Book Review: Terminal Peace (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse #3) by Jim C. Hines

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Publisher: DAW
Publication Date: August 9th, 2022
Pages: 336, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

The third and final book of the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse follows a group of unlikely heroes trying to save the galaxy from a zombie plague.

Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos and her team were trained to clean spaceships. They were absolutely not trained to fight an interplanetary war with the xenocidal Prodryans or to make first contact with the Jynx, a race who might not be as primitive as they seem. But if there’s one lesson Mops and her crew have learned, it’s that things like “training” and “being remotely qualified” are overrated.

The war is escalating. (This might be Mops’ fault.) The survival of humanity—those few who weren’t turned to feral, shambling monsters by an alien plague—as well as the fate of all other non-Prodryans, will depend on what Captain Mops and the crew of the EDFS Pufferfish discover on the ringed planet of Tuxatl.

But the Jynx on Tuxatl are fighting a war of their own, and their world’s long-buried secrets could be more dangerous than the Prodryans.

To make matters worse, Mops is starting to feel a little feral herself…

Terminal Peace is the third in the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse series by Jim C. Hines. Really, do you need anything other than the name of the series to know this is going to be great?

Premise is that humanity have been turned “feral” by an alien disease, except for a few who were naturally immune. Those became “librarians,” and have been working to free humanity from subjugation by various intergalactic powers.

Mops is a human janitor who is also the captain of a ship crewed by humans and aliens. War is imminent, and humans will suffer even more than they already have. It’s up to Mops and her crew to clean up yet another mess, but Mops is running out of time, as she’s been infected and will soon “revert.”

Mops is a delight, as are her crew. There are plenty of pop culture references, but not enough to distract from the story. This is a story of the underdog and how doing the right thing sometimes pays off, even if not in ways you expect. Mops and her crew battle their way to a forbidden planet in hopes of something that will stop the Prodryans, who want to dominate the galaxy. Can they convince the “primitive” Jynx to help them?

Hines is a good writer, and has created worlds and beings with whom you will want to spend more time. I’m hoping there are more in this series, although the ending of this book did wrap things up well.

Book Review: August Kitko and the Mechas from Space by Alex White

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: July 12th, 2022
Pages: 464, paperback
Source: NetGalley

When an army of giant robot AIs threatens to devastate Earth, a virtuoso pianist becomes humanity’s last hope in this bold, lightning-paced, technicolor new space opera series from the author of A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe.

Jazz pianist Gus Kitko expected to spend his final moments on Earth playing piano at the greatest goodbye party of all time, and maybe kissing rockstar Ardent Violet, before the last of humanity is wiped out forever by the Vanguards–ultra-powerful robots from the dark heart of space, hell-bent on destroying humanity for reasons none can divine. 

But when the Vanguards arrive, the unthinkable happens–the mecha that should be killing Gus instead saves him. Suddenly, Gus’s swan song becomes humanity’s encore, as he is chosen to join a small group of traitorous Vanguards and their pilots dedicated to saving humanity.

Love, mechas, and music at the end of the world – what’s not to love? August Kitko is a loveable, awkward, semi-successful jazz musician who ends up playing a song that just might save humanking. Being a hero is all well and good, but can he save both the world and his new relationship?

This is the first book in The Starmetal Symphony series by Alex White. As the story opens, humanity is about to be destroyed by killer robots from outer space (yes, really), called the Vanguards. At one of the many apocalypse parties, August Kitko meets rockstar Ardent Violet, and falls head over heels for them. Unfortuntately, a Vanguard named Greymalkin also knocks Gus head over heels. Gus has five minutes to save the world before he dies.

Gus is an adorable everyman, caught up in something way bigger than he is and for which he seems wholly unprepared, both with the Vanguard and Ardent. The story is sparkly and fun and exciting, and you will absolutely have a soundtrack going through your head for most of the ride. Ardent is less Bowie and more Pete Burns, I felt, and Gus? Maybe Paul Simon? Gus and Ardent’s first jam had me humming “Doomsday Disco” by Lord of the Lost. I’m not sure whether I wanted the author to include the soundtrack they played writing this (if any) or if I was glad I could imagine my own.

Beneath all the shiny, there’s a sweet love story, some Pacific Rim-style fights, and the mystery of why the Vanguards want to destroy humans to solve. The story is covered with glitter and fire and light, and is face-paced and noisy. You can help but root for Gus, and Ardent, self-centered, but utterly loyal to Gus, will grow on you. Probably. If not, you’ll like them because they love Gus.

