Conquest is the next chapter in the great interstellar war between all living creatures and the machines. Star Force must stop the machine invaders once again – but how? In the fourth book of the Star Force series, Kyle Riggs has freed Earth from the chains of the Macros – but at what cost? The Macros no longer trust him. He is a mad dog that must be put down – and all Star Force must be stamped out with him. The war expands in this story, and mankind is once again faced with annihilation.
Conquest is the fourth book in the Star Force series by B. V. Larson and, while it continues the well-established tradition of this series for thrilling military action, it also brings several of the flaws of the series into sharp focus.
Over the course of the previous three novels in the Star Force series, Kyle Riggs has made some bad calls. He has sworn Earth to provide troops for a dangerous enemy, ordered thousands of his troops to their deaths, and cast aside strategic alliances with little thought to the long-term consequences of his actions. Throughout it all, I continued to root for Riggs and the rest of his band, even as I questioned his actions. Now, though, I can’t help but wonder if Star Force is the right team for the job.
Of course, they never were supposed to be the first best choice. Riggs and Crow, the co-leaders of Star Force, were plucked from their homes by brutal machines and only came to command the most technologically advanced army in human history because they managed to survive a brutal series of tests, so it should come as little surprise that these two often resort to brute force to solve their problems. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that these two men were woefully unfit for command when the first few chapters of this book consisted of little more than a super-powered grudge match between them. Riggs, as the narrator and protagonist, does his best to justify his actions to the reader, but many of his arguments can be boiled down to, “I did my best, but I’m not really a soldier.” Meanwhile, Crow is written as a chameleon who repeatedly vacillates between careless pirate and brilliant strategist, with little to no transition between.
One might expect that the return of the giant Macro robots would bring some unity to Star Force, or at least some sound strategic planning, but it doesn’t. Instead, Crow runs away (as usual) and Riggs comes up with some brilliant modifications to the Star Force battle equipment, then fails to use them to their potential (as usual). The one piece of brilliant strategizing that Riggs does manage to pull off, which results in the Macros focusing their attacks on Star Force’s home base rather than assaulting the entire planet, backfires spectacularly when he forgets the lessons learned in his previous fights against both the Macros and the Helios Worms. Riggs knows the Macros are underground, but makes no plans to defend against an attack from below. He gives his troops the ability to fly, but rarely uses that to his strategic advantage. Mistake compounds mistake until only nuclear weapons and convenient force-field failures can save Earth.
Apparently I am not the only one dissatisfied with the leadership of Kyle Riggs, as the author included a subplot of ongoing assassination attempts in Conquest. Obviously, I won’t say who or what was behind the attempts, but I like to imagine that there was some level of symbolism to B. V. Larson’s decision to introduce this plot element. I have to wonder if maybe there is some chance that, by the time he reached this book, Larson had realized that Riggs needs to develop further as a leader and a character.
Mark Boyett does an admirable job narrating this series, navigating the wide range of accents with ease. I did think, as I listened, that I caught a few errors, but I am more inclined to believe that these were missed during the editing of the book, rather than introduced in the recording of the audio. At a running time of just over eleven hours, spanning ten CDs, the book is just long enough to tell the story of the second invasion of Earth without overstaying its welcome. I plan to continue reading this series, but I truly hope to see some growth in strategic thinking from Riggs, or I could see myself beginning to feel sympathetic towards Conquest’s failed assassins.
Posted by Andrew Linke
Themes: / evil genius / world domination / humor /
“Intergalactic Menace. Destroyer of Worlds. Conqueror of Other Worlds. Mad Genius. Ex-Warlord of Earth. Not bad for a guy without a spine. But what’s a villain to do after he’s done . . . everything. With no new ambitions, he’s happy to pitch in and solve the energy crisis or repel alien invaders should the need arise, but if he had his way, he’d prefer to be left alone to explore the boundaries of dangerous science. Just as a hobby, of course. Retirement isn’t easy though. If the boredom doesn’t get him, there’s always the Venusians. Or the Saturnites. Or the Mercurials. Or . . . well, you get the idea. If that wasn’t bad enough, there are also the assassins of a legendary death cult and an up-and-coming megalomaniac (as brilliant as he is bodiless) who have marked Emperor for their own nefarious purposes. But Mollusk isn’t about to let the Earth slip out of his own tentacles and into the less capable clutches of another. So it’s time to dust off the old death ray and come out of retirement. Except this time, he’s not out to rule the world. He’s out to save it from the peril of…THE SINISTER BRAIN!”
