Spoiler Free Summary: The Start of Something Beautiful by Kacey Ezell is the final story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Azah is a Tortantula who never should have survived hatching. Azah is about to bond an infant Flatar (and I just don’t know what that is, I think it’s the Torantula word for human, but I don’t know). But the infant Flatar, Sadek, isn’t at all what Azah expected, but after a close encounter with Azah’s murderous siblings, they start to see each other in a different light.
Character: Azah is proactive enough, but the character isn’t very sympathetic. Part of the issue stems from a short story (though this is the beginning of a novel by Ezell and Mark Wandrey called Weaver). It’s hard to connect with a character in just a portion of a story.
Exposition: This was honestly the best part of the story. I had my issues with this story, but at least the author didn’t try to narrate the problem away. The story moves quickly without forcing the reader to sit through a history and biology lesson.
World building: This story fell way short here for me. It might be that this story relies on the universe and is targeted straight at long-time fans of the universe, but I’m not in that group. I was lost. Sure, I understood the actions of the story, but I don’t have any context and couldn’t begin to tell you much about how this story works.
Dialogue: It wasn’t badly disguised exposition, but it wasn’t very informative either. It wasn’t snappy, and it didn’t really add to the conflict or tension. The characters just sort of talked to each other without any real range or wit.
Description: Honestly, I needed more here. I get that Azah is essentially a giant spider, but that’s literally the only thing that stuck in my mind. Now I’m a guy who actually isn’t a fan of description. But I wasn’t given much at all to work with here. It probably would have been easier to connect with this story and the characters if I felt more like I could see and experience what was going on.
Overall: This story is fun and cute in a lot of ways. It’s just find for a quick read, but there isn’t much power or entertainment value. Even as a first chapter, it felt a little forced. It’s not bad writing at all; it’s just not great writing. Fairly forgettable characters with a plot that seemed rushed. If you like “creature introduction” stories, this is just fine, but this final segment seemed a far drop from the awesomeness of the story before it.
Spoiler Free Summary: Faith by Chris Kennedy is the 15th story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Andrews is a prisoner who’s being recalled to duty? Why? The job will probably get him killed, and prisoners are handy sacrificial pawns. He’s thrust into a Suicide Squad style mission, and when he lands, he realizes this kamikaze mission has taken him home, a place he’d never want to return to.
Character: I’m actually of two minds about Andrews. As a character arc, he’s solid. He’s a man without hope trying to stay alive. The reason this doesn’t quite work for me personally is the end. His decisive moment for me would have been much more satisfying if his arc were different. What’s the choice? Come on folks! I’m still trying to get a good anthology some plug, so go pick it up and decide for yourself if the end is satisfying.
Exposition: This maybe wasn’t as good as messenger (or another I’m still yet to review), but it was very good. This story was an experience without much exposition even with the first person narrative, which is just impressive.
World building: This world was the second-most enduring world in my imagination (again, there’s another story coming that I loved). The world where this mission is really stuck with me, and it wasn’t just an alien planet for the sake of being different, it was a well-thought-out plot device. I think this is the best aspect of the book.
Dialogue: If I’m being fair, this was pretty standard for the genre. None of their voices stand out to me, but the dialogue wasn’t wooden or stilted. Sure, there were a few wise cracks that got a smile out of me, but it wasn’t wit of the century. Overall, it wasn’t bad.
Description: The world building to the story made this segment seem that much better. I can tell the world building was stronger because I didn’t feel dragged down by the description. However, the details that pop into my head are a credit to the author’s ability to make the world feel real.
Overall: Some might see the end coming, but for me, military sci-fi is all about the action. This book has it, and it gives us compelling characters to follow through that action. I hadn’t read anything from Kennedy himself, but I know his reputation, and this story shows how well-deserved it is. It’s a fun story that keeps your eyes glued to the page.
Spolier Free Summary: Dawn of War IIIby Robbie MacNivenis a novel from the Warhammer 40,000 series. A wandering planet approaches the normal universe. A prophecy of a great spear, which can be found on this planet, brings Space Marines, orks, and eldar into an epic clash. Most want the spear, but a special few realize that spear can never fall into the wrong hands. Even they don’t know what the weapon truly represents. This was my May Book Cover of the Month winner.