The story is told from both Gus’s and Ardent’s points-of-view, and I felt that the Ardent chapters were less successful than the Gus ones. That’s partially because almost all the mecha are in the Gus chapters, but also because, well, Ardent isn’t entirely likeable, and the action drags in their sections. I also felt that their “love at first sight” was a bit convenient, but then, hey, it WAS the end of the world, and they were immediately thrown into battle.

Fun, if a bit clunky in places. You won’t be sorry you tuned in.

Book Review: Prison of Sleep (Journals of Zaxony Delatree #2) by Tim Pratt

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publication Date: April 26th, 2022
Pages: 400, paperback
Source: NetGalley

After escaping the ruthless Lector, Zax Delatree has a new enemy to fight in the sequel to Doors of Sleep.

Every time Zaxony Delatree falls asleep he wakes up on a new world. His life has turned into an endless series of brief encounters. But at least he and Minna, the one companion who has found a way of travelling with him, are no longer pursued by the psychotic and vengeful Lector.

But now Zax has been joined once again by Ana, a companion he thought left behind long ago. Ana is one of the Sleepers, a group of fellow travellers between worlds. Ana tells Zax that he is unknowingly host to a parasitic alien that exists partly in his blood and partly between dimensions. The chemical that the alien secretes is what allows Zax to travel. Every time he does, however, the parasite grows, damaging the fabric of the Universes. Anas is desperate to recruit Zax to her cause and stop the alien.

But there are others who are using the parasite, such as the cult who serve the Prisoner – an entity trapped in the dimension between universes. Every world is like a bar in its prison. The cult want to collapse all the bars of the worlds and free their god. Can Zax, Minna, Ana and the other Sleepers band together and stop them?

Prison of Sleep continues Zax’s journey through multiple worlds as he tries to stop the Sleeper cult from propagating and destroying space-time. Told from the points-of-view of Zax, and his former traveling partner and lover, Ana, we get insights (and, admittedly, info-dumps) about the cult and the people from various worlds who are working to defeat it. But, can a god who can traverse anywhere be killed?

Tim Pratt is a writer who’s work is always a joy for me. I became a fan with his Marla Mason series, and have liked everything since. I read The Twilight Empire at the same time I was reading Prison of Sleep, and was intrigued by how effortlessly he builds worlds and characters.

Zax has traveled over 1000 worlds, and he has lost several companions along the way. The cult are looking for him, either to convert or to kill him, and it’s becoming harder to stay ahead of them.

Ana has also become a traveler, after surviving near-madness due to exposure of the space between the worlds. She’s a bit more pessimistic than Zax, but also less idealistic. They balance each other well, and readers will hope for their eventual reunion.

We also meet back up with some characters I thought might be lost for good after the first book. No spoilers, but they’ve joined the fight as well, and are working their way to Zax.

Despite the large blocks of info, the plot moves well and makes sense. I think possibly it could have been improved by having two parts Zax to one part Ana in the chapters, but then too, Ana’s sections give us lots of the backstory of the cult and the group working against them.

This is a good, solid sci-fi series that will appeal to readers who like to imagine alternate times and places.

Book Review: Seven Mercies (Seven Devils #2) by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Publisher: DAW Books
Publication Date: January 25th, 2022
Pages: 464, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

The second book in a feminist space opera duology that follows the team of seven rebels who will free the galaxy from the ruthless Tholosian Empire–or die trying.

After an ambush leaves the Novantae resistance in tatters, the survivors scatter across the galaxy. Wanted by two great empires, the bounty on any rebel’s head is enough to make a captor filthy rich. And the seven devils? Biggest score of them all. To avoid attacks, the crew of Zelus scavenge for supplies on long-abandoned Tholosian outposts.

Not long after the remnants of the rebellion settle briefly on Fortuna, Ariadne gets a message with unimaginable consequences: the Oracle has gone rogue. In a planned coup against the Empire’s new ruler, the AI has developed a way of mass programming citizens into mindless drones. The Oracle’s demand is simple: the AI wants One’s daughter back at any cost.

Time for an Impossible to Infiltrate mission: high chance of death, low chance of success. The devils will have to use their unique skills, no matter the sacrifice, and pair up with old enemies. Their plan? Get to the heart of the Empire. Destroy the Oracle. Burn it all to the ground.

