Mack. It will not be the last. He has a real handle on the voices of the ST characters, even ones in the Mirror Universe. An excellent read. 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars 

Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne 

On the other hand, here is media tie-in fiction gone horribly wrong. I like Hearne’s modern urban magic series The Iron Druid Chronicles well enough, but this novel about Luke Skywalker directly after destroying the Death Star is a total loser. I feel a bit bad for Hearne, it must be tough writing a novel about this period in the Star Wars Universe. Luke has not started his Jedi training and doesn’t know his true heritage. He has only minor use of the Force, and is basically a callow, foolhardy young man. But that is no excuse for this wincing, teeth-grindingly awful story. It is in turn bland and soulless. The writing is totally generic and boring science fiction. Luke goes on a quest with a rich merchant’s daughter to find ... something, I forget what. Her father is a caricature of a character who would be played in the movie by a preening Brian Blessed. I suffered about a third of the novel, up to the point where Luke and the girl go into a fast food restaurant (yes, a Space McDonald’s), and Luke tries to move a spilled noodle on the table with the power of the Force. That was dumb enough, but the author made a big deal that Luke ordered what he called “Nerf nuggets.” At first I laughed. That was stupid but funny. But they just kept saying it. The girl said this joint had the best Nerf nuggets. Luke orders the Nerf nuggets. He proceeds to sit down and complement the chef on the Nerf nuggets. It was as if Hearne was intentionally trying to ruin the book. I finally thought, if another character mentions Nerf nuggets, I am outta here! The next sentence had an undercover operative telling Luke where he needed to go and his code words. His code words? You guessed it—Nerf nuggets. I instantly stopped reading and my teeth stopped grinding. I suggest you don’t start unless you have a high tolerance for mediocrity. Awful. 

Rating: I didn’t finish the book, so no rating. 

Things Half In Shadow by Alan Finn 

Edward Clark is an up and coming crime reporter, engaged to a fiancée from a wealthy family. He’s definitely on an upper track in the Philadelphia of 1869. At the suggestion of his editor, he decides to investigate and expose some of the more popular mediums operating in the city. Mourning their recent Civil War dead, the populace of Philadelphia have made consulting mediums a fashionable activity. When he exposes young and beautiful medium Lucy Collins as a fake, he doesn’t realize the length she will go for revenge. 

Being blackmailed by Lucy for secrets from his own past, Edward realizes she may not actually be such a bad sort after all—maybe—and they end up working together to investigate other Philly mediums. When popular medium Lenora Grimes Pastor is viciously murdered during a séance—a séance where Edward and Lucy were in attendance—suddenly both are under suspicion as suspects. Edward vows to find the real killer—no matter where the twisty road leads him. And he has no idea how desperate the killer is to keep that information secret. 

Writer Alan Finn is a wonderful new voice in fantasy. He weaves a compelling plot and vivacious characters into a novel I couldn’t put down. Edward’s life of secrets, held for the best reasons, is torn down around his ears and he could lose all he holds dear. Lucy Collins is a total fake and grifter, but does she have a reason to be such? How does her own background make her a sympathetic character, despite her sins? And was Lenora Grimes Pastor that rarest of all rarities—a person with real powers to talk to the deceased? All questions are answered in a breathtaking resolution that leaves the reader wanting to know more about these characters and their world. I did email Alan Finn to tell him how much I enjoyed this book, and he did reply to let me know there would be more in the series. I can’t wait! Highly recommended. 

Rating: ****½ out of 5 stars

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