Book Review: The Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt

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Quinn Bradley is a Vegas magician. His dream in life is to headline at a casino on the strip and he’s finally got a shot to make the big time–until a powerful and mysterious corporation blocks him out. They want him to themselves, to go through a secret portal into another world and impersonate a guild magician in order to retrieve a rogue official. The problem is that in this new world, magicians aren’t illusionists, but wield real power and the penalty for impersonating one is death.

Quinn goes through the portal with the others on the mission, but things go wrong from the start. A dragon attack, a pack of wild dogs, a closed portal, loss of communication with the company on the other side, and a trap waiting for them, and that’s just the first day. They chase a ghost through groups of mercenaries and highwaymen only to find the rogue official is already three steps ahead. And Quinn pays the price when the magicians guild captures him.

In a strange and fortuitous turn of events, the magician who captures Quinn senses a spark of true magic in him. Instead of immediate execution, the guild gets to see what Quinn has to offer. If he can convince them he’s more than just razzle-dazzle he gets to keep his life, but he needs to do so before another group of rogues kills his comrades and destroys the portal, locking him in this strange world forever.

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This was a good book. The characters were well-developed. Some plot points were predictable, but they were done with flair. I would recommend it to a lot of the readers I know. It didn’t quite grasp me the way I hoped it would, but I can’t put my finger on why.

First, the things I liked about the book.

Genre-bending. Is it Fantasy? Is it is Science Fiction? The truth is this story sports a little of both and I love that.

A cast that isn’t lily white or without distinctive character voices. There were two characters with similar voices, but they were still distinctive enough not to be confused. I like when characters aren’t cardboard cutouts of each other just taking up space in the background. I cared about each character’s struggles.

There were unanswered questions that didn’t make the novel into something that couldn’t stand alone, but left enough room so that the sequels (it is the first in a series) make sense and already have a pull.

Not everyone magically survives battles, wars, or thugs and those that do aren’t unscathed emotionally. It feels more real when the characters have scars.

Now for the things I wasn’t so keen on.

The admiration Chaudri has for Holt and the questions about their relationship allude to a workplace romance. I dislike the colleague romance tropes. It’s just not my thing. To be fair, it seems pretty one-sided and not like an abuse of power.

I like romantic subplots and there was one here, but it was an afterthought. That is a plus for a lot of readers. More power to you.

That’s pretty much it. It has a lot going for it, and I suspect if I read it on a different week than I did (I was busy and distracted) I’d have loved it instantly. And truthfully, I care enough about the characters that I’m still interested in the sequels. So when I say it didn’t grip me, don’t let that turn you off. I stand by my first statement. It’s a good book.

Book Review: Prophecy by Lea Kirk

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When an alien race attacks Earth and decimates the population, Alexandra Bock is caught in the crossfire. Captured and locked up with a small group of survivors intended for sale on the intergalactic slave market, she comes face to face with her least favorite thing–more aliens.

Gryf Helyg is part of the Matiran Guardian Fleet that has protected Earth for millennia. Betrayed by one of his own, Gryf is captured in the defeat of the fleet and is locked up with the very people he failed to protect–Earthlings.

Alexandra and Gryf get off to a rocky start, but it soon becomes apparent that their connection is more than tangential. They are each one half of a twelve-thousand-year-old prophecy about the protection, or destruction, of both Earth and Matir. To fulfill the prophecy the two have to bond their souls, forever tying their lives and their fates together. Gryf would do anything to protect Earth, but Alexandra quickly realizes more than her planet is on the line. Their bond could be a blessing to both their people, but it could also break her heart.

If Alexandra can overcome her fear and Gryf can maintain a level head, the two of them could save both their planets. If not, both of their races will be annihilated. But no pressure or anything.

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I love a good sci-fi romance. This book had all of the parts of the equation. Aliens, both good and bad. Rescue missions. Intergalactic stakes. A heroine with bite. But each fell just a little bit short.

The book felt more like a season of a television show than a book. About every three chapters a problem was solved in a very episodic fashion, and with the breaks in between the story was choppy. There was potential, and of course, the story isn’t a Thriller, so the characters have to have a chance to react, but these characters begin a tryst on the outer border of their safe zone while the Watch looks on. They don’t take the threat seriously enough. I have seen this advice given to writers, so I think the intentions were good, but I don’t think the advice was applied to the book’s best advantage.

The Matirans are altruistic in the desire to protect Earth without anything in return. There is no trade, no tax, nothing from Earth–the planet doesn’t even know they exist. There is some weak DNA link from thousands of years ago, but it’s a weak argument for millennia of military resources and maneuvers, so the backstory and premise for their presence are weak.

Also, *Trigger Warning* one of the antagonists is a sexual predator. He impregnates a fifteen-year-old girl. He carves his initials in his victims’ skin to mark them as his possessions. He doesn’t make a lot of appearances, but it’s enough. It definitely affected my overall impression and opinion of the story.

As for our heroine, her bite was muzzled early on and she gives the reins to the Matirans without much fight. She also convinces her new extraterrestrial friends that their tradition of letting the woman make the first move in a relationship isn’t attractive to Earth women.

Your mileage may vary. Maybe this is up your alley. I won’t judge. But it wasn’t my cup of tea.

And to be clear, I’m not saying the author isn’t talented. Her concept for the story was intriguing, in the end, I just thought it could have been executed better, and perhaps without some of the more problematic elements.

Book Review: Dark Deeds (Book Two in the Class 5 Series) by Michelle Diener

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Fiona Russell was abducted from Earth and forced into manual labor aboard a ship of unfriendly aliens who beat her, mocked her, and tried to hide her very humanity. She was waiting to die. Until the day a group of murdering pirates boards her vessel and clocks her over the head.

Hot on the trail of those pirates is the handsome Grih Battleship Captain Hal Vakeri. Fiona is a human, which makes her only the second of her kind ever discovered in his region of space. He rescues Fiona, determined to take her back to Battle Center Headquarters and find out how and why she was abducted in the first place, not to mention bring her captors to justice.

But as soon as she gets on board his ship trouble starts. Long range communications are down, The investigation team hasn’t shown up at the rendezvous point, and there could be a traitor on board trying to kill the human who might know too much.

When someone kidnaps Fiona from right under his nose while his ship is docked at a way station, Hal goes after her. She was his charge, after all. It has nothing to do with how attractive she is or the way her singing captivates him so.

The trick is, when he is finally reunited with her, the question becomes who saved who? Before they can answer that question, they are thrown into a tangled web of secret hideouts, alien experiments, and political machinations that could spell trouble for the Advanced Sentient Beings across the galaxy. But alone and cut off from anybody who can help them, except a ship with a child’s personality, they may already be too late.

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I did something so out of character for me that it still surprises me when I think about it. I read a book in a series out of order. This goes against everything inside me. It’s not right. And when I read Dark Deeds, I know why.

Because now I already know the plot of the first book in the series and I have been robbed of the chance to be as delightfully surprised by it as I was by the second. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll end up reading the third.

Not all of the aliens we meet are humanoid, the ship is a character, there’s a parrot with a foul mouth, it has a romance arc (but is still a clean read); what’s not to love?

My disclaimer over my love for this story is that I read it because it was suggested to me as a comp for a manuscript that I’ve written. So, clearly, I’m drawn to the themes and concepts.

I will say that at times the pacing felt a little off, and there are a couple of plot points I would argue are a little too convenient. But overall, if you are looking for a good, quick, sci-fi romance, this is a good choice.