Gina’s Review

Seven Mercies is the sequel to Seven Devils, and continues the story of the rebellion led by the former heir to the Tholosian Empire. In the Empire, the Archon controls the populace by means of the Oracle, a powerful AI.

The Devils are on the run. Most of their forces have abandoned them, and they have no allies. One of them will be dead soon without a cure for the ichor. The One wants her programmer back, and is willing to enslave all of humanity to make it happen. The odds couldn’t be more stacked against them, until a bit of intel from the most unlikely of potential allies gives them one last shot for the freedom of the galaxy. The stakes are high, and Eris, former heir to the throne, knows that she will have to pay her god in more deaths before they are done.

The relationships between the characters grow stronger, but there are still times when they don’t act as a cohesive unit, and members pursue their own agendas. We learn the backstories for several of them, and those stories serve to further illustrate how despotic the Empire is.

The book clocks in at 464 pages, and at times, it feels like it. Each of the characters, with the exception of Kyla, has a fully fleshed-out story arc/tangent, and there’s a lot of exposition. It’s good exposition, but this is not a quick or easy read.

Lam and May have done a great job of tying up all the loose ends and have given a satisfactory, if somewhat formulaic, ending to the duology.

Book Review: Rosebud by Paul Cornell

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Publisher: Tordotcom
Publication Date: April 26th, 2022
Pages: 112, paperback
Source: NetGalley

“The crew of the Rosebud are, currently, and by force of law, a balloon, a goth with a swagger stick, some sort of science aristocrat possibly, a ball of hands, and a swarm of insects.”

When five sentient digital beings—condemned for over three hundred years to crew the small survey ship by the all-powerful Company—encounter a mysterious black sphere, their course of action is clear: obtain the object, inform the Company, earn lots of praise.

But the ship malfunctions, and the crew has no choice but to approach the sphere and survey it themselves. They have no idea that this object—and the transcendent truth hidden within—will change the fate of all existence, the Company, and themselves.

I like Paul Cornell’s work, even when I’m not sure I’ve entirely gotten the message. Such is the case with Rosebud. It’s as if 2001 had been written by John Dickson Carr, perhaps. It’s a mystery inside an enigma inside a, well, you get the idea.

There are five sentient digital beings who are being punished for crimes against society. Their job is to investigate anomalies. Upon encountering a mysterious sphere, they decide to investigate and then must decide what to do with forbidden knowledge.

I found myself distracted by the physical forms the digital beings took. I suppose that if you’ve been locked up for several hundred years, you have to take your freedoms where you can, but it didn’t really add anything to the story for me, and it made it a bit harder to keep track of who was whom. The characters themselves are interesting, and I wanted to know more about them.

The pop culture references were fun. It does seem to be a thing for a lot of books lately, but I have to wonder whether people will really be quoting cult classics several hundred years from now, the way we do, say, Shakespeare.

Book Review: Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1) by Xiran Jay Zhao

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Publication Date: September 21st, 2021
Pages: 400, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

Iron Widow has a solid premise and, unfortunately, not much else.

I wanted very badly to love this novel, as I enjoyed all of its comp titles and I like what I’ve seen of Xiran on twitter. But Iron Widow feels a bit like a first rough draft where the writer was just getting the general beats down and not overly paying attention to anything else such as the world building, characterization, or pacing, or even making certain the characters’ dialogue doesn’t sound exactly the same.

Even accounting for the fact that English isn’t Xiran’s first language and the differences in storytelling norms between English and Chinese, the writing simply isn’t good. It’s very blunt, and while maybe that was the point as the novel is entirely in Zetian’s POV and she’s not a subtle person, I can’t be sure about that. We’re given no time to really pause and reflect on certain scenes or emotions, which leaves it all feeling shallow. Even Zetian’s relationship with her Big Sister, who’s the entire driving force behind the events of the novel, barely gets any mention. We’re told everything and shown nothing.

It really seems as if the author only had a few scenes crystal clear in their head but had no interest in building the rest of the novel around those scenes in a way that made sense. There are a few bits of the novel that really shine, while the rest are hastily put together and shoved to the side so the author could get to the stuff they actually cared about. I couldn’t really tell you a thing about the worldbuilding except that it’s a Chinese sci-fi world where boys and girls have to fight aliens called Hunduns, and the girls are basically batteries for the boys and die in the process of the fighting.

