Category: Science Fiction

Aurora Blazing (Consortium Rebellion #2)

Cover image for Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik by Jessie Mihalik

ISBN 978-0-06-28241-5

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “I would personally storm the gates of hell for any of my brothers or sisters. To claim otherwise was to fundamentally misunderstand me as a person.”

With House von Hasenberg at war with House Rockhurst over the rare mineral called alcubium that will revolutionize faster than light travel, tensions are running high, even in the neutral territory of Serenity. When Bianca, daughter of House von Hasenberg, is attacked, and her brother, Ferdinand, heir to the House is kidnapped, the Rockhursts seem like the natural suspects, but something more complicated seems to be afoot. Bianca deals in information, and thanks to a cruel experiment conducted by her dead husband, she has unique code cracking abilities that no one can know about, not even Ian Bishop, Director of Security for House von Hasenberg. Bianca knows that together they would be an unstoppable force, if only she could convince Ian to stop protecting her, and start working with her to find Ferdinand and bring him home before it is too late.

In the second volume of the Consortium Rebellion trilogy, Jessie Mihalik shifts her attention to the recently widowed Bianca, who is still recovering from the abuse she endured at the hands of her husband in an unhappy political marriage. Bianca is back home in House von Hasenberg, quietly working intelligence for her family, while rumours fly through Consortium society that she murdered her husband. Bianca pretends to mourn, when in fact she is guarding a deadly secret; Gregory was using her as a guinea pig in a science experiment. Thanks to his work, she can pick up and decrypt electronic signals, though the barrage often leaves her head pounding, and her guts churning with nausea. Even her father cannot be let in on the secret, because the ruthless Albrecht von Hasenberg has already demonstrated that he will use his daughters to gain an edge, however small, and the technology implanted in Bianca’s body is priceless. Her time trapped in Gregory’s lab has left her physically weakened, but those limitations only make her a more compelling heroine. What she lacks in physical stamina she more than makes up for with wits and poise.

Like Polaris Rising, Aurora Blazing is as much romance as sci-fi adventure, and will appeal most to readers who enjoy both. Bianca’s love interest is Ian, the mysterious Head of Security. Seven years ago, he was her bodyguard, but back then he spurned her advances to further his determination to rise quickly through the ranks. Ian is somewhat less of an alpha love interest than Marcus Loch was in the first volume, which I found more appealing, though his insistence on ignoring Bianca’s wishes was still infuriating. After being spurned seven years earlier, establishing trust is key if Bianca and Ian are ever to have a relationship, and this is made more difficult by the fact that he technically works for her conniving father, who decidedly does not have her best interests at heart. The tension between them is a slow, cautious burn that lasts through the book.

The first volume of the series focused on Bianca’s younger sister, Ada, and her love interest, Marcus, a supersoldier who escaped a secret government experiment. Ada, Marcus and their allies have a role to play in Aurora Blazing, though Bianca and Ian take center stage. I enjoyed the sibling relationships portrayed between the von Hasenbergs in Polaris Rising, and that continues to be a strong feature in Aurora Blazing. Ada provides critical support to Bianca in her mission to save their oldest brother, and Bianca’s twin Benedict also features, though not as much as I would have hoped. The most interesting glimpse is Catarina, the youngest von Hasenberg, who all the older siblings have strived to protect from their parents’ brutal machinations. But Catarina is beginning to chafe at being constantly sheltered and sidelined, despite her obvious smarts and resourcefulness. She will not be content to sit by for long. The final installment of the trilogy will follow Catarina’s adventures, as her father determines to make her a political match that will solidify their House’s position in the war with the Rockhursts—but Catarina has other plans. Looks for Chaos Reigning in May 2020.

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Chilling Effect

Cover image for Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes by Valerie Valdes

ISBN 978-0-06-2877239

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “I’m not working for you filthy bastards. I won’t even work for my own father, and he’s a saint compared to you.”

As captain of La Sirena Negra, Eva Innocente does her best to find honest work for her crew of misfits, human and alien alike. After finally getting out from under the thumb of her dishonest father, and her manipulative first employer due to a job gone disastrously wrong, she finally has a chance to deal fairly, on her own terms. But when Eva’s sister, Mari, is kidnapped by a mysterious crime syndicate known as The Fridge, she has no choice but to take on some shady deals. Can someone as rash and accident prone as Eva really pull off a rescue, especially when she is trying to keep it a secret from her crew? And if that wasn’t bad enough, Eva has attracted the ire of an egomaniacal alien emperor by refusing his amorous advances. Plus, she has a cargo hold full of troublesome psychic cats, and no buyer in sight.

