Star Trek: New Frontier (New Frontier #1) by Peter David Book Review
17, Sep


Star Trek: New Frontier is the father of the modern Star Trek Expanded Universe. Much like Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy created the modern Star Wars Expanded Universe, so did Peter David's adventures of Captain Mackenzie Calhoun and the U.S.S Excalibur create the foundations on which all others would follow. Star Trek fiction existed before this massive multi-book series, existed in books by the hundreds in-fact, but it was continuity-less and insubstantial as a cloud to the greater universe. I hesitate to use the word licensed fan fiction, because some of it was really good, but that's how Paramount viewed it. Flattering, fun to read, but lacking in consistency and unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Shattered Fears (Light in the Dark #3) by Ulff Lehmann Book Review
11, Sep


SHATTERED FEARS is the third novel in the Light in the Dark series. Ulff Lehmann has created a fascinating Warhammer Fantasy-esque world of magic, elves, demonic possession, and other staples while not detracting from the gritty dark atmosphere. It is a world where steel, blood, and sweat are the primary tools of the heroes (as well as villains). It's also a series that I strongly recommend for its excellent use of Medieval warfare tactics as well as brutal unsympathetic portrayal of life during feudal times.

Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed Book Review
02, Sep


ALPHABET SQUADRON by Alexander Freed is a book that I was very eager to get into because it struck me as just up my alley. I've always been a huge fan of the Star Wars starfighter stories with Rogue Squadron, Wraith Squadron, the old TIE Fighter video game, and the recent Star Wars: Resistance. I also enjoyed the previously written Twilight Company by the author. Freed has a somewhat unromantic view of war as well as the Rebel Alliance's fight against the Empire. It's unsurprising he also wrote the adaptation of Rogue One where the cause is just but the people are flawed.

Sea of Quills (Tales of the Black Raven #2) by Seth Skorkowsky Book Review
30, Aug

Sea of Quills is the sequel to the extremely successful Mountain of Daggers book by Seth Skorkowsky. Both are part of the Tales of the Black Raven series, which follows the adventures of Ahren, a sailor turned cat burglar who has managed to become the world's most infamous rogue. The books are set in a Hyborian-style fantasy setting distantly related to the Renaissance but including many qualities from other time periods as well as both monsters and magic.

Bloodline (Star Wars) by Claudia Gray Book Review
25, Aug

"Today is the end of the Republic. The end of a regime that acquiesces to disorder. At this very moment in a system far from here, the New Republic lies to the galaxy while secretly supporting the treachery of the loathsome Resistance. This fierce machine which you have built, upon which we stand will bring an end to the Senate, to their cherished fleet. All remaining systems will bow to the First Order and will remember this as the last day of the Republic!"
-General Hux, The Force Awakens

I love the First Order as baddies as this speech implies a rather interesting new galactic status quo. Who are the First Order? What do they want? Where did they come from? Who is the Resistance? What do they do? Where did they come from? How do both of these relate to the New Republic. A lot of this can be inferred but we really don't have a context for it all and I was hoping the new Star Wars Expanded Universe would fill it in. It hasn't until now.

I was a big fan of Claudia Gray's Lost Stars so was excited about this book. I felt she had an excellent ability to get inside character's heads and was interested in her take on Princess Leia. Honestly, I think this is probably the best Princess Leia book ever done. Leia has long been the most overlooked member of the Big Three and with the exception of her recent comic book series as well as Star Wars: Razor, she doesn't get much in the way of attention.

The premise is it's been twenty-years since the fall of the Galactic Empire. Unlike in the Legends universe, the Empire is nothing more than a story told to scare children now. While Leia and other politicians are venerated for their wartime service, they are considered increasingly irrelevant to the public at large. Worse, the New Republic which Leia fought so hard to preserve has become a gridlocked mess where the two sides of the political debate refuse to compromise on any subject.

Our plucky heroine has been worn down by fighting this uphill battle and wants to retire to be with her husband. Han is, I kid you not, an announcer for space races now. Leia is drawn back into the political arena, though, by the revelation of a massive criminal syndicate threatening the galaxy. Teaming up with an idealistic but naive Empire-loving Senator, a source of considerable disagreement to say the least, Leia discovers the syndicate is part of a grander conspiracy to create a new government that will revive the Empire in practice if not name. This also ends up to the revelation of Leia's greatest secret: her biological father's identity.

Bloodlines provides a lot of necessary context to The Force Awakens. We find out the First Order has been a conspiracy within the Republic for some time as well as the seeds which are laid for a complex relationship between it and the rest of the galaxy. We also find out how Leia has gone from being one of the most respected people in the galaxy to a virtual pariah leading another ragtag resistance.

Claudia Gray creates a complex political situation which is familiar enough to be understood by American readers. We've all been troubled by political gridlock in the past as well as a knowledge of two separate political parties at each other's throats. The addition of a secret Imperial conspiracy within one of them preparing an "evil plan" to take over reminded me more of Captain America: The Winter Soldier than anything resembling RL politics.

