A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Dangerous Times by Isobelle Winter — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5 This book starts out with a civil war started by King Taen by appropriating the lands of Lord Mavren, making him an enemy. Really there are huge ideological differences between the two and Mavren speaking out against what they see as issues in their society has lead to this. […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Dangerous Times by Isobelle Winter — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Sometimes, I get it wrong. I couldn’t decide if I was going to try to use the author’s pronouns for this review (ne/nem/nir) or use they/them. I wrote it with masculine pronouns because it was easier for me, meaning to switch it later, but the review was due and I forgot why I hadn’t sent it in yet. I had been out of town for two weeks and was rather sleep deprived. So, yes, I think I messed up. It was not my intention to upset anyone. Here is the review rewritten with more neutral pronouns.

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I would rate this 4.25 stars.

This book starts out with a civil war started by King Taen by appropriating the lands of Lord Mavren, making them an enemy. Really there are huge ideological differences between the two and Mavren speaking out against what they see as issues in their society has lead to this. Lord General Aiomonni is the head of King Taen’s military and Lord Mavren’s previous lover. Mavren becomes King of their own rebel Catalyst forces. The reader is thrown into the mind of a Soldiercaste of the Augment Empire during a battle in which they are captured by the enemy. The Augment are a cybernetic species that need organic tissue for digestion, or a host body to assimilate. They are bipedal, yet insectile. This soldier becomes Nact of Quen and the reader will follow them as they raise up in the Catalyst army after their defection. When Nact and Aiomonni engage in battle beyond the charted galaxy to land on a hostile planet, their only hope of survival lies in cooperation, and maybe more.

I would recommend reading an excerpt to see if this book appeals to you. It is written with agender pronouns (ne/nem/nemself/nir). What makes this so compelling is that Nact’s POV shows what freedom and choice look like to someone who’s never had it. It takes six years for Nact to become a general, due to their skills, not because they were born into it. They channel their anger for how their caste was deprived and ill treated into battling King Taen’s forces. By the time they are sent to capture Aiomonni, my sympathies were engaged with them. But for all their privilege, Aiomonni is as much a captive of the system, of convention, as Nact was. The crash shows Aiomonni that their crew have skills beyond their caste. Alive on a populated planet named Colti, being Augment seems more important than their civil war. Showing Aiomonni’s POV makes them extremely sympathetic. At one point they have a common enemy, Plackart, who the author gives a moment of his own: a chance for the reason to see and understand who he is. (I used the he pronoun here because I have no idea if this species is agender also.) This would have been more poignant and heartbreaking than it is, if it had been explored more so my sympathies lay with him also, but that opportunity passes–it is an intellectual scene showing the psychology of his character rather than an emotional scene where I felt his pain and loss.

I feel like the whole book takes the first 25 percent to set-up until they crash land. Then, it gets really interesting. There are so many ethical issues raised throughout the book: the caste system, ruling by fear, being a parasitic race, acceptable behavior during war, what makes a person a person, the parameters of loyalty, etc. This is obviously not a traditional romance. Intimacy is earned by respect or allegiance, but there are layers to the intimacies they grant and even having larvae together doesn’t guarantee anything approximating love. There is never any doubt that these are alien creatures. The sex is completely alien. The sex scenes show aspects of their culture and personal characters as a normal part of life, however, at least for me, they weren’t terribly erotic. This book captures that forbidden feeling of wanting your political enemy whilst being stuck by duty of birth, oaths, and family obligations. This book is so intriguing because the characters are acting honorably–in their own fashion. Their temporary alliance for the greater good allows them to live in a bubble and indulge themselves, but it is temporary and the vanities of others await–continued war still awaits.

I would have liked to get to know some of the other passing characters more. At first I was not sure about the purpose of the character of Feylc, but they become a good foil and I realized it is something I’ve missed in other books as it’s an underutilized tool these days. Still, they are the only other Augment with a real personality here.

I’m not going to say this wasn’t sometimes a little difficult to fully picture, because it was. I’m not going to say the non-binary language wasn’t sometimes confusing (even having read many non-binary characters previously), because it did get awkward in places since the author still uses we and they. What I will say is that for me the effort was worth it. I liked that the world building was character focused and driven without all the extraneous descriptions of things that have no real bearing on the story. There is little attention placed on the various home worlds, which may annoy readers who expect and enjoy that type of detail. While there is tech involved, this is not hard science fiction in any way. The reader is told that things work, not how they work. The end wraps up in a satisfactory way with a (mostly) HEA, although it was startling to be narratively told, like a voice over, after living in the character’s heads for so long. I have to say I really enjoyed this book. If you like things that are different from the norm, give this a try.

The cover was designed by Aisha Akeju. I suppose it shows the ship going through the wormhole. It really isn’t intriguing enough for this book.

 

Review: Empire Of Light by Alex Harrow, Voyance 1

 

EmpireOfLightCover
Cover Art by Natasha Snow

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

Damien is a guy trying to survive by making the hard choices. He’s loyal and will do anything for the family that’s been cobbled together in this dystopian future, especially his lover Aris, which puts him right between a rock and a hard place. He’s working as an assassin for the Watch, the police force of the Empire of Consolidated Nations, run by Commander Faelle Valyr. The story is set in Helos, previously New York before the Wars of 2090. Everyone is corrupt. When Damien gets sent to take out a corporate guy named Mael Taerien, he’s caught and blackmailed into killing Valyr instead. Taerien’s henchman Raeyn sticks close to his side to make sure he cooperates. As the action intensifies, battle lines are drawn but they are fluid and everyone has to adjust to the ever changing landscape.