In many space operas, the ship is as much a character as any of the people or aliens. This is certainly how Eva feels about La Sirena Negra, a ship she got from her father after a job gone particularly badly, and the vehicle for her new life where she can set her own rules. However, La Sirena Negra is part and parcel with Min, the pilot who is so jacked into the ship’s systems that she regards it as an extension of her own body. Also on board are the ship’s medic, and Eva’s long-time best friend, Pink, and Leroy, a damaged ex-merc who was used as “meat puppet” in a remotely controlled army. The engineer, and Eva’s love interest, is the charmingly literal Vakar, a quennian with a mysterious past who can’t help but share his emotions through his ever-shifting scent signals. Eva herself is a pretty salty character, fully of punchy dialogue in both English and Spanish. The unitalicized, untranslated Spanish is peppered throughout, and while it isn’t necessary to translate to get the gist, pop a few words into your favourite translator if you want to learn some interesting new insults.

Valerie Valdes clearly likes to play with tropes, of which women in refrigerators is the most central. Usually, this refers to a male protagonist’s female love interest being murdered to serve as motivation for a revenge storyline. In Chilling Effect, the woman in a refrigerator is Eva’s sister, Mari, except that Mari isn’t dead; she’s being held in cryostasis to ensure that Eva submits to the demands of the shadowy crime syndicate that has taken her sister hostage. While Eva’s found family is comprised of a compelling cast of characters, her biological family is a little less likeable. Unfortunately, we don’t meet Mari, or know much about their sibling relationship before her sister is turned into leverage.

I was a bit disappointed that the cats didn’t play a more central role in the story, because everyone knows that if you introduce psychic space cats in act one, you should make good use of them by act three. But they do add to the atmosphere of La Sirena Negra, and I can hope that they will feature more prominently as the series continues. The trade paperback includes a preview chapter for the next installment, Prime Deception, which will deal with the fall out of Eva’s misadventures in Chilling Effect.

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Spaceside (Planetside #2)

Cover image for Spaceside by Michael Mammayby Michael Mammay

ISBN 978-0-06-269468-3

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “You seem to think of Cappans as a homogenous group… I would suggest to you that they’re as diverse in their thinking as humans.”

Having walked free despite his decision to annihilate much of the population of Cappa, Colonel Carl Butler has started a new life on Talca Four, home to the galaxy’s military bureaucracy. Forced into retirement, Butler now has a nominal civilian title as Deputy VP of Corporate Security at a tech firm that mostly keeps him around for the optics. Divorced and living alone, Butler continues to grapple with his guilt, his infamy, and what the future holds for a man known as the Scourge of Cappa. Then his boss entrusts him with a secret assignment to investigate a rumoured security breach at a rival firm that holds important military contracts. Soon Butler’s sources are turning up dead, and he realizes that what he has gotten himself into is more than a simple hack, and that the stolen information may cost him his life.

Spaceside picks up about two years after the events of Planetside, when Colonel Butler found himself maneuvered between a rock and a hard place, and chose to take the fate of Cappa and its people into his own hands. He thought his decision would eliminate the hybrid super soldiers that were the result of secret military experiments on Cappa, but now, on the streets of Talca Four, he keeps thinking he sees humans with Cappan eyes. Is he finally succumbing to the guilt of all the murders he committed, or just losing his mind? A hero to some, and a pariah to others, Butler has few people he can trust to help him unravel the mystery, and find out whether any of the hybrids made it off Cappa.

Spaceside leans more towards sci-fi mystery or spy novel than military fiction, with only a couple of prolonged tactical engagements, one of which actually takes place in the context of a VR game. Most of the military elements of this installment come in the final pages, when Butler unexpectedly finds himself deployed with a private mercenary corps. Although two years have passed since the events on Cappa, it is clear that they still continue to profoundly affect Butler’s mental health, and cause him to question himself. While we do not land in the immediate aftermath of the mental health consequences of such a deployment, the reverberations are felt as he chooses a path forward, and ponders whether any kind of atonement is even possible in such a situation.

