A thoroughly entertaining adventure with imaginative action and an appealing hero.

LAST STAR STANDING

A human rebel leads a desperate attempt against alien overlords in Taylor’s debut SF novel.

In 2067, World War III laid waste to Earth’s ecosystem, and in 2084, extraterrestrials called the Xirfell conquered the planet. Now, in 2094, the Xirfell’s King Hebdith and his minions, including alien creatures gathered from other worlds, impose despotic rule on the surviving earthlings. Despite the aliens’ vast advantage in numbers and assets, a scrappy human resistance movement has organized itself. Thirty-year-old half-Anglo, half-Indigenous Aiden Tenten has been part of the rebellion since his days attending Australasian Academy, where he was recruited for three major qualities: “an outstanding brain, a stubborn spirit, and a determination to make a difference,” and also because of—or despite—his reckless confidence and craving for the spotlight. When an unknown source disclosed his affair with Ravene, the king’s half-human, half-Xirfell daughter, Aiden was expelled from the academy. Since then, he’s been a successful rebel operative, but he’s apparently been betrayed again. As he languishes in prison with a death sentence, the Xirfell question and torture him; the seductive Ravene even conducts one of the interrogation sessions. Nevertheless, he manages, with help from allies, to embarrass the regime by foiling the public execution of Leelack, a breathtaking mermaidlike creature who managed to infiltrate the Xirfell’s high council. Aiden also escapes and is tapped for a crucial mission in which he must disguise himself as an enormous alien enforcer, get close to the king, and assassinate him. He won’t have to do it alone, but the odds are against his little team—and the betrayer in the resistance is still at large.

Over the course of this novel, Taylor tempers his bleak, post-apocalyptic fictional world with Aiden’s energetic narration and darkly comic humor, as when Aiden, in his alien disguise, finds himself seduced again by the unwitting Ravene: “But, before you write me off as the feeblest—if possibly the sexiest—operative in rebel history,” he says, “I was also hatching a back-up plan.” The overall tone of the narrative recalls Nick Harkaway’s novel The Gone-Away World (2008), but it does so without ever feeling derivative. The action scenes are excitingly unpredictable, and they also have an emotional element, as brave, goodhearted characters face mortal danger from truly cruel and evil beings. Similarly, Taylor handles Aiden’s growth toward humble self-knowledge in a moving and believable manner; as self-centered as he’s been, he’s also been taking care to note the examples of others who’ve found true greatness—“that kernel deep inside, that immortal core” whose recognition “can merge, from all our separate selves, into the person we are meant to be.” His later mission gives him the chance to move past his restless desire for fame and become his truer self. The book is also a standout for its inventive array of alien species; for example, Pavlina Dafina Evangelija, a tiny and fuzzy “gromeline,” is an intelligent and fearless creature who provides essential help for the rebels’ mission.

A thoroughly entertaining adventure with imaginative action and an appealing hero.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-78965-097-6

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Unbound

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

GIDEON THE NINTH

From the Locked Tomb Trilogy series , Vol. 1

This debut novel, the first of a projected trilogy, blends science fiction, fantasy, gothic chiller, and classic house-party mystery.

Gideon Nav, a foundling of mysterious antecedents, was not so much adopted as indentured by the Ninth House, a nearly extinct noble necromantic house. Trained to fight, she wants nothing more than to leave the place where everyone despises her and join the Cohort, the imperial military. But after her most recent escape attempt fails, she finally gets the opportunity to depart the planet. The heir and secret ruler of the Ninth House, the ruthless and prodigiously talented bone adept Harrowhark Nonagesimus, chooses Gideon to serve her as cavalier primary, a sworn bodyguard and aide de camp, when the undying Emperor summons Harrow to compete for a position as a Lyctor, an elite, near-immortal adviser. The decaying Canaan House on the planet of the absent Emperor holds dark secrets and deadly puzzles as well as a cheerfully enigmatic priest who provides only scant details about the nature of the competition...and at least one person dedicated to brutally slaughtering the competitors. Unsure of how to mix with the necromancers and cavaliers from the other Houses, Gideon must decide whom among them she can trust—and her doubts include her own necromancer, Harrow, whom she’s loathed since childhood. This intriguing genre stew works surprisingly well. The limited locations and narrow focus mean that the author doesn’t really have to explain how people not directly attached to a necromantic House or the military actually conduct daily life in the Empire; hopefully future installments will open up the author’s creative universe a bit more. The most interesting aspect of the novel turns out to be the prickly but intimate relationship between Gideon and Harrow, bound together by what appears at first to be simple hatred. But the challenges of Canaan House expose other layers, beginning with a peculiar but compelling mutual loyalty and continuing on to other, more complex feelings, ties, and shared fraught experiences.

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31319-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A fun, fast-paced epic that science fiction fans will gobble up.

TO SLEEP IN A SEA OF STARS

A curious scientist stumbles on mysterious ruins in the opening chapters of this science fiction epic.

Things are really turning around for Kira Navárez. A xenobiologist, she’s finishing up a stint doing research on the large moon Adrasteia with a small team of other scientists, and her boyfriend, Alan, has just proposed to her. Instead of continuing to spend months apart, working on different planets and waiting until they can be together, they'll be able to ask their employers to make them part of a colony as a couple. As Kira performs a few routine last-minute checks before their team leaves the system, something strange catches her eye. She decides to check it out, just to be thorough, and finds herself in the middle of an ancient structure. When her curiosity gets the better of her and she touches a pedestal covered in dust, a bizarre black material flows out and covers her entire body. She passes out as she's being rescued by her team, and when she comes to, she seems to be fine, and the team reports her findings to the government. But soon a kind of strange, alien suit takes over her body, covering her with black material that lashes out violently against Alan and the other scientists, forming spikes that jump out from her skin. A military ship comes to collect what's left of the team and investigate the reports of an alien discovery. When an alien species attacks the ship, presumably because of Kira’s discovery, Kira will have to learn to harness the suit’s strange powers to defend herself and the rest of the human race. Paolini, best known for the YA epic fantasy series The Inheritance Cycle, makes his adult debut in another genre that welcomes long page counts. This one clocks in at close to 900 pages, but the rollicking pace, rapidly developing stakes, and Paolini’s confident worldbuilding make them fly by. Perhaps not the most impressive prose, but a worthwhile adventure story.

A fun, fast-paced epic that science fiction fans will gobble up.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-76284-9

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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