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Pauline's Fantasy Reviews

Reviews of fantasy books, plus some mystery, sci-fi and literary works, and my random thoughts on book-related matters.

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Dragon Queen (The Memory of Flames, #5)
Stephen Deas
The Splintered Eye (The War of Memory Cycle #2)
H. Anthe Davis, Erica Dakin

The Phoenix Conspiracy

The Phoenix Conspiracy - Richard L. Sanders This seems like a fairly standard sci-fi affair, but there’s a nice mystery at the bottom of it, and there are some amusing elements tossed into the mix. Thought you couldn’t find vampires and werewolves in sci-fi? Think again. And it starts well, oh so well. But then... oh dear. What a disappointment.

The characters are basic cookie-cutter types. There’s the maverick captain with the tragic past and an addiction problem, brilliant (of course), young, a risk-taker but gets results. There’s the seasoned senior officer with the impeccable career who suddenly and inexplicably goes rogue. There’s the beautiful female second-in-command, who plays things strictly by the book. And so on. It’s not that these are uninteresting, but there isn’t anything very original about them either. Nevertheless, there’s a good rapport between the various crew members, and a real feeling that they work well together as a team. I enjoyed the early parts of the book very much - the confidence and joking between the characters, the mysterious goings on the team are investigating, the easy writing style without too much techno-babble - all of this was very appealing.

There are some oddities that jumped out at me. The hero goes into a crowded bar to meet his friends but has trouble finding them. Erm, isn’t that a problem that was solved by mobile phones? So why have spaceships in the future lost the ability to track down individuals? The hero keeps his stash of illegal drugs in a safe, opened purely by thumbprint. Well duh, there’s a reason safes usually have a combination lock. And how many times must this supposedly brilliant person forget to hide his pills away before he gets the message?

And then there came a point about two thirds of the way through where the hero does something so incredibly stupid that I nearly tossed the book away. Now, I have no problem with protagonists who take risks in order to further the plot. Sometimes an author just has to have his characters do something radical to move things along. But it has to be plausible. Here, the options are: 1) we fail and we’re all screwed, totally; or 2) we succeed, and - well, actually we’re probably all screwed just the same. In other words, the likelihood of any realistic success is virtually zero. And from there it’s all downhill, so that the options become: 1), 2), 3)... we’re all screwed and this time we die, horribly, painfully. And the only way out is the miraculous rescue out of nowhere (also known as deus ex machina). No prizes for guessing what happens...

Now, maybe some readers are less critical than me, and in between all the frankly stupid decision-making is some quite dramatic action stuff - hand-to-hand fighting through the corridors of space-ships, that sort of thing. And for those who enjoy that, it may well compensate for the idiocy that made it necessary. It’s unfortunate that the author’s grasp on sentence structure breaks down at this point, and he develops a nasty habit of breaking off entire clauses. Which is very irritating. And makes my inner pedant scream. Which is quite unpleasant. Argh! Now, I understand the effect he’s trying to achieve - in a particularly tense moment, short choppy sentences work very well to increase the drama, but please, please, please - let them be sentences, and not horrible bits and pieces.

And then, right at the end, there’s a massive info-dump revealing the mystery that set things off and what’s going on behind the scenes, with the proviso that none of this may be true, it may just be a clever ploy to suck the hero into the conspiracy of the title. Plus it sets everything up for the next book in the series. It may not be a surprise that I won’t be one of those breathlessly waiting for it to download. Sorry, but this was too silly for words. I’m happy to accept that the hero of a book is a brilliant risk-taker, but only if his actions are in fact brilliant. The first two thirds of this book was heading for four stars, but then it cratered, leaving it at two stars, at best.