It is a tricky thing to keep a reader’s sympathy with a character who is arguably a war criminal. Butler has charisma, but he also continues to use people to get what he wants, even when that puts them in danger. That he begins to think about atonement, and to see the Cappans in a more nuanced light is small consolation for the continued casualties, even though Butler is merely a cog in an overall corrupt system. If Planetside showed the military in that light, Spaceside turns its attention to how corporate interests perpetuate and profit from the problems of imperialism. A third as yet untitled Carl Butler story is slated for a likely 2020 release.

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Fall, or Dodge in Hell

Cover image for Fall by Neal Stephenson by Neal Stephenson

ISBN 978-0-06-245871-1

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “She began to feel that the tech industry, which prided itself on having disrupted so many other things, was now creeping up on the moment when it would attempt to disrupt death.”

When wealthy businessman Richard “Dodge” Forthrast dies on the operating table during what was supposed to have been a routine operation, his family discovers that a decade earlier, he made out a highly unusual will, bequeathing his body to science with the understanding that it should be preserved until such time as his brain can be digitized and uploaded. In the intervening time, his Corporation 9592 has made a vast fortune, and his death establishes a highly-endowed foundation charged with helping bring this future to pass. His will also binds his fate together with the machinations of the eccentric billionaire Elmo Shepherd, who has his own ideas about the digital afterlife. As years pass in Meatspace, an elaborate structure of shell companies, foundations, and quasi-religious movements grow up around supporting Bitworld, with Dodge’s niece Zula, her daughter Sophia, and his friend and former colleague Corvallis Kawasaki caught up the labyrinthine consequences of Richard Forthrast’s last will and testament.

You probably need to be an author as established and respected in the genre as Neal Stephenson to get away with writing a book like this. It is nearly 900 pages long, and begins with the protagonist waking up, and spending a good several pages pondering the concept of consciousness. It then goes on to pull in mythology, theology, philosophy, and literature, all while toggling between science fiction tropes and high fantasy quests, through an ever-shifting cast of point-of-view characters. After teeing off the action with his death in the opening chapters, Dodge himself disappears from the narrative for nearly three-hundred pages. Stephenson is also the author of a trilogy known collectively as The Baroque Cycle, and baroque is certainly a term that is applicable here as well.

After Dodge’s death, the narrative is handed over to Corvallis, aka C-Plus, who has been named the executor of his friend’s will. It is up to him to help Zula and the rest of the Forthrast family navigate the bizarre ramifications of Dodge’s forgotten desire to live forever in bits and pixels. Meanwhile, C-Plus is caught up in the largest internet conspiracy ever executed, one he believes, but cannot prove, to have been masterminded by El Shepherd for reasons unknown. The baton then passes to Sophia, now grown into a college student, and planning to spend her summer as an intern at the Forthrast Family Foundation, working on the problem of DB or Dodge’s Brain. But first she must make the trek across the post-truth America created by El’s Moab Hoax. These three hundred pages set the stage for the creation of Bitworld.

When Dodge’s Brain is finally digitized, uploaded, and switched on, Fall becomes focused upon literal world-building. Existing mythology meets new creation story as the being who calls himself Egdod achieves consciousness and begins to give shape to the Land. The language also shifts accordingly, as Stephenson’s style becomes more formal, adopting the tone and cadence of mythology. Egdod cannot quite recall before, and indeed it takes him some time to remember that there was a before, but the world he is shaping around him nevertheless begins to bear a distinct resemblance to the imperfect one he left behind. For a time, he is the god of his own universe, but out in Meatspace, once it becomes apparent that the simulation is live, soon many more souls are clamouring to be scanned and uploaded when they meet their end. At first, those left behind can only see what is being created in terms of computational resources consumed, but with the invention of the Landform Visualization Utility, soon watching the goings-on in The Land becomes the primary form of entertainment for those on the original plane of existence. And not everyone there likes what they are seeing, or believes it is how the afterlife should look.

In general, I was more interested in the events back in the “real” world, rather than the development of The Land. The end of death as we know it has profound effects on Meatspace, not all of which Stephenson takes the time to fully explore. But Fall is working on a long time-scale, so as the story progresses, many of the characters that began in one realm cross over into the other.  The resulting story is a strange brew of mythology and scripture, meandering at times, and engrossing at others. Fall has distinct biblical influences, pulling in the Tower of Babel and Adam and Eve, but also draws significantly upon Greek mythology, and the rivalry of the gods. The physical edition is adorned with Gustave Doré end-papers, and Milton’s Paradise Lost is also heavily in the mix. An altogether curious journey.

