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by Timothy Zahn

Pub Date: June 5th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2213-5
Publisher: Tor

The fifth installment of Zahn’s science fiction thriller series concerning the Quadrail, an interstellar train system, brings the series to a close.

Quadrail investigator Frank Compton has discovered (The Domino Pattern, 2010) that the Shonkla-raa, the conquering aliens defeated into extinction more than 1,000 years ago, were actually a genetic variant of a living species, the Filiaelians—and that variant has now been revived. Frank and his partner/love interest, Bayta, have traced the new Shonkla-raa to Proteus Station, a medical and diplomatic center. Once there, Frank is accused of murder (which happens at least once every book), forcing him to combat the legal system in addition to spearheading the secret war against the Shonkla-raa and protecting a sullen, pregnant human girl of especial interest to their foes. It’s been fascinating to observe the evolution of the Modhri, the sentient, body-snatching coral who was Frank’s chief antagonist but becomes one of his most valuable allies after experiencing slavery from the other side for a change. However, the conceit of a train thriller wears a bit thin when stretched across five volumes, particularly when so many plot elements repeat. Zahn’s constant references to Casablanca and Hitchcock films suggest we should draw appropriate comparisons to his own work, but, alas, convoluted storylines, tense, cocky dialogue with the bad guys (who seem to work far too hard to avoid killing Frank while piling up the body count everywhere else), and quests for MacGuffins do not necessarily a classic thriller series make. Don’t put away the popcorn, though: There are still some enjoyable twists and turns and a reasonably satisfying ending.

Finishes with enough loose ends to allow for sequels, but that shouldn’t be encouraged.