Star Wars: Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil by Drew Karpyshyn – 4/5 Stars

Star Wars Darth Bane Dynasty of Evil - front coverStar Wars Darth Bane Dynasty of Evil - back cover

The Darth Bane series is the most enjoyable series of books I’ve read about the Star Wars universe. I give the series 5/5 stars on the whole. It follows Darth Bane, who started out as a miner in the first book Path of Destruction and surpassed all expectations and abilities to create what is called the Rule of Two: a rule intended to keep the Sith strong so that one day, as in the prequel trilogy of films, they would rise to fight the Jedi and take over the galaxy.

 

However, Darth Bane’s current apprentice, Zannah, has not challenged him yet and the tremors in Bane’s left hand attest to infirmity and aging muscles, which is fatal in a warrior who relies primarily on martial prowess. The future of the Sith is at stake and Bane seeks the secret to eternal life, and a new apprentice, as a backup plan. Zannah mistakenly thinks her master wants her to be patient in challenging him, but also wonders if it is time. She actively thinks about recruiting a new apprentice.

There are a few captivating additions to the series including a Iktotchi assassin who has visions of the future; healer Caleb’s daughter Serra who seeks justice for her murdered husband and father; a dark Jedi Set Harth whose reliance on escape and self-preservation make a contrast between him and the Sith.

There was a touch too much background information at times, reminding us of what happened in earlier books, but it did give the reader a well-rounded understanding of the thoughts of each character. We see less of Bane in Dynasty of Evil and the chapters about each character were shorter than I would have liked.

I must say the battles were well imagined and incredibly exciting. I reckon I was drooling when the Sith battled one another, anticipating how the battles would play out. With the background information sketched out previously, all the characters and situations came together in a clash that combined political reality with petty vengeance and brutal challenge/survival.

Path of Destruction is still the best book, but I wouldn’t hesitate to read another in this series, if it was possible. Or maybe I’ll have to reread Drew Karpyshyn’s Mass Effect series again or other works he has written. There is a visual quality to his writing that I like.

Star Wars: Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil on Amazon

Drew Karpyshyn’s Website

Ryonna’s Wrath by Christian Kallias – 4/5 Stars

Ryonna's Wrath (Trials) by Christian Kallias
‘Ryonna’s Wrath’ (not ‘trials’) is the new name of this novella, as far as I know.

Fundamentally, Ryonna’s Wrath is about Droxian female alien Ryonna’s attempt to break into the maximum security prison Hellstar to save her son Jax, who we can assume has been wrongly imprisoned. However, the story also has a few parallel plots running, where Ryonna will learn about the circumstances that led to the ruination of her family. Along the way, she meets a friend called Alix, a friendly, helpful, and indispensable part of her team. Ryonna’s friendship with Alix is troubled by a vision she had of his death at her hands – visions she sees that are due to her unique ability of foresight that activates when she becomes acquainted with somebody.

It was engrossing reading about the pickles Ryonna got herself in and seeing how she would be able to get out of them. The theme of torture repeated a few times, but was written about in different ways so it didn’t bore. The technologies were colourful and simple to understand, and for this reason it made the action scenes flow seamlessly. More than one action scene reminded me of the video game Metal Gear Solid, which was well adapted.

The dialogue was always engaging, and sometimes a bit of personality leaked through: ‘Now we’re square puke wise.’

Criticism: the ‘voice’ of the story, while a signature style of the author’s, did not vary much between characters leaving the reader with people that sounded the same when they spoke, lending confusion as if the story was a narration; though an enjoyable one.

There could have been more depth to the story. Some of the prose was a bit simplistic and one-dimensional, perhaps because it was from Ryonna’s point of view and because all she wanted was revenge or justice. And crucially, you didn’t get to know how Ryonna breaks her son out of Hellstar, arguably the main point of the story. I don’t think the author left it to the reader’s imagination. Likely, this will be covered later on in his novel series, but throughout I thought I was going to get some follow-up in this novella as to all the plans Ryonna made. As a result of the lack of depth, I didn’t feel justified giving it the full 5 stars, but it was a fine point to make.

Some of the scenes were too similar to Metal Gear Solid, in that I could make a direct connection between characters of the video game moving, fighting, or manipulating others; drop to one knee, shattered glass, battling a mech with a lot of jumping around, and a main character’s fate. Nonetheless, it was engaging and some ideas were new, or new enough, like the light-blades.