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Winds of Marque

Cover image for Winds of Marque by Bennett R. Coles by Bennett R. Coles

ISBN 978-0-06-282035-8

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “He was a nobleman, and they were notorious for charming young sailors all the way to heartbreak. He was also the executive officer of this ship. The Navy had no formal ban on relationships within a crew—centuries of space travel had proven the impossibility of stopping people in isolated, close quarters from seeking each other out—but when it crossed ranks there was always the risk of trouble.”

When Executive Officer Liam Blackwood’s ship is put into refit by a reckless space race ordered by his aristocrat Captain, the XO is on the lookout for a new commission when he is approached by Lord Grandview and Lady Riverton. With the quiet blessing of the Emperor, Grandview is ordering an undercover mission to investigate the increasing pirate activity that is threatening the Empire’s trade, and which could compromise the Navy’s supply lines if war with the Sectoids was declared. Fresh from the diplomatic corps, Captain Riverton will need an experienced second-in-command to help lead HMSS Daring’s crew as they develop their façade as a trading vessel, gather intelligence about the pirate threat, and pay their crew with a letter of marque that allows them to seize the pirated cargoes. Blackwood knows just the woman to serve as Quartermaster for such an unusual arrangement, but recruiting her means facing up to his growing feelings for Petty Officer Amelia Virtue.

Bennett R. Coles bends his degree in naval history and fifteen years’ experience in the Royal Canadian Navy to fantastical ends, creating a space Navy that sails on the solar winds, and patrols a vast Empire ruled by a distant Emperor on the home world. Social class clashes with naval rank, creating a complex hierarchy to be negotiated aboard every ship. Having just quietly undermined his previous Captain to ensure that HMSS Renaissance was only damaged and not destroyed by the race to Passagia II, Subcommander Blackwood, who feels he has earned his rank by competence rather than birth, is understandably wary of the cold and aristocratic Sophia Riverton, who likes to play her cards close to the chest. Shipboard relations on Daring are further complicated by the presence of Cadet Highcastle, a high-ranking and cocksure young nobleman who is taking his maiden voyage before heading to the Naval Academy for formal study.

In many ways, Blackwood is just as cocksure as the other nobles he likes to look down his nose at, if perhaps slightly less reckless. While he thinks highly of himself and his abilities, the people around him are constantly having to wake him up to his status, which he easily loses sight of when he gets focused on his own competence. For instance, the crew is being paid in prize money, and if they seize nothing, they get paid nothing. It takes a conversation with his friend Lieutenant Swift to remind him that “what would be a useful sum of money to him would be life-changing for his propulsion officer’s entire family.” His relationship with Amelia is also complicated by the fact that she is a low-ranking officer of common birth, newly promoted to her station. When he is angry with her for an entanglement with Highcastle, it is up to her to risk his wrath and remind him that naval justice would undoubtedly fall short if she were to raise a grievance against a noble-born officer. When he tries to tell her it has nothing to do with rank or title, she responds, “you just don’t see it because you wield both with such unconscious familiarity. Do you really think Lord Highcastle would be punished if he raped a sailor? Do you think you would?” The prospect of a romance between Virtue and Blackwood is fraught by class and rank, and I was not strongly invested in seeing such a dynamic develop.

While Blackwood is portrayed as competent and experienced, I was more interested in Virtue and Riverton. Though Riverton has more experience as a diplomat than a military commander, it was clear from the beginning that she was thinking about the bigger picture in a way that Blackwood was not, and I was rooting for her to find her feet as a commander and realize her vision in a way that I was not engaged by Blackwood as a character. For his part, Blackwood never seems to consider that as Captain, she might have information he is not privy to. I was similarly interested by Amelia, who is figuring out her new role as an officer rather than a common sailor. When we see Amelia from Liam’s point of view, it is often intended to be admiring, yet somehow manages to come off as a bit condescending: “Liam was disgusted at how these men so completely objectified Virtue, but actually found himself admiring how nonchalantly she handled them. It was both painful and fascinating to watch.” Captain Riverton, for her part, easily sees Blackwood’s feelings for Amelia, and is rightfully protective of her. Winds of Marque is clearly set up for a series, and I would be most interested to see how things develop between Sophia and Amelia as they gain in mutual respect and understanding.