Character: I was at a severe disadvantage jumping in on this book. With so much going on, there wasn’t a lot of character in this book. Don’t get me wrong, there were a ton of characters, but there wasn’t much development. I don’t know how many I can name without help. To me, this is a sign of a book with weak characters. While I assert any book should strive to help the readers connect with the characters, I do understand that these particular characters have probably already been established. I only finished reading this a few minutes ago as I type this, and I can only name Macha, the eldar. The Space Marine was a real bad ass, but all he did was pretty much Hulk smash through the whole book, which is cool if I’m watching a movie, but it’s not so great in written form. My instincts say 1) fans of the series are going to hate me, and 2) My opinion on this subject would be vastly different if I were to start at the first book in the series.
Exposition: This was great. We got what we needed, and I’d argue that every single speck of exposition was carefully analyzed. What I remember reading couldn’t have been done another way in my opinion.
World building: This had some of the same issues as the character had. I’ll say I thought this was better, as MacNiven laces details about the world into every aspect of his writing. I’m not sure about most of it, but as I read, I know what I need to know. I’m not emotionally invested in the information, but I did gain a solid view on how the universe worked.
Dialogue: Neither disappointing nor impressive. It flows well. It’s a little limited for my taste, but I think I view novels differently than fans of this series.
Description: This was fantastic. Every action had a level of detail that added something to the scene. This is especially true during the (many, many) fight scenes. Still, I’d say this is MacNiven’s strongest skill.
Overall: This was pretty much non-stop action and mayhem from cover to cover. It didn’t have much in the way of character development, which means it’s probably a great part of the series, but it’s not a good book to start with. If this were Anime, I’d love it. The action and description is perfect for fans of the video games, so if you’re more interested in hack and slash, this is the book for you.
The Human Legion is still putting the pieces together following a crippling betrayal, but they’re fighting back. They’re working to take the continent while keeping a hold on their fragile, newly-formed union.
Character: I got frustrated with Lance’s arc in this. He’s still pretty much a badass, and it’s not so much the challenges he faced that bothered me; it was more the way he handled those challenges emotionally. Again, this book is great for readers who like fast-paced action, but there are too many characters in too few pages for me to keep straight. I have a few that I liked, but they didn’t get the air time I wanted. Honestly, these books always feel like they need to be another hundred thousand words or so to justify the number of points of view. It’s more of a lost opportunity than anything else, but it’s been my gripe on the series from book one.
Exposition: Three books in, I expected this to get better, and it did. I didn’t feel much in the way of info dumping. I think Handley improved his description and dialogue to reduce the amount of “telling” vs “showing.”
Worldbuilding: A race (one reason the number of characters hurt is that I can’t really recall this race exactly…they’re basically giant war rabbits…) gets center stage, and I appreciate when scifi has non-human characters take center stage. They were cool to watch. We get more insight. I think this was the best in the series in regard to this category.
Dialogue: There wasn’t exactly a lot of it when I think about it. What was there felt pretty decent. I thought it was average. I remember some of the back and forth best.
Description: Handley took another step forward in this. It wasn’t so much the amount, but the placement I noticed. I found the world more inviting because I could see what I needed to see when I needed to see it. It’s fun watching a new writer develop like that. Each book was better than the last.
Overall: While it didn’t have some of the arc I wanted from book two, it had what the others have. If you like scifi action at a fast pace, this book won’t disappoint. There’s more development here than in the first two, but readers will have to keep their eyes sharp to keep track of which character is where. Quick reads like this do help to break up the monotony and rest the eye from some of the thicker tomes I usually read. This had more action that the others (a huge plus). The fight scenes were particularly fun. If you like his work, you’ll like this book.
Spoiler Free Summary: No Marine Left Behind is a short story featuring Sashala Kraevoi. Author J.R. Handley gives us a deeper glimpse into one of the characters in the series. Sashala starts out leading a normal mission, but when one of her Marines ends up alone and surrounded by aliens and steeped in hopeless odds, Sashala charges to the rescue. Survival is mandatory. Escape is the goal.
Character: Sashala is a strong character (I mean that literally, she’s physically strong), which is nice. Having served with some amazing Marines (both man and woman), I like seeing a woman take the lead now and then. For a story this short, there wasn’t a lot of room for development, but you still get to see how determined she is. That determination is her best asset.
Exposition: I’ll admit Andrew get’s a little heavy handed here, but there’s a purpose to this. His wordplay is brilliant, but it can’t survive in dialogue alone. The humor of said word-play is more than fair compensation for the slightly higher-than-average exposition.
Worldbuilding: Based in the Human Legion world, the reader knows there’s more out there to learn, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with too much (a few terms I didn’t recognize here or there). This book was a thousand miles an hour, so there wasn’t much in the way of scope or setting. The reader saw what was essential to the plot, and nothing more.