Ryonna’s Wrath is like a Star Wars novel, but without the political and techno babble, and fused with fantasy instead. Aside from any preconceptions I might have had about the novella, I found the writing to be exciting, fast-paced, and intriguing. It brings forward the visual technology and the movement of action scenes with clarity. I liked seeing Ryonna in action, and some of her battle scenes and struggles were borderline epic. I did prefer his novel Earth: Last Sanctuary, but I would read from this author again. Ryonna’s Wrath is a quick nugget of thrills and excitement, so if you’re looking for a short space opera read then this should quite easily satisfy your need.

Christian Kallias’ website

Ice by Briana Herlihy – 3.5/5 Stars

Ice by Briana Herlihy

Ice is a sequel in the science fiction series Clarity, and is set primarily on the alien ice planet Seoorus populated by humanoids in a not-too-distant future; a future prepared by main protagonist Ren’s time-travelling mother Sanna Grant and her complement Alma Laine. Ice is a big departure from the first book The Watch’s setting: the post-apocalyptic ruins of Earth, rife with Doctors, Filavirus, and the ‘Union’. Instead of learning more about the fascinating world in The Watch, the author opted to expand the setting to include the Cryuuia Galaxy, controlled by the Lamsam-Eothern (Prime Minister) and therefore introduced a new problem for Ren and the crew aboard the ship Clarity: ‘acceptance’ into the galaxy by undertaking a ‘worth’ test.
As was the case in The Watch, Ren is an insecure, compassionate, and somewhat vulnerable character who is constantly assailed by fears. She has to struggle against forced technological synchronisation with the hated Captain Cecelia Laine, which assimilates her will with Cecelia’s and confuses her into trying to do what is best for her new ‘complement’. The synchronisation pairs the inquisitive and cautious side of Ren with the cold, determined, and commanding personality of Cecelia, which hinted to me that in order to grow Ren has to take measures that are averse to her instincts. As a result, her Moon-soul religion of compassion and her adventures with her ragtag friends on Earth may have to be abandoned by Ren, which is not a comfortable prospect for her.

When Cecelia’s infuriatingly accurate predictions go wrong, I read with anticipation an encounter with the superior aliens of the Cryuuia Galaxy. Here, I liked the sinister description of the aliens in the Cry’uuia assembly, and the commanding tone of the Lamsam-Eothern. It made me see the peril Ren and the crew faced if they failed to pass the ‘worth assessment’. They are given a chance to do this when they are exiled to the primitive humanoid planet of Seoorus under the care of the Soolt Tribe.

If I lost interest for a few pages, the author was consistently able to bring forward new ideas or subplots to fuel Ren’s experience on Seoorus. Ren was strongly in touch her with emotions, which gave her an insight into how her friends felt, connecting the lives of a number of distinct and not-so-distinct characters, and prompting her to act to help them all. This is where it becomes apparent that Ren finds it difficult to prioritise what is most important; she can’t save or manage everybody. Ren’s changing priorities and conflicts were fascinating throughout, and formed the backbone of Ice. There was a thread of continuity running through the series in the character Jasmine – who is a tempestuous fighter – and Ren’s growing realisation of her feelings for Rian Sloan, the leader of the group of her fellow vigilantes on Earth.

Criticism: some passages reminded me strongly of Dune by Frank Herbert, especially when Ren and the crew meet the Lamsam-Eothern, who calls them ‘witches’ and demands a test to determine worth; a concept that reminded me of the ‘gom jabbar’; and then exiles them to a barren planet. There were even some giant serpents in these scenes. Thankfully, the author didn’t dwell too long on these similarities and moved on to the story.

When the focus switched from Ren to the point of view of Tove Dunyenya and Oliver Booth, ch.21-22, my interest in the plot waned for those chapters. At 54% through, the pace needed to be turned up a notch. The nature and the presentation of the worth test was cryptic, and I couldn’t become interested in it. Beyond the tribal hunt and Ren’s concern for Jasmine’s sanity little else was happening. Ren’s amazing ability to know how the other main characters felt lessened the impact of events, making them reported rather than allowing me to witness what events were happening. The author can write action and plot scenes, as proven in The Watch, but there were far too few in Ice. Those I remember vividly because they are written excellently were the crew meeting the Lamsam Eothern, an altercation between Cecelia and Jasmine, a brief exciting encounter with another tribe, and the final chapter.

