Review: Space Train by David Bridger

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

The blurb says this is like Firefly meets Wagon Train and that is accurate. This is the best world-building I have read in a long time that wasn’t contained in a bubble: meaning the reader isn’t just given enough to advance the plot at that moment, and that not just one location was looked at in detail. Almost everywhere they went was looked at in enough detail, showing urban and rural areas, to get a sense of place except planet Main. The only thing shown about Main is the murder and betrayal games the elite play. As they are the bad guys in this scenario it may seem strange, but don’t we already know what they look like? They have a ruling Primary class that is white, homogeneous, and hereditary. Their economy is about to collaspe and they are running out of resources in the planet system they control.

There are so many different types of ships and flying described, as is landing and docking, ship engineering and design, and navigational systems too. Then there are all the planets, cities and aliens–although all humanoid. This is an author who delights in giving the reader different cultures and landscapes. These planet systems are linked by travel through wormholes for trade and exploration. In fact, it’s almost as if the story is just a reason to go on a journey from one place to another. That’s alright, because it’s vastly entertaining and fun to picture it all. The plot is the age old tale of greed, corruption, racism, control of labour, the mismanagement of resources and imperialism. So, the plot is nothing that shocking, just very complex.

This has a huge cast that the reader learns about through their actions, words, and thoughts gleaned by the Clear, a blue skinned race of telepathic beings, some of which are monks. I couldn’t help but think of the Delvian of Farscape. At first, I was excited because everyone is represented here: different colors, different sexualities, different classes, different abilities, even accents and other languages are explained. There m/f, m/m, and f/f pairings, even a trans character. However, the main relationships where intimacy is shown are all m/f. If the author can explore the tentative start of two relationships, and the reestablishment of romance in a marriage, he can certainly describe the reunion of the only m/m couple after they have been separated eight years. (This book is non-explicit, with no on page sex.) All of these situations are cleverly used to get the reader emotionally attached to the human element, which I appreciated. It would be easy to get lost in the politics and scenery otherwise.

The main characters tying everything together are the Russell family. Being people of color, they have no love of the racist elite of planet Main. They are all still mourning the loss of loved ones in the previous war due to the rulers of Main, who made them a target of the Binaries. They own the Wagon Train and each of them (Tom, Rain, Ellen, and Mark) has a hand in everything that happens. Tom, Captain of the Mary Mackin, a huge ship that carries families and their smaller ships, and supplies to a new homeworld, has the largest role in this book. The best thing about Tom is his lack of hyper-masculinity. He isn’t embarrassed about feeling fear, or that people know it. He still does what he needs to in spite of it. He takes his responsibilities seriously, and cares for his people. Tom is still traumatized by Saxe’s torture of him during the war, and the death of everyone on his ship. Saxe is relentless like The Operative from Firefly, and could easily become Kylo Ren from Star Wars in future books, killing his father and taking over everything. For now though, The Ten of Main send Saxe to find out where Tom takes his passengers–he also wants his own revenge for Tom’s previous escape. The reader won’t learn too much about Mark in this book, and his husband Richard is also underutilized. Yet, the strong female characters of Ellen and Rain are a pleasure to read. I hope they get their own books. There are a plethora of strong women characters here, whether businesswomen, settlers, mothers, crew, monks, or spies. I also enjoyed that the most intelligent beings, with the best technology are not human, are not even mammalian.

I loved reading about the planets: Red, Willerby, Clear, and Anza. I liked the religions versus spirituality explorations of all the different people and places. I liked how even tiny details are throw in, like the concern of black hair care with such dry spacecraft air. I liked them building houses and the sense of community. I felt a sense of joy, a celebration of science, art, love, and life…all being overshadowed by the war that is coming, the war that is already here. This has an end, and yet there is still a the threat coming from planet Main and Saxe isn’t going away. This was so good. Could a follow up novel be as good? I don’t know, but want to find out, soon.

The cover design is by Roe Horvat. It has a space feel, and communicates danger, but not the intricate nature of this novel.

Sales Link:  Amazon | Beaten Track Publishing |

Book Details: Kindle Edition

318 pages

Published August 29th 2019 by Beaten Track Publishing

ASINB 07WNDCBGD

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Space Train by David Bridger — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review : Fated Hearts (Shadow Bound #1) by Garrett Leigh

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

There is a free short story prequel to this book, but you don’t need to read it to enjoy this story. Alpha Varian of the Northern Pack is allied with the Shadow Clan against the allied packs of the South. I don’t really understand how this alliance works; it is something to do with the peace accord with other supernaturals (like vampires), but that is never discussed in any detail. Shadow Clan has so far stayed out of the agression. Zio is a beta in Varian’s combat squad, full of rage after the death of his best friend Emma, their wolf healer. When Shadow Clan sends their healer Devan to replace Emma, he must navigate culture shock, distrust, grief and the mating bond in order to save the lives of his new Pack.