Which brings me to Zetian’s story: I could not, in any way, believe her arc because it made no sense. Where she ends up at the end of the novel is unbelievable; at several points in the story, she should have been stopped simply because she’s about as subtle as a trainwreck on a boat and, frankly, not entirely smart about her plots. Readers looking for a character who manages to play the game intelligently and with subtlety should look elsewhere, because that’s very much not Zetian’s style, and while I understand that’s what Jay Zhao was going for, it doesn’t work. At all.

In a way, I think Iron Widow would have benefited incredibly from not being a YA novel–being an adult novel focused on teenage characters instead–and having multiple POVs. Zetian is limited in a lot of ways (including physically–she has bound feet, though at times it seems like Jay Zhao forgot about that, given that it doesn’t overly impact Zetian’s ability to do things that much) and the middle drags because we can’t see how other pieces are being moved, if they’re being moved at all. Given how the novel was written, I sort of doubt it; the characters come in when they’re needed, do what the plot/Zetian’s characterization and arc require them to do, and then leave, as if they don’t exist outside of their on-page appearances or have an impact on the world outside of them.

And now my final, biggest issue with the novel: For all that it touts itself as a feminist novel, and for all that Zetian claims she wants to save girls, neither Zetian nor the novel seem to actually like other girls that much. Zetian is a prickly person, so I get that she wouldn’t get along with everyone, but the novel itself doesn’t treat girls other than Zetian that well. There’s a difference between your character having some internalized misogyny issues and the writing backing her up on it by having every female character she encounters either be an enemy or get killed by the end of the novel. I don’t require Zetian to never have a bad word to say about other girls or for the novel not to have antagonistic relationships between them, but her scenes with other girls are so scant and overwhelmingly negative. If feminism means only One True Awesome Girl, it’s not one I’m interested in.

I did like the way the mecha functions, and I like that the love triangle resolves itself into an actual poly relationship. I wish the rest of the novel had been as good as some of the scenes inside, but unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Book Review: The Scavenger Door (Finder Chronicles #3) by Suzanne Palmer

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Daw Books
Publication Date: August 17th, 2021
Pages: 464, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

From a Hugo Award-winning author comes the third book in this action-packed sci-fi caper, starring Fergus Ferguson, interstellar repo man and professional finder.

Fergus is back on Earth at last, trying to figure out how to live a normal life. However, it seems the universe has other plans for him. When his cousin sends him off to help out a friend, Fergus accidently stumbles across a piece of an ancient alien artifact that some very powerful people seem to think means the entire solar system is in danger. And since he found it, they’re certain it’s also his problem to deal with.

With the help of his newfound sister, friends both old and new, and some enemies, too, Fergus needs to find the rest of the artifact and destroy the pieces before anyone can reassemble the original and open a multi-dimensional door between Earth and a vast, implacable, alien swarm of devourers. Problem is, the pieces could be anywhere on Earth, and he’s not the only one out searching. 

Fergus is back, and has to save our solar system, if not the entire galaxy in The Scavenger Door

If you haven’t read the other two books in the series, do so. Now. While you could read this as a standalone, your experience will be so much richer with the full backstory, and this is an incredibly great series.

We, along with Fergus, meet his sister, born after his flight from Earth two decades prior. Ignatio and Mr. Feefs are there, and we encounter some of Fergus’s friends (and frenemies) from his days on Mars. 

The threat this time is an artifact that broke up as it fell through Earth’s atmosphere. Assembled, it will allow the Vraet, a scavenger race, to obliterate life in our solar system, and possibly beyond. Fergus, thanks to his forced augmentation by the Asiig, has an affinity with the artifact that allows him to locate and gather the pieces. The Alliance are hot on his tail, and he also has to deal with a wayward member of an apocalyptic cult who want the Vraet to destroy everything.

The story is amazing. Fergus goes through real growth and development. He is a good guy who is constantly put into difficult positions and sometimes has to do the not-so-right thing. He’s not nearly as bad as he believes himself to be, though, and it was nice to see him start to realize this. He demonstrates compassion, self-sacrifice, and empathy. His motivations, and those of the other characters, feel real. 

If I have a quibble, it’s that we still don’t have much insight into the Asiig. They manipulate Fergus and could obviously provide more help than they do, until the very end, where there’s a bit of deus ex machina.