Those looking for insight into Supreme Leader Snoke, Ben Solo, or Luke will be disappointed as none of them make an appearance in this book. The biggest revelation is Ben Solo is still a Jedi Knight trainee six years before the events of The Force Awakens and isn't aware of his grandfather's identity. Given the Vader-worshiping idealism of Kylo Ren, it seems likely the discovery of this plays a big role in his fall to the Dark Side.

I like the set up for the First Order with the Centrists' politicians. While they're clearly the "bad" guys, Claudia Gray shows many of them are simply frustrated with the way the galaxy is run. They're catspaws for the First Order conspiracy which will eventually be created from the New Republic (rather than a pre-existing Imperial State).. This makes them more akin to the Prequel's Separatists than the Legends Imperial Remnant.

Claudia Gray has an excellent grasp of characters with all of her supporting cast being likable and interesting. The stand-out character, however, is Senator Casterfo who is an extremely nuanced personality. A labor camp survivor, he has a personal hatred for Darth Vader but believes the Empire is superior to the Republic in terms of government functionality. He is enamored of the TIE fighters, stormtroopers, and beauty of the Empire while missing the darker undercurrents within. The fact he's otherwise a nice guy and a political idealist makes him an interesting set of contradictions.

I'm also a big fan of Lady Carise who is a great character. A political gadfly and idealist, she's much more into the Empire's values than Senator Casterfo. These are just part of her identity, though, and not the whole of her belief system. Indeed, she's just as loyal to the principle of Core World nobility as she is the Centrist cause so this provides her a curious loyalty to Princess Leia.

Not all of this fits together. According to this book, the earliest the First Order, as a government rather than a secret conspiracy at least, could come into existence is five years before the events of The Force Awakens. This doesn't fit with Finn's background of being raised from birth or the fanatical hatred the group holds for the New Republic. Still, as a secessionist movement, it certainly is more threatening than a hold-out remnant with outdated equipment.

Fans who want a shoot-em up, bang-bang adventure may be disappointed by a more cerebral take on the franchise. On the other hand, this is a great deal less boring than the Prequels politics as well as a good deal better-written. Those who enjoy political thrillers, conspiracy, and spy fiction (like me) will find this quite entertaining.

Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn Book Review
23, Aug


My first Star Wars novel, which would literally change my life, was Dark Force Rising in 1992. I was twelve-years-old and it changed my view of how Star Wars and writing were supposed to work. It was darker (but not too dark), more serious (but not too serious), and had a focus on politics as well as military tactics (but without ending up like the Prequels of Honorverse's later books). I loved them so much I read every single one of Timothy Zahn's other Star Wars books and plan to read his original works sometime this year.

Heart of a Dragon (Dechance Chronicles #1) by David Niall Wilson Book Review
15, Aug


Disclaimer: I know the author personally and have done projects with him. I'll try and keep the review as unbiased as possible, though. Still, take my review with a grain of salt and judge for yourself.

THE DECHANCE CHRONICLES follow the adventures of Donovan Dechance, a gentleman wizard who is the most powerful wizard in the West Coast city of San Valencez. He's more or less the opposite of Harry Dresden, being a cultured gentleman scholar that is more like Doctor Strange or Titus Crow than a rough and tumble street mage. Which is ironic because the first plot is about the man attempting to stop a gang war from destroying two feuding gangs.

Lasombra (Clan Novel #6) by Richard E. Dansky Book Review
04, Aug


LASOMBRA is the sixth novel in the Clan Novel series that began with TOREADOR and will continue until it reaches thirteen volumes with a bonus anthology. It is the trademark series of Vampire: The Masquerade and was written roughly between the end of 2nd Edition and the beginning of its Revised. Gehenna, the apocalypse of vampires, is nigh with a war being fought between both the Camarilla (evil vampires) and the Sabbat (eviller vampires).

Chicago by Night (Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition) by Onyx Path Publishing Book Review
31, Jul


CHICAGO BY NIGHT 5TH EDITION is technically the third edition of the seminal Chicago by Night city book supplement for Vampire: The Masquerade. Way back in 1991, the book was released for the then-new series about playing tragic misunderstood creatures of the night a decade before Twilight made it uncool. The book was a shocking change the kind of books present from Dungeons and Dragons or even Call of Cthulhu. It was adult, edgy, racially diverse, sexually diverse, and full of complicated politics your player characters were meant to involve themselves in without shooting up the place. Well, yeah, they'd probably shoot up the place anyway but it wasn't advised.

Redemptor (Valducan #4) by Seth Skorkowsky Book Review
22, Jul

REDEMPTOR by Seth Skorkowsky is the latest of the Valducan series. I'm very fond of this urban fantasy series and its premise: that there is an organization of monster hunters armed with magical weapons that allow them to kill the hundreds of demons afflicting the Earth. Each book has a different protagonist but often has guest stars of the original cast. This book, Redemptor, is unique in that it is named after a villain's weapon rather than one of the heroes' weapons.