“But, history is written by the winners. Especially winners with access to global mind control devices.”
This line toward the beginning of the book is just one of the many lines from Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain that had me chuckling to myself.
Emperor Mollusk is a Neptunan who has done it all when it comes to defeating and subjugating races, ruling in tyranny and oppression, and downright being evil. Neptunans are the most intelligent of the solar system, at least according to them (and that’s really all that matters right?), but kind of all look the same, in fact they can barely tell each other apart, let alone who their clones are, and they are mollusks (think octopus for those like me who didn’t love biology classes).
Of course it gets boring after a while being the mad genius and having everyone around you worship the ground you allow your mechanical suit to walk on. That is until someone tries to assassinate you. I guess that’s not all true because one of the things I found hilarious was how Emperor Mollusk keeps walking into dangerous situations because he actually thinks there’s no way for anyone to outsmart him.
Then there are the different societies based on which planet they are from. Minor spoiler warning for this sentence: Those from essentially Earth are highly litigious (of course) and there’s a great scene where they save the day and in going to help one of the wounded, a law suit is threatened.
This was a really fun book and my first by the author, I will definitely be going back to A. Lee Martinez in the future. There are some authors who can just go from one line to the next and keep you not only amused but chucking from time to time. A few I can think of are Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams and I’m in awe of their talent. Martinez may not be quite to their level, but he’s right up there.
Here’s another where Mollusk is attacked by a group of Venusians who are a highly honor-bound society who won’t give up no matter how difficult the task or how much they are injured:
“The female did give me a kick. Considering she could barely breath that’s probably worth a commendation or something. ‘Bravery in the face of foolish short-sightedness’ or something. I assume there’s such an award on Venus though it probably has a less accurate name.”
I think these lines were even better because of the great job Scott Aiello does in this audiobook. He’s got Mollusk’s sharp, but oblivious character down pat. One of the signs of a great narrator is when you stop noticing he’s even there and that’s Aiello all the way.
Emperor Mollusk is a hilarious character, this book kept reminding me of the movie Megamind with Will Farrell and I’m sure you can guess why if you’ve seen it (highly recommended btw!). Again, this will not be my last Martinez book, I’m looking forward to jumping into the rest.
4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)
Posted by Bryce L.
Themes: / buddy sword and sorcery / assassins /
Egil and Nix have retired, as they always said they would. No, really – they have! No more sword- and hammer-play for them! But when two recent acquaintances come calling for help, our hapless heroes find themselves up against the might of the entire Thieves Guild. And when kidnapping the leader of the most powerful guild in the land seems like the best course of action, you know you’re in over your head.
When I read The Hammer and the Blade, the first Egil and Nix book, I had a good time with this buddy-sword-and-sorcery (is that redundant?). The characters were entertaining if a bit melodramatic, the action spot-on, and the writing professionally done.
A Discourse in Steel exceeds The Hammer and the Blade on just about every level (probably even the melodrama). I thoroughly enjoyed Discourse and a lot of that could be because I’ve gotten to know the characters that much more.
First, you have to know that A Discourse in Steel is more a second Egil and Nix book than a sequel. Yes, it follows the The Hammer and the Blade in both publication and timeline, but the events in Discourse are self-contained just like those in Hammer. In fact, you don’t need to know anything to jump into this book.
Egil and Nix are just a great pair. I enjoyed them in the first book, but found their relationship and the events a bit cliche at times. Here, I’m convinced they’re cliche and melodramatic, but it’s such a good combination with tons of heart that you can’t help but be won over. I mean, look at this exchange:
“Graduates of the conclave are bungholes,” Nix said absently, and rifled his satchel. He quickly found the tallow sticks and the scribing wand and pulled them out. He also anticipated Egil’s jest and cut it off. “I didn’t graduate priest, as you know.”