It was difficult to remember the individual attributes of the characters in the humanoid Soolt Tribe, whose names sounded similar and all began with ‘H’: ‘Holnom’, ‘Hsama’, ‘Hmyal’, ‘Hoonomlat’; to name a few. Personally, I found more excitement when the characters were preparing for the worth test, which I waited with bated breath for, and when they weren’t on Seoorus.

Overall, Ice had writing that flowed smoothly, meaningful emotions that are well described, and a main character that evoked feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. Ren grows, gathering an aptitude for learning, feeling anger, mustering confidence, and taking a massive decision to fight for her feelings. There are background histories that add depth to Soolt culture and reassure the reader that the author has taken the time to construct the culture and setting – Halmyiyo’s Cove to name just one. What do I want from another story by this author? A group of characters on an adventure as in The Watch, more close encounters between allies and allies–enemies, more ‘mystery’ and intrigue surrounding humanity’s technological development and its relation to Earth, the Union, the Doctors, manips, Jasmine, Cecelia, and Lamsam-Eothern. It looks like I want more continuity… Nonetheless, Ice was a great fulfilling story and is in many ways the ‘complement’ of The Watch. It would not be wise to underestimate author Briana Herlihy’s incredible writing ability, which I am sure will continue to sharpen as it already has.

Author Briana Herlihy’s website

Mamluk by James Jackson – 5/5 Stars

Mamluk Emergence by James Jackson

The story of Mamluk is the story of a prototype reptilian soldier stranded on a primitive planet, fighting for survival and learning and using every device at his disposal to launch back towards the safety of the Protectorate empire that created him; a ruthless expanding empire that sends in enhanced soldiers to wipe out indigenous species in expectation of a second wave of colonisation. Along the way Mamluk will witness the growth of a civilisation, make many enemies, and even find what it means to have friendship and mutual respect.

The most compelling aspect was the friendship between Mamluk and a feline predator he names Madcat, especially when they are threatened by groups of savage tribal people that makes you wonder who the real predators are. Through stages of civilisation, in which technology ever increases, Mamluk and Madcat must work together to survive and protect their territory; which starts as a familiar cave but expands at a nice pace to encompass a lava tube, valley, forest, etc. The second half of the story complements the first well, filling it with emotion and purpose and adding significance to the main struggles Mamluk had faced and the people whose lives he touched. In this way there were potent messages in this story, of the impact of individual actions and how they shape the future in terms of war, monuments, and records.

Author James Jackson’s use of the first-person present tense gave him a platform for connecting scenes together with immediacy, thrill, and visual clarity. It enabled him to build Mamluk’s situation without interfering with other plotlines. What suggestions I have for improvement are minor. I’d have liked to learn more about the periods on the planet, or involve more complexities between Mamluk and the main people he comes across; mostly those referred to later on. I didn’t think any more depth needed to be added to the people, beasts, or the environment. The simplicity of the descriptions was why many chapters worked so well in connecting the rest of the plot into a cohesive and comprehensible whole. I did occasionally feel as if there was a bit too much fighting, but I gradually came to accept this made sense as Mamluk’s genetics, training, and his way of dealing with problems; which were abundant because he looked like a monster to the locals. An extra scene break or two might not have gone amiss; it would have disrupted the flow in some chapters; but would have given that extra breathing room between fighting in others.

Mamluk is a concise and well-structured novella that doesn’t try to be too clever by introducing events on a grand scale, instead presenting them in a relatable way through the immediate action Mamluk faces. This is quite despite the fact that author James Jackson has thought a lot about his world-building. For example, in reference to an expanding empire: ‘numerous space-factories churn out a steady stream of defence platforms to fill gaps in the grid as it expands’, shows that he has thought about solutions to his creation. Mamluk is a thoughtful novella that makes you think about what’s really important on a world that appears cruel, barbaric, and yet familiar. The setting surprised me with its familiarity to a medieval fantasy, but thankfully it only dips into the similarities enough to make the second half of the story plausible. Yes, you really need to read the second half to get the full benefit. I’d say Mamluk was a tidy novella overall, with all the elements in their allotted place; a feat I can imagine to be quite difficult for the average author. Supposedly advanced technology wasn’t so much explained, as it was delivered in terms that are well known to most avid genre readers, which made reading effortless. Make no mistake though that it’s quite clear throughout that you’re reading a science-fiction story. With Mamluk, I think James Jackson’s writing has made an impression on me, and has given me confidence he can craft engaging stories with vision, balance, and brevity. I have a newfound appreciation for his writing and hope he continues to think, write, and share his creations!

James Jackson’s website