Book Review: Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: September 22nd, 2020
Pages: 416, hardcover
Source: Library

Anna does boring things for terrible people because even criminals need office help and she needs a job. Working for a monster lurking beneath the surface of the world isn’t glamorous. But is it really worse than working for an oil conglomerate or an insurance company? In this economy?

 As a temp, she’s just a cog in the machine. But when she finally gets a promising assignment, everything goes very wrong, and an encounter with the so-called “hero” leaves her badly injured.  And, to her horror, compared to the other bodies strewn about, she’s the lucky one.

So, of course, then she gets laid off.

With no money and no mobility, with only her anger and internet research acumen, she discovers her suffering at the hands of a hero is far from unique. When people start listening to the story that her data tells, she realizes she might not be as powerless as she thinks.

Because the key to everything is data: knowing how to collate it, how to manipulate it, and how to weaponize it. By tallying up the human cost these caped forces of nature wreak upon the world, she discovers that the line between good and evil is mostly marketing.  And with social media and viral videos, she can control that appearance.

It’s not too long before she’s employed once more, this time by one of the worst villains on earth. As she becomes an increasingly valuable lieutenant, she might just save the world.

A sharp, witty, modern debut, Hench explores the individual cost of justice through a fascinating mix of Millennial office politics, heroism measured through data science, body horror, and a profound misunderstanding of quantum mechanics.  

This is my own fault: I’ve been over the whole “superheroes actually aren’t good people” thing for a few years now. It’s boring and I’ve rarely seen it done well. So in hindsight, I’m not sure why I picked this up, except maybe I was drawn in by the promise of an angry feminist look at superheroes as stated by the summary. If your feminism is of the white brand, it accomplishes the job. 

The internalized misogyny in this book is apparent throughout. Anna goes after women in decidedly misogynistic ways, the worst being when she targets a Maori superhero by the name of Quantum Entanglement by publicizing one of her affairs. Quantum gets a bigger role in the third act, but it doesn’t really make up for the fact that a white woman used a Maori woman’s sexuality to shame her and turned it into a weapon to use against this world’s equivalent of Superman. It’s a very 2010s tumblr idea of feminism, where if a woman gets to be as bad as the men, she’s a feminist icon. That’s not how it works, and the fact that this is never examined in the novel is a glaring misstep.

There’s also two other women who get targeted by Anna in misogynistic ways — one has an ex who stalks her, so Anna gets him to escalate his stalking, and the other is a mother who’s pregnant again, so Anna uses her children against her by having one kidnapped. Anna uses women without any hesitation, then has the nerve to feel guilty about it after the women have to deal with what her plotting has done. 

Which brings me to my other problem: The lack of self-awareness. Anna goes on about how two-faced superheroes are, then says that it’s okay when villains act the exact same way because “they’re honest about it.” So it’s okay when children get kidnapped or harmed when villains do it because, hey, they’re villains, they don’t claim to be good people? For someone as smart as the author kept telling us Anna was, this logic did not hold up. 

The characters are all weirdly lacking in history, as well. We never delve into Anna’s history–her childhood–to see how she might have gotten to the point where she was doing temp jobs for villains. The only characters who get any history, in fact, are most of the men. The women mostly only seem to exist in the present for story purposes. Frankly, some of the lagging pacing in the third act could have been cut out in favor of providing some backstory. 

The world itself, at least, is interesting enough to keep reading, and the dialogue and camaraderie between most of the characters was genuine. It just wasn’t enough to balance out the huge issues I listed above. 

Hench tried to claim it’s a feminist takedown of the superhero genre, but it’s really just more of the same white feminism that everyone grew sick of ages ago. It aims for nuance and falls decidedly short, and its attempt at deconstruction is decidedly half-baked.

Book Review: Hold Fast Through the Fire (NeoG #2) by K.B. Wagers

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: July 27th, 2021
Pages: 416, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

The Near-Earth Orbital Guard (Neo-G)—inspired by the real-life mission of the Coast Guard—patrols and protects the solar system. Now the crew of Zuma’s Ghost must contend with personnel changes and a powerful cabal hellbent on dominating the trade lanes in this fast-paced, action-packed follow-up to A Pale Light in the Black.