The fish out of water element is a great way to explain things through Devan’s POV. Unfortunately, this is completely underutilized. In this world, paranormals coexist with humans, but shifters are treated differently in different parts of the world. The wolves are born with their own supernatural powers, like an affinity with different types of magic…and nothing is done with that except for a few small tremors and some shielding, which is literally a few sentences. There is one human character introduced briefly in the book even though humans try to stop the werewolf aggression and some wolves have human mates. Also, Devan is a different type of shifter…the author purposely doesn’t say what type until well into the book, but it’s on the cover so I didn’t understand the big secret. As an enemies to lovers story, it’s based on the loss of Emma, not that they are different animal spirits. The way humans or paranormals become shadow shifters is something else not well explained because the prequel made me have more questions than the book did–some people die once, while some people die twice…or is that only vampires who become Shadow Clan? I don’t know.

Zio is not in the correct frame of mind, as the reader can tell when his POV is given at key times. The only things that make sense to me about his extremes are either immaturity or PTSD, although that isn’t discussed, yet it’s treated more as a charcter issue that is fixed with the mating bond. This is a book about war, but the action scenes weren’t that gripping. Some shifters die and there are a few horrific injuries, but it is seen at a distance somehow, even with Devan being the one to heal them. None of the other side characters come alive; they are supposed to be close, sometimes having sex after battle, but I never got to feel anything for any of them because that is something the reader is told instead of shown. I wasn’t emotionally attached to whether they lived or died.

Even though Zio was bitten young, he was raised by humans and doesn’t seem to know wolf history or understand wolf biology. That’s convenient to move the story along, but he purposefully never rectified it and willful ignorance isn’t a very attractive character trait. Devan seems to be more arrogant, thinking he can ignore their growing bond, while Zio doesn’t recognize they are mates at all. Frankly, as a healer used to dealing with different kinds of supernatural, Devan should know better. About 60% of the way in, Devan says he likes Zio but I’m not sure why when they have barely spoken to each other and their interactions are contentious or a short sexual activity. All of the sudden, just when they start having whole conversations, there is a manufactured crisis to keep them apart, which would have worked better if the attention to the political details had been in the world-building. Again, while this is convenient for a slow burn romance, it doesn’t really work with the story except as an excuse to wallow in an agonizingly precarious position. Then all of the sudden Devan is dying for no reason. What? At the end, the humans are involved and have some drug to use on shifters, which has to have been stuck in there at the last minute to create conflict for the next book. I really wanted to like this more than I did, but I didn’t connect to this story.

The cover art was done by Garrett Leigh @ Black Jazz Design. I’m not sure it is representative of the mood of this story.

Sales Links:  Amazon

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 256 pages
Published September 10th 2019 by Fox Love Press
ASINB07XSKC3ZP
Edition Language: English
Series: Shadow Bound

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review : Fated Hearts (Shadow Bound #1) by Garrett Leigh — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Warlock In Training by T.J. Nichols, Studies In Demonology 1

warlock-in-training-cover
Cover Artist: Catt Ford

I would rate this 4.75 stars.

When Angus realizes that what his parents taught him is not always true, he needs to find his own path in life and while is it not what his parents want, it might be what the world needs. Angus is in a magic school, learning how to summon a demon to steal his magic. Eventually when a demon is drained of magic, they are usually killed. There are wizards who have magic, but do not make themselves stronger by taking magic from demons.

There are so many interesting what-ifs in Angus’ mind. I love the different types of demons. Angus doesn’t want to summon a demon in class so he can fail out; he gets a sexy demon instead and gets yanked into Demonside/Arlyxia. Saku needs a warlock to rebalance his world due to the humans taking magic from it. The whole way humans are exploiting the demons and magic itself became more horrifying once I got to see demon civilization. The higher warlocks in Humanside obviously know what is happening, but are too greedy for their own power to care. There are three ways to rebalance the magic, but the most fun is sex magic. I vote yes. If you don’t like knives and blood play, this may not be the book for you. There is a lot of violence and sex in this world.

The world-building here is intriguing. Miniti is the ruthless leader in Demonside and trying to save her people. Humans are the ones that starting breaking the unwritten agreements between them set in place hundreds of years ago after the demon wars. The more magic humans take, the colder and wetter their world is becoming. Warlocks in Vinland are storing the magic somehow. Meanwhile, Demonside is becoming a desert–the demons becoming like Saharan desert natives. Usi is another demon mage like Saku, only she uses blood magic and gives the souls to Miniti. The danger is clear: when beings are backed into a corner with nothing to lose, violence is a likely result.

Angus and Saku are now bound together until one of them dies. When Angus is retrieved from Demonside and the warlocks, including his father, try to take his memories away that he is left feeling betrayed, confused, and frightened. Is is better to stay at the Warlock College and continue to learn magic in order to fix what is wrong? In essence, he becomes a double agent. He could be killed by either side. He seeks out his ex, Jim, in the wizard underground for help. Saku has his own help from the mage council, but not all mages are happy with watching their world die while waiting for the humans to get a clue and do the right thing. The parallels with what we are doing to our workers and our natural resources, the despair and climate change, are obvious.

Terrence becomes his college tutor, but he is also part of the underground. I hope to see more of him in future books as a way to give Angus an anchor in the human world. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. Let me just say I loved everything about this story. I can’t think of anything I’d change.

 

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Review: Beyond Meridian By C.C. Bridges

BeyondMeridian-f
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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