Gathering Ashes by Michael Shean – 5/5 Stars

Gathering Ashes by Michael Shean

‘Endless carefree consumption, total comfort, all you can eat, and only at the low, low cost of your human soul and who believed in that anymore.’

In book three of Michael Shean’s dark cyberpunk series, he explores the paths we can take as humanity: to stick with the militaristic war-like foible of the human race or to use the superior technology of the alien Yathi to humanity’s advantage and risk losing a small part of ourselves.

Thomas Walken’s worst fears are realised when he wakes up as one of the Yathi. He doesn’t know his true purpose or what the Mother of Systems has planned for him. Walken must evolve, from a policeman to a spy operative, listening to external intelligence to make considered choices in the greater scheme of things. His new body has the potential to put him on an even keel with his alien enemies, if only he knew how to unlock his capabilities. ‘The magnetic fields around his hands, his arms, the elements that would flash-heat the trapped air into white-hot plasma. His alloy-laced bones, his diamond heart. The poreless white skin beneath his sensory absorptive coating, Nemea invulnerability rendered from flesh impregnated with nanomachines.’

The author keeps the best parts of character Bobbi’s point of view from Redeye (book two)  and combines it with Walken’s ego: ‘I’m hoping to kick ass and save the day no matter what you do to me’. Bobbi is much stronger and confident in Gathering Ashes, bringing together a group of hackers and using reclaimed Yathi as assassins. Though I was more excited with Walken’s ‘no shits given’ exchanges with enemies, it was Bobbi’s personality and character that felt more real. The way she thought, acted, and interacted bore uncanny resemblance to somebody who might have lived in the real world.

Criticism: I couldn’t easily fault Gathering Ashes. The quotations marks were presented inconsistently. Author should maybe cut out some similes, which stuck out in the text next to the already excellent pace and tone of the writing. Ch.12 was exceptionally long. When did Tom see Scalli, did I miss that part? There is a gap in my memory there. Regarding the ‘mysterious horseshit’ perpetrated by god-like AI Cagliostro, I wanted more answers than conjecture to explain who he is and whether he really can be trusted. It’s clear more will be answered in the next book, but some things could have been wrapped up better.

The author has adapted his writing, adding brief backstories, more considered settings, and even crossed into the spy genre with infiltration missions, all of which were well balanced, at the correct length and written with superb quality. The story contained some of the most exciting action I’ve read in science fiction with the right level of urgency, a firm grip of technology, and an understanding of cause and effect. I liked the fact that Gathering Ashes was not a rushed third book, and the author took his time to reacquaint the reader with the setting and characters. The flow was perfect. What else can I say except that Gathering Ashes is a well-crafted sequel that I hugely enjoyed? Each book continues to get better.

Michael Shean’s website