This is a gritty story with an almost frantic pace. Damien is like a mountain goat, stubborn yet quickly adapting to all terrains. It’s not like he has any choice. The poor guy is in one fight after another (beaten, choked, kicked, stabbed, and shot). Darien tries to play whichever side will help save Aris, himself, and their friends. Aris has his own plans and his own lovers. He’s between his own rocks and hard places. The thing is Damien and Aris are both broken and the pieces don’t quite match together. That doesn’t change anything that is going to happen as everyone runs head first into their future. Damien doesn’t ignore things as well as he thinks he does, so the reader understands he sees what he wants to about the people he loves. He also forgets that everyone he loves is not like him. I’m of two minds about the secondary characters not being that fleshed out: that’s a huge missed opportunity for emotional connection to the story, and thank goodness or I’d be a blubbering mess.

As Damien gets closer to Raeyn, I wasn’t sure who to root for, or against. In many ways Raeyn is a better match for Damien, but there are some major obstacles and their relationship has it’s own dysfunction. About halfway through this story my mind was partially blown, because a good author foreshadows. At about three quarters of the way in, my mind was fully blown. The only way this story works at all is because the reader only has Damien’s POV. There is no way at all to describe this plot without spoilers. It’s an impossible task and I don’t want to do that. Just trust that there is a plot twist around every corner in this complicated web of lies and conspiracies. Yes, some seem improbable but that’s half the fun. This is action packed from beginning to end and could have benefited from some more quiet moments. They are there, but they are usually gut wrenching in their mental dysfunction, so they are not restful for the reader. They are necessary to understand the psychology of the characters. I also think the unrelenting pace is to stop the reader from looking at holes in the plot, or to try and work out what will happen. But after going through this journey, the end is too optimistic for all the brutal world building that has taken place. Even though this has an ending, I was left floundering around wondering what now, but that might just be that I kept moving after the ride stopped. I’m going to say I enjoyed the ride.

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Review: Diplomacy Squared By Sydney Blackburn

Diplomacy Squared Cover
Cover designed by Aisha Akeju

Diego has been the Captain/Fold Pilot on the commercial starliner Caravan for the last four years. Nineteen months ago humans made first contact with a humanoid species called Antho. Diplomats and scientists have been sent to live and work on the space station Mikesi orbiting their world Beresh. Upon arrival, he finds out they are to be posted there indefinitely and he and his crew are encouraged to interact with the Antho so they can get to know regular humans. There is a whole lot of getting to know each other.

The first problem is communication as the station Administrator, Portya, doesn’t have the best grasp of the Earth language, Syncrete, and humans apparently have a hard time learning how the Antho communicate since they have a complex nonverbal component of their language. Diego and Portya jump into sex without even understanding the differences in their species and cultures.

The book blurb says it all so there’s not really spoilers to worry about. This book is all about the telling and how well that’s done. I have to say, I think it’s done pretty well. The author starts out with everyone more formal in work situations, but once we start to see some of the characters on downtime, and Diego and Portya start dating, everything is more relaxed. We see a few other Earth and Antho characters, but this is mainly about our two MCs. There is some subtext going on: Portya’s public displays of affection are not making the other Antho happy. They encounter some prejudice from both sides about their relationship–either they want salacious details or are disgusted.

When Portya gets sick, Diego is kept away, unsure of what is going on. By the time everything is figured out, Diego reacts very badly. He thought he was in a relationship with a male, so he feels tricked and upset. We are dealing with aliens who are nonbinary–this could easily read as Portya being a hermaphrodite or a transgendered person. Although sexual orientation is not discussed per se, other Antho seem to be pansexual. They do not have gender pronouns on Beresh and have settled on the pronoun he in regards to Syncrete language for dealing with humans.

As I have previously stated, I am not a fan of mpreg. This was so sweet that by the end, I was just happy about it all. We get the wedding and all the feels. The epilogue does contain the birth, so I did have to read about a baby, but I came out unscathed.

I would rate this 4 stars.

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Review: Beyond Meridian By C.C. Bridges

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Cover artwork by Natasha Snow.

Rick Raine is our space captain. Karl is our other MC looking for transport to Mendhem, a territory controlled by Confed military. The Confed (Confederation of Free Planets) and UPA (United Planetary Alliance) are at war. This story starts on Meridan, a world along the borders that tries to stay a neutral territory.

Raine agrees to take him on as crew if he can find cargo to transport. Karl is from Meridan, but has been living on Earth. He escaped his life in the brothels after his mother’s death at 12, due to Sam, who is trapped on Mendhem after being sold as a slave. Slavery is allowed in the Confed and sometimes people are given a choice between slavery or military service.

I liked the descriptions of the various worlds, the spacecraft, and space travel. I love that the ship is piloted like a theramin.

I have to say both characters are so different in their outlook and approach to life, but both are likable in their own way. Rick will remind you a bit of Hans Solo and this is no bad thing. Karl could be a young Luke without cool powers. The sex scenes were well written and fit into the story as a natural, inevitable progression to them growing closer through proximity and sharing dangerous situations.

As a novella it did its job of telling a complete story with world-building. Due to it’s length, it did such a good job by focusing on the two main characters and showing us parts of space inhabited by “border rats” and a small part of Confed space. We don’t know that much about UPA and that is fine. I hope adventures in this world continue and we get to see if UPA is actually the “good guy” in this fight, or if it is a bit more nuanced than that. This story is complete with an ending, but it could be a beginning too, so that could make this work for a prequel or just book one in this world.

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

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