23 January 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner

The Promise of the Child (The Amaranthine Spectrum #1)The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Promise of the Child is a stunning feat of imagination set against an epic backdrop ranging from 14th-century Prague, to a lonely cove near the Mediterranean Sea, to the 147th-century Amaranthine Firmament. Toner has crafted an intelligent space opera filled with gripping action and an emotional scale that is wonderfully intimate, a smart and compelling debut that calls to mind the best of Kim Stanley Robinson or M. John Harrison.

Lycaste is a lovesick recluse living in a forgotten Mediterranean cove who is renowned throughout the distorted people of the Old World for his beauty. Sotiris Gianakos is a 12,000-year-old Cypriote grieving the loss of his sister, a principled man who will change Lycaste's life forever. Their stories, and others, become darkly entwined when Aaron the Longlife—the Usurper, a man who is not quite a man—makes a claim to the Amaranthine throne that threatens to throw the delicate political balance of the known galaxy into ruin.

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DISCLAIMER: I received my copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I was first shown this book, I was impressed with the level of interest and praise that it has received, and by some recognizable names in the industry too. This made me keen to delve into it myself. Even though it's classified as space opera, the synopsis sounded to me very much like what I call "science-fantasy", a universe where things appear more mystical and magical than technological and where hard sci-fi is quite scarce. The closest thing to this description that I've read would probably be Peter F Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy, a universe that I enjoyed a lot.

Set thousands of years in the future, this story takes the idea that humanity has continued to evolve, and has also produced a number of sub-species. At the top of the heap are a section of humanity called the Amaranthine, a very long-lived group who have created a huge interstellar empire in which Earth (known as The Old World) is still central. The rest of the "human" species comes in the shape of the Prism, who have a number of forms, are more primitive than the Amaranthine.

I won't begin an analysis of the plot or the characters, partly because there are many other reviews that have done this, and also partly because it came as a bit of blur to me. I found myself skimming portions of the text for a considerable amount of the book. It's written with an elegant artistic style, and while I don't know much about the technicalities of the English language, I can recognize the skill of the author here. The only problem is that I'm not turned on by that sort of thing, I like it simpler, less "flowery" as it were. I'm technical-thinking and matter-of-fact which means that I found this book to be not all that entertaining. Intellectually stimulating for some I have no doubt, but I tired of the embellished prose.

However, what I do see, as many other readers also do, is a new author on the scene who will probably fit in nicely with the likes of Reynolds, Banks, Hamilton and others of the genre. I'm sure he'll be around for some time.

Overall, I'd call this book a technically skillful execution of a complex story, within a fantastic universe. It just lacks enough entertainment value for my tastes, which unfortunately meant that it didn't do it for me.

4/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
2/5 for entertainment
= 3.7 out of 5

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18 January 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Alliance (The Evox Chronicles #1) by Chris G. Wright

The Alliance (The Evox Chronicles #1)The Alliance (The Evox Chronicles #1) by Chris G. Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Human extinction has been decided and the alien invasion shows no signs of abating. City ruins will be the only proof that Humans ever existed. For the survivors, hope dies along with the mounting casualties. Do the few remaining pockets of resistance stand a chance against the Milky Way's most dangerous civilization? The answer is in the stars.

To find salvation, the Humans must learn to coexist and collaborate with an ambiguous ally who has a plan to save Earth from a conflict that knows no boundaries. Their salvation is the Alliance.

But Humans were designed with flaws, and Ethan Alexander Colt and Donovan Ford are no different. Will they be able to see beyond their own aspirations and fight for the greater good? Or will they jeopardize it all? In possession of alien weapons of seemingly infinite energy, the survival of two species depends on them. One will need to make the ultimate sacrifice and carry out a plan that takes away everything he holds dear. The other must conquer his ghosts and embrace his destiny as a soldier.

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A story about human origins and destiny, painted upon a vast and wonderful canvas.

This is a big story, the first of a six-volume series that looks like it's going to be quite an epic. The author has combined many tried and true tropes of the genre creating a blend of space opera and sci-fi action adventure, with melodramatic conflict between opponents who have advanced abilities, weapons, and other technologies. There are battles and skirmishes in quantity and lots of explosions. Quite dynamic in theme, it starts as a dystopian drama, moving into human-alien first contact and growing into the large scale space opera that it really is.

Things kick off here on Earth, which has been invaded and overrun by hordes of alien raiders, who destroy anything and everything in their path. At first the invaders' motivations aren't clear and we soon learn that there is more than one extraterrestrial species taking an interest in Earth. It appears that there are things here that galactic factions greatly desire, devices that can give those who posses them an upper hand in their conflict. Underlying this is the mystery of the originators of the devices, and we catch a glimpse of them at the beginning in the Prologue. Somebody or something is manipulating events through these devices. The author draws a faint outline of the overarching story and gives clues to more detail as the story unfolds. I'm guessing that some incredible things are going to be revealed as the saga evolves.

Pockets of humans survive in communities which are fiercely defensive and insular, a typical post-apocalyptic scenario. It is from within these groups that we get our human protagonists, who are destined to become part of a grand plan to overcome the invaders. They will also hopefully aid in the restoration of a Galactic Alliance, once-powerful but now in disarray. What follows is a rapid progression of events. Mysterious forces cause the human race semi-willingly into a pivotal role, caught between evil forces bent on conquest and other benevolent species who will help them in return for service and allegiance to their Alliance. As the story gets into full swing, there are hints of conspiracy among the factions, subtle hints of another level to the drama.

I absolutely loved the mother ship! A massive city ship, in the form of an inverted pyramid over forty thousand feet in height. A technological marvel unlike anything mankind has seen before. That's what is shown hovering above the hill on the book cover. Things like this are one of the reasons why I love sci-fi, they fill me with a sense of wonder which leaves me in awe. This book is full of impressive techno stuff.

The book is written in an easy chronological style, but it gains complexity from the scenes jumping dramatically from one to another. I got a little lost at times and found myself having to pause and take stock of events at various points along the way. The speed of the story is the cause of this, but it wasn't difficult to catch back up again. The author keeps his foot on the pedal, and the prose and dialogue is quite raw which makes for an engaging read.

There is a large cast of characters with many different titles and roles, and the story is driven evenly by characters and events, and it's just as much about the action as the players themselves. I found the characters to be believable and their dialogue is suitably unpolished (but without unnecessary profanity) which made it easy for me to relate to them. They have reasonable depth and you learn enough about who they are, the key figures being examined to a moderate extent in this early stage of the saga.

In summary, this is an excellent addition to the massive array of indie science fiction books, one that thoroughly deserves every bit of praise it gets. I've been left breathless by the sheer scale of the story. I give it a solid 4.5 stars, only losing that last little half for slightly jumbled arrangement. I'll be watching this series and this author, he's a refreshing and exciting prospect.

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