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Polaris Rising

Cover image for Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik by Jessie Mihalik

ISBN 978-0-06-280238-5

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“My reckless side, the side that had prompted me to run away from home rather than marry a practical stranger for political power, that side knew I would land on the planet. I had to know if my hunch was correct.”

For two years, Ada von Hasenberg has been on the run from her family, one of the three High Houses of the Royal Consortium that rules the universe. But her luck has finally run short, and when she is captured by bounty hunters, she knows that if she doesn’t escape, she will finally have to return home and make a political marriage of her parents’ choosing. As the fifth of six children, that is really all she is good for to House von Hasenberg. Then she is locked in a cell with Marcus Loch, the criminal better known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, an ex-soldier who reportedly slaughtered his own unit before going on the run. They are two of the most wanted people in the universe, with a fortune in bounties on their heads, but perhaps together they will have what it takes to escape.

The protagonist, Ada, was by far my favourite part of Polaris Rising. Despite her highly political upbringing, she is smart, but not cold, and tough but not bloodthirsty. She can fight, but it isn’t her preferred way of doing business. She takes everything her House taught her with the intention of using it to make her into a spy in a political marriage, and instead turns it towards pursuing her freedom. She did, however, read as somewhat older than the twenty-three the author pegs her at. She acknowledges her chemistry with Loch, but doesn’t fancy herself in love, though she is worried by the fact that she could be.

The love interest, Loch, on the other hand, I could take or leave. He is, in the romance parlance, an alpha, and I don’t tend to enjoy the jealousy and posturing that comes with that type. I found it pretty hard to warm to him any further after he called Ada a bitch in their first real argument. Jessie Mihalik softens him in other ways, such as repeated use of enthusiastic consent, but I was still fairly indifferent overall. Your mileage may vary!

Polaris Rising sits at the intersection of science fiction adventure and romance, and probably requires a reader who enjoys both of these genres. There is too much world-building and adventure for someone who is just in it for the romance, and too many romance tropes for someone who is just in it for the science fiction. This includes such contrivances as getting the hero and the heroine in bed together by the necessity of warming one another up after escaping across an icy planet. But the adventure includes a good mystery, as Ada tries to figure out why Richard Rockhurst, a younger son of one of the other High Houses, is suddenly so desperate to marry her, and get his hands on her dowry.

One of the aspects I enjoyed most about Polaris Rising was Ada’s relationship with her siblings, though we only see her substantially interact with her sister, Bianca, and in passing with Bianca’s twin brother. Instead of opting for a fierce or bitter sibling rivalry driven by the political maneuvering of the High Houses, Mihalik instead opts to depict a tight, supportive bond. When their parents try to pit them against one another the von Hasenberg siblings only draw closer, guarding one another’s backs. A second volume is due out later this year, which will follow the adventures of Ada’s widowed sister, Bianca, and House von Hasenberg’s mysterious head of security, Ian.

Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow

Cover image for Star Wars: Queen's Shadow by E. K. Johnstonby E. K. Johnston

ISBN 978-1-368-02425-9

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“Who was she, after all, when she was not Queen of Naboo? She had entered politics so early and with such zeal that she had no other identity.”

Elected Queen of Naboo at a young age, Padmé Amidala Naberrie has defined herself by that identity, having saved her planet from the predations of the Trade Federation, and restored peace with the Gungans who inhabit Naboo’s waters. Now her term as Queen is up, and Padmé will have to discover who she is without politics. But duty will knock again, this time when her successor asks her if she will represent Naboo in the Galactic Senate. Being a Senator of the Republic is quite different from ruling a single planet, and Padmé will find herself in deep politics waters as she struggles to step out from under the shadow of the throne, and into her new role.

Queen’s Shadow covers a portion of the time between the events of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. It opens on the handmaiden Sabé—played by Keira Knightley in the film—performing the decoy maneuver during the crucial events of the Battle of Naboo. However, the main body of the action takes place during the year or so after Padmé leaves Naboo for Coruscant, where old enemies and new rivals await the young Queen-turned-Senator. Balancing a galaxy is much more difficult than running a planet, with many established factions already in play. Padmé’s reputation as Queen Amidala precedes her, and no one in the Senate has forgotten that she upended tradition and unseated Chancellor Valorum to save her own planet, catapulting Naboo’s former Senator, Palpatine, into the Chancellor’s office.