“Possibly still a bunghole though.”
“Conceded.” Nix said, with a tilt of his head.
I had to pull over and write that one down. This also means any mistakes are mine although I’m sure I got all the words right.
In Discourse, Egil and Nix are up against an entire guild … and the guild is the one that should be worried. In the first book, they were so powerless, it was a bit frustrating even though it worked for an interesting plot. This one really got me for this reason right here. Their attitude was awesome, I’d recommend not messing with them when they’re even remotely serious. :)
And since I “read” the audio version, I have to comment on Nick Podehl. This was my first read by him and this guy seemed made for the duo that is Egil and Nix. He was hilariously sarcastic and blended the melodrama well too. It’s actually quite interesting because Nick is reading my current book which is very serious. At first, it didn’t work because I was used to the fun and sarcasm, but now I can’t even believe they’re the same person. Nick is an excellent narrator, I’ll be happy seeing his name on audiobooks in the future.
Speaking of that, I’m looking forward to reading more of Kemp’s work in the future too. I can’t believe he balances four kids, a corporate attorney position, and writing. Plus, he finds time to discuss on reddit.com/r/fantasy and other places where fans congregate.
A Discourse in Steel is exactly what it claims to be. It’s tons of fun with plenty of action and while it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it knows when to be serious. Kemp stepped up his game and I’m looking forward to more adventuring with Egil and Nix.
4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)
Posted by Bryce L.
Themes: / military science fiction / space opera / short stories /
EARTH IS BETRAYED. It’s a violent, competitive universe. And our home planet would have been an easy conquest, if not for the efforts of the Colonial Union — the human spacefaring military organization that has defended our world for generations. But the Colonial Union kept many secrets from humanity, until John Perry revealed them to Earth’s billions. The CU has fought an endless series of secret wars on (it claims) Earth’s behalf, while manipulating humankind into providing an unlimited supply of recruits who never return from space. And, it turns out, there are alien races that seem inclined toward peace and trade instead of battle. Indeed, Earth has now been invited to join a new alliance of multiple worlds — an alliance against the Colonial Union. For the shaken and uncertain people of Earth, the path ahead is far from clear. With that choice hanging in the balance, managing the CU’s survival won’t be easy, either. It will take diplomatic finesse, political cunning . . . and a brilliant “B-Team,” centered on the resourceful Lieutenant Harry Wilson — a team ready to deal with the unexpected things the universe throws at you when you’re struggling to preserve the unity of the human race.
The Human Division is the most recent installment in John Scalzi’s series that started with Old Man’s War. The book was released in an episodic/season format and this book is the collection of those stories. The book takes place immediately following the events of The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale but does not follow the same characters from the first four books. The collection comes off like something by Isaac Asimov where all the stories work together to a conclusion while each presenting their own puzzles/challenges to the protagonists. Overall this was a great book and I’m really looking forward to the next one!
Warning: If you haven’t read the novels leading up to this one, some of the things said after this point could be considered minor spoilers. You have been warned.
I really like the world Scalzi created with Old Man’s War and we get to see more of it explored in these stories as the Conclave and Colonial Union try to court Earth to their side. We also get to see how Earth reacts to the revelations and new technology they have been deprived of for so long, often to humorous effect. John Scalzi does a great job of mixing intrigue with comedic timing and flowing dialogue that makes this book a great read. There are some slower, more character driven segments in the book, but even those come across as interesting as the author adds more dimensions to already interesting characters.
Generally speaking, the stories follow a political vessel carrying a lower level politician and some Colonial Union staff that are sent around to fight Colonial Union fires as needed. This team is the “B Team” as indicated by the name of the first short story. My favorite character is Lt. Harry Wilson who is an out of practice CU soldier constantly thrown into crazy circumstances. He does some awesome things, has an entertaining attitude, and gets the job done.
