An unusually sedate and conscience-ridden military/sci-fi drama featuring a warrior who’s lost without a battle to occupy...


A victorious but haunted commando of the future, adrift after her services are no longer needed for combat, becomes lured into unethical corporate espionage missions by a megalomaniac tycoon.

This sci-fi novel from poet/author Scarlett (Love Crimes, 2017) is set 150 years “from now.” A conflict called “the Long War” seems to have become the new branding for the war on terror. To defeat regional warlords preying worldwide on civilians in guerrilla attacks, fresh tiers of military intelligence sent elite warrior squads after the bad guys on their home soil. While the Dubai-born author doesn’t spell it out, there is a strong inference these best-of-the-best soldiers eradicated much of the Arab world. Lt. 1st Class Alisande “Sandy” Attiyeh was a teen orphaned by a terror attack when she joined the fight as an ace hacker/assassin/commando. After the West’s victory, she embraces celebrity as an inspiring avenger (even doing commercial endorsements). Still, much of peacetime American society (the military included) reviles her as a loose-cannon war criminal, and, at only 31 years old, she remains drug-sedated and troubled by her past. Lyndon Hamilton, a homicidal billionaire tied to a destructive cult, recruits vulnerable Sandy for his data-mining conspiracy to seize and manipulate society via computer. In a subplot, Matthew “Massi” Moretti, a teenage armed forces cadet in Virginia who unashamedly idolizes Sandy, finds himself increasingly ostracized by his comrades and even the girl he loves. Scarlett’s nonstandard story structure takes place in the aftermath of a dramatic, action-filled conflict, not during the thick of it, with key details supplied only sparingly with belated flashbacks. For many genre readers—especially in an era of sci-fi sagas profitably starring women—this series opener intriguingly explores the wounded mindset of a discarded alpha heroine when the fight’s over, adrenaline rushes are in short supply, and dull domesticity looms in a “happy” ending. Think Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Honor Harrington (Honorverse), and Killashandra Ree (Crystal Singer trilogy). As such, the author offers a more character-driven and thoughtful story than expected. Despite the futuristic time frame, the technology here is not too extraordinarily advanced. Sadly, perhaps the biggest mind-blower in Scarlett’s extrapolated America of tomorrow is the horrifying massacre of Middle Easterners and its impact on guilt-ridden citizens.

An unusually sedate and conscience-ridden military/sci-fi drama featuring a warrior who’s lost without a battle to occupy her talents and keep her pain at bay.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5434-9323-8

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2019

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.


Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.

The world’s not big enough for two wizards, as Tolkien taught us—even if that world is the shiny, modern one of the late 19th century, with its streetcars and electric lights and newfangled horseless carriages. Yet, as first-time novelist Morgenstern imagines it, two wizards there are, if likely possessed of more legerdemain than true conjuring powers, and these two are jealous of their turf. It stands to reason, the laws of the universe working thus, that their children would meet and, rather than continue the feud into a new generation, would instead fall in love. Call it Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, save that Morgenstern has her eye on a different Shakespearean text, The Tempest; says a fellow called Prospero to young magician Celia of the name her mother gave her, “She should have named you Miranda...I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.” Celia is clever, however, a born magician, and eventually a big hit at the Circus of Dreams, which operates, naturally, only at night and has a slightly sinister air about it. But what would you expect of a yarn one of whose chief setting-things-into-action characters is known as “the man in the grey suit”? Morgenstern treads into Harry Potter territory, but though the chief audience for both Rowling and this tale will probably comprise of teenage girls, there are only superficial genre similarities. True, Celia’s magical powers grow, and the ordinary presto-change-o stuff gains potency—and, happily, surrealistic value. Finally, though, all the magic has deadly consequence, and it is then that the tale begins to take on the contours of a dark thriller, all told in a confident voice that is often quite poetic, as when the man in the grey suit tells us, “There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.” Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.


Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53463-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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