Anakin Skywalker has little role to play in Queen’s Shadow, and though he is referenced, I do not believe he was ever actually named. Rather, Padmé’s primary relationship in Queen’s Shadow is with her handmaidens, and with Sabé in particular. It is a delicate balance of friend, colleague, and queen, filled with mutual respect, but profoundly imbalanced by duty and loyalty: “Padmé knew in her heart that Sabé would do whatever she asked, even if it meant Sabé’s life, and therefore she was always careful never to ask too much.” The perspectives of the handmaidens are as important as Padmé’s to Queen’s Shadow; they too are in a time of transition, figuring out whether they will stay or go, and how they will serve their former Queen in her new capacity as Senator. Sabé’s plotline follows her to Tatooine, where Padmé hopes to quietly use her money to free slaves, though abolition proves to be tricky work.

Queen’s Shadow is a Star Wars novel written by someone who clearly shares a love for Padmé’s character, and perhaps even a belief in her unfulfilled potential within the films. E. K. Johnston even slips a sly line of dialogue into the epilogue, set after Padmé’s funeral, in which Sabé vents the disbelief of many a fan: “It doesn’t make any sense!….She wouldn’t just die.” I should note here that I am quoting from an ARC, and I sincerely hope this line makes it to final publication! It was such a pleasure to read about a smart and brave woman surrounded by other talented, dedicated women prepared to give their lives to the Republic. Padmé’s canonical fate is not going away, but there is much more to her before that ending.

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Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

Cover image for Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robsonby Kelly Robson

ISBN 978-1-250-16385-1

People—especially bankers—had trouble thinking long-term, and nothing was more long-term than ecological restoration.”

After destroying the environment, humanity retreated below ground for centuries, living in hives and hells, eking out an existence. But a new generation dreamed of the sun, and returning to the surface. For six decades, Minh, an ecological restoration specialist, has worked in the Calgary hab, slowly coaxing the surrounding landscape back to life, trying to keep afloat a community that believes in life above ground. But since the discovery of time travel a decade ago, financial backing for ecological restoration has waned, and the younger generation seems less than committed to the dream Minh’s cohort fought so hard for. When the secretive company that controls time travel technology publishes a request for proposal for a multi-disciplinary team to visit Mesopotamia in the past to study the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Minh knows that it is project she cannot pass up, even as she seriously distrusts the agency in whose hands she will be placing her life, and the lives of her team.

In Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, Kelly Robson has conjured up an ecological dystopia in which “banks” are actually wealthy individuals who finance only the projects that interest or enrich them. Minh’s generation—the plague babies—cannot hope to achieve their aims without the necessary financial support, but the possibilities opened up by time travel technology would seem to make the slow, patient work of ecological restoration unnecessary. However, time travel is aggressively guarded by the intellectual property rights of the company that discovered it, making it difficult to know what is really possible. The company claims that they can only travel into the past, not the future, and that any changes occasioned by the visit occur in a separate timeline that collapses when the time travelers depart.

Robson’s novella is told through the perspective of Minh, an octogenarian scientist who was a pioneer in her field. A member of the plague generation, she lost her legs to disease, and wears prosthetics, opting for an adaptable six-legged model. Though in somewhat questionable health, she shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, and her grouchy but determined personality drives the narrative. Although Minh carries the main plot, each chapter opens with a brief section centered on an ancient king, and a priestess who reads the stars to foretell the future. An entirely different set of events seem to play out through their eyes.

This is slow-paced work focused on interpersonal dynamics. The world is sketched out and interesting, but the format does not really leave room to develop it more fully. The main conflict does not take place until the last thirty pages, and the conclusion is open-ended. The balance is devoted to the dynamics between Minh, Kiki, Hamid, and Fabian, the team that travels to Mesopotamia. Kiki is an assistant at the environmental firm Minh works for in Calgary, but she will do whatever it takes be on the special project team. A member of the younger generation—known as the fat babies—she is starving for an opportunity to prove herself, and build a better future. However, she is torn between Minh’s vision for that future, and the possibilities offered by Fabian, the historian who takes them into the past.

Despite the slower pacing, I really enjoyed reading about an older protagonist and the nuanced portrayal of inter-generational dynamics between Minh and Kiki. Given the open-ended conclusion, I would not recommended this for those who hate cliff-hangers. I would also be excited to see what this author could do with a full-length novel in the future.

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