Dialogue: I’ll admit it’s been a while since I’ve read this story. I think some of it felt a bit “too” Marine for my taste. What I mean by this is there wasn’t much beyond the orders and stereotypical banter. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination; it just didn’t add a lot to the character.
Description: It didn’t bother me so much, especially with a story this short. There wasn’t a lot of description. This story is driven by action and pacing. Handley didn’t bog that down with overly descriptive blocks of information.
Overall: This was a fun “dinner” read. (No really, I read it during a meal.) It’s action packed and full of cool fight scenes and scifi visual moments. It had an 80s action movie feel to it that I liked.
Spolier Free Summary: The Legion Awakes is the first book in the Sleeping Legion saga by J.R. Handley. Sergeant Lance Scipio is pulled from cryo sleep to revive ancient combat tactics with a cadet squad. He needs to take a group of undisciplined cadets and turn them into space Marines while simultaneously proving the combat methods of his era are effective in a future where humanity serves the White Knights. When the training starts working, Lance’s unit has to prove themselves in a battlefield exercise designed to teach units how to deal with failure. His squad must prove that test wrong or risk being Culled.
Character: Lance is memorable, and he’s compelling to read about in an 1980’s action movie sort of way. What this book makes up for in pace and excitement, Handley gives up a bit in terms of character. It’s not that Lance isn’t cool; It’s not even that there aren’t other cool characters. The problem is characters get thrown at the reader very quickly, and readers don’t get a lot of time in their heads. Basil is probably my favorite character. He also has the most satisfying arc. I remember Wires because of the nickname, but that’s about it. That said, this felt like an informed decision on the part of J.R (who most of you know is a friend of mine). This area is probably the weakest of the book for that reason, but I repeat this is because Lance is so powerful and there are SO many other characters we don’t get a chance to learn about.
Exposition: Legion can get a little info dumpy in a few spots, but only in areas that require a steep learning curve, which science fiction readers probably come to expect. Even my favorite science fiction books have large segments of exposition that are simply a necessity for something as deep as this series. The good news is the pacing of this novel is unstoppable. Info dumpy or not, the pages fly by when you’re reading, and that’s due mostly to the action movie feel of the book.
Worldbuilding: So I understand that Sleeping Legion is a sub-set of the Human Legion saga. There’s a bit of a struggle (very small mind you). I think if you’re a fan of Human Legion, you’ll burn through this without issue, but there are some pieces of information that bring questions to those who haven’t read that universe. I equate it to people who watch something like Doctor Strange without seeing the other MCU movies. You don’t ACTUALLY need it to understand what’s going on, but it probably increases the enjoyability. If you’ve read both, I’d be curious to hear if you agree in the comments below. What I will say is the world building we need to understand is laid out for the reader in a plot relevant style.
Dialogue: It’s solid, though I wouldn’t be able to argue with those who say some characters sound alike. Lance steals the show for the most part. What the book lacks in voice, it makes up for in mannerisms that are indeed unique to the characters. As a military guy, what’s nice about the dialogue is the natural flow of the military conversations. This book does a great job of mixing up the odd manner service members have of mixing high intensity conversations with light hearted topics that break that tension. It’s realistic. If you’re a service member, you get it.
Description: Depending on who you are, this is either the strongest part of Handley’s game or the weakest. I’m not a fan of description, so the sparse details don’t bother me a bit. It allows the plot to surge forward at a breakneck pace. Again, I’m not actually a science fiction reader. High fantasy (probably my favorite genre) is very detail obsessive. So if you’re looking for schematic ready description, you’ll probably be disappointed. But you have the visuals you need to move along. Like I said, I’m honestly very interested to hear what fans of this genre have to say on the matter. For my money, I don’t actually care about the layout, specks of the weapons or things like that. I wouldn’t say no to a few more beats of description, but I honestly didn’t miss it.
Overall: Lance plus a relentless plot pace makes this a really enjoyable book. J.R. makes no excuses or apologies for what he writes, and I’m in agreement with him. This is plup fiction, action oriented storytelling. Any reader could zip through this book during a large meal and a tasty desert. (No, really! I totally read this in about a week, which in Matt’s reading time is about two days…maybe 5 hours of reading time. That’s LUDICROUS Speed at it’s finest). At the end of the day this is a pleasant, action-packed story that blends elements of 1980s action movies with science fiction themes.