Zuma’s Ghost has won the Boarding Games for the second straight year. The crew—led by the unparalleled ability of Jenks in the cage, the brilliant pairing of Ma and Max in the pilot seats, the technical savvy of Sapphi, and the sword skills of Tamago and Rosa—has all come together to form an unstoppable team. Until it all comes apart.

Their commander and Master Chief are both retiring. Which means Jenks is getting promoted, a new commander is joining them, and a fresh-faced spacer is arriving to shake up their perfect dynamics. And while not being able to threepeat is on their minds, the more important thing is how they’re going to fulfill their mission in the black.

After a plea deal transforms a twenty-year ore-mining sentence into NeoG service, Spacer Chae Ho-ki earns a spot on the team. But there’s more to Chae that the crew doesn’t know, and they must hide a secret that could endanger everyone they love—as well as their new teammates—if it got out. At the same time, a seemingly untouchable coalition is attempting to take over trade with the Trappist colonies and start a war with the NeoG. When the crew of Zuma’s Ghost gets involved, they end up as targets of this ruthless enemy.

With new members aboard, will the team grow stronger this time around? Will they be able to win the games? And, more important, will they be able to surmount threats from both without and within?

In K. B. Wagers’ Hold Fast Through the Fire, the NeoG kick ass, take names, and hug each other a lot. The story focuses more on the interpersonal relationships and the battle games between the various military groups. A task force has been assembled to take down the people behind the problem of supplies not getting to the habitats in the outer solar system. Max, Jenks, and the rest of the team on Zuma’s Ghost are part of the force. 

I usually try to avoid spoilers, per NetGalley rules, but one or two may pop up during this review.

I’m conflicted. The leaders of the task force are all male. They all decide to keep the mission secret from their teams, which are mostly comprised of females. The reasoning behind this is to keep the potential leaks to a minimum. The leaders all recognize that their teams will be extremely mad when they find out they’ve been kept in the dark. They also don’t consider that their team members have unique skills and could have valuable insights if they were only “read in” to the mission. So, when things predictably go pear-shaped with some near-fatalities, and the teams figure out what’s going on, there’s some well-justified anger. Now, most of the blame has to go to Stephan, as it’s his order that gags the other leaders. The most aggravating part is when Max and Jenks pointed out ways they could have helped in specific situations, the guys all say, “yeah, we didn’t think of that.” 

When there are terrorist attacks on various military facilities, Stephan and another task force leader fake their deaths. This seems to serve no purpose other than to send Jenks into a tailspin. Max and Jenks also forgive Luis, Tivo, Nika and Stephan far too easily, in my opinion.

So, I’m conflicted. The physical affection between the teammates felt a lot more like the camaraderie in Wagers’ Hail Bristol series. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but I expect this series to be more military than the other. I also can’t think of a time where she let her male characters make the female characters feel like crap so much. Somehow, I still liked the story. I think credit for that goes to Jenks and Doge. Doge the robot dog was amazing in this book, and I hope his character progression continues, as well as that of Jenks.

Book Review: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Ace Books
Publication Date: June 18th, 2019
Pages: 352, trade paperback
Source: Library

In this charming, witty, and weird fantasy novel, Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new twist on those renowned characters.

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark. 

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas’ stock-in-trade.

I thoroughly enjoyed this strange little mashup of Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes that shouldn’t work but absolutely does. The mystery is well layered, the culprit believable, and the conclusion satisfying. Putting queer and PoC into the world of Lovecraft is one of my favorite tropes, simply because I know it would horrify the racist were he alive now to see it. 

Shaharazad is an immensely fun character to read about, though I will say she’s more of a composite of the pop culture idea of Sherlock Holmes than a direct translation of the character. She veers closer to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, only more queer and terrifyingly powerful. Whereas the Watson of this story, John Wyndham, a gay trans man, hews closer to the original Watson. It works better than it has any right to, but if you’re looking for a faithful adaptation of the Holmes character, I would lower my expectations on that front. 

The important part is that Shaharazad’s friendship with Wyndham reads as genuine and touching, which should always be the biggest accomplishment of any Sherlock Holmes adaptation.

The only thing I truly found tiresome is that Wyndham has to leave his home country because of the trans hatred he faces there, from society and his own family. In a world where you can visit a Mad God and be back in time for tea, the fact that bigotry against trans people is a thing that still exists is unoriginal and annoying, especially in a book that teems with originality. 

Still, I’ll be back for the next book in the series, and I can’t wait to see how Moriarty is adapted to this universe (if he is).