William Dufris did a great job with the narration of this book. The characters often find themselves in odd circumstances and Mr. Dufris does a great job of making them sound incredulous or indignant. He pulls of the humorous dialogue quite well and definitely had me laughing at some parts. The episodes are clearly labeled and it’s easy to settle into each subsequent story. I had some trouble following all the character names at times but it wasn’t hard to keep track of the main characters because I recognized the voices Dufris used with them.
Posted by Tom Schreck
Themes: / Celtic mythology / faerie / motherhood / urban fantasy /
Single mom Cedar McLeod leads an ordinary but lonely life, balancing the demands of her career and her six-year-old daughter, Eden. One day, a fight between the two leads to the stunning discovery that Eden can open portals to anywhere she imagines. But before they can learn more about Eden’s extraordinary gift, the young girl mysteriously disappears. Desperate to find answers and her daughter, Cedar seeks out Eden’s father, who left before Eden was born. What she discovers challenges everything she’s ever known about the world around her: Magic is real — and mythical beings from an ancient world will stop at nothing to possess Eden’s abilities. Now, Cedar may have to put her faith in all of them if she hopes to save her daughter’s life. The first in the Thin Veil series, Through the Door is a pulse-pounding adventure that takes listeners across the globe and into the ancient realm of Celtic myths, where the stakes are high and only the deepest love will survive.
Through the Door has an unusual protagonist – a single mother. Cedar is raising her daughter, Eden, with the sometimes critical help of her mother, Maeve. Eden’s father, Finn, left before he even knew Cedar was pregnant. The story follows Cedar’s trials, beginning with the day Eden opens a door and finds not her bedroom, but Egypt.
I was very excited to get this audiobook, as I love Celtic mythology, but I found myself passing on chances to listen to it. I think some of the repeated uses of the Celtic words threw me out of the story a little, and the plot dragged in the beginning and end. Cedar was very refreshing. She was flawed and complicated, and felt like a real person who sometimes make mistakes. Eden acted like a strong little girl, and Maeve seemed like someone’s mother who didn’t approve of all of her choices. It was well-written, and I could tell the author was trying to cover all her bases, but that attention to detail slowed down the action too much. I will definitely be picking up her next book, so I would recommend this to anyone looking for a novel dealing with modern fae, wonderfully drawn characters, and unexpected protagonists.
The narrator is to be commended for her pronunciation of many Celtic words and her clear, emotive work throughout the story. Each disk had a short bit of music to smooth the transition, and the first few sentences from the previous track were repeated before continuing on.
Posted by Sarah R.
Between Two Thorns (Split Worlds #1)
By Emma Newman; Performed by Emma Newman
Publisher: Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 26 February 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours; 59 minutes
Themes: / alternate worlds / England / fantasy /
Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city. The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him – with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer. There is a witness, but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs. But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?
Between Two Thorns is the first book in Emma Newman’s Split Worlds trilogy. The universe was debuted by the author in a series of weekly free short stories released over a year-long period leading up to this book’s release. The short stories are independent of the trilogy in the sense that it is not necessary to read them prior to the starting the trilogy, but can be read later to enhance the characters and the universe. The stories are available both as text and as audio and can be found on the Split Worlds website.
In regards to the audio, Emma Newman also happens to be a professional audiobook narrator with credits including science fiction and romance titles as well as recordings for Dark Fiction Magazine. I always find it interesting to hear an author narrate their own work, as there is arguably a certain degree of credibility gained which could be lost with another narrator. In the case of the Split Worlds series, I find it interesting to hear the author’s own take on the wide variety of characters in the universe ranging from angels, sorcerers, and gargoyles to wish-granting faeries. On a couple occasions, however, the characters seem to blend together and I had a little difficulty keeping track of who was who which is surprising given the diversity.
The Split Worlds universe provides an immersive and addictive environment for the reader. Part real-world Bath and part netherworld Aquae Sulis, the author has even conducted role-playing games set in the book’s world and invited reader participation. Between Two Thorns sets the tone pulling the reader in and it’s cliffhanger ending leaves one anxious to dive right into the sequel Any Other Name. (And I’m sure from that installment onto the conclusion.) I certainly plan myself to continue on with the next installment soon.
Posted by Dan VK.