“Some of you think that the Terrans cannot be beaten, nor outsmarted! I assure you, soon you will discover that the very opposite is actually true! A chance for all of you who were part of a failed crew or a destroyed ship – this is the time to fashion your revenge against the Terrans!”
Lord Captain Omasa
The second book in the series starts off by giving us a glimpse into the taz'aran society and way of thinking through the eyes of Omasa - a brilliant and ruthless captain in the Taz'aran Navy. We see and begin to understand how the Taz'aran Empire has been able to persevere in an unforgiving galaxy.
It is immediately obvious that Omasa is not your run-of-the-mill taz'aran, with his keen eye for detail he personally oversees the construction and upgrades of his new warship: Empress Throne. Despite his ruthless nature and methods (like killing a dock foreman and exposing his corpse as a warning for endangering the ship) you cannot help but appreciate this character. With his meticulous mind the parallels with captain Anit'za are immediately drawn. They might be complete opposites as far as their methods are concerned but when it comes to who they are in their cores, the similarities are beginning to stand out and the anticipation for the inevitable collision between these two great tactical minds quickly builds up.
The crew of Starshatter are back on the scene where the tragedy that put Lilly on her current path took place - the planet Carrola and they are seeking vengeance for the lost colonists (an eye for an eye as there are plenty of natural or cybernetic eyes in the Galaxy, after all) with the blessing and help of the morale officer - the kil'ra Dozan'Re. It is truly enjoyable to see how the already well-established characters interact and play off of each other. All under the careful, almost invisible guidance of Anit'za every characters has their time to shine. Once again I am fascinated by the fact that with so many characters and stories, the pet cat onboard has a story behind her, it never feels like the narrative is struggling to keep up, the flow between characters is natural, even more so than the first book, now that everyone is on the same ship. What really carries the book is the fact that the crew, without exception, are good people. We are not told but constantly shown that is the case. Do not confuse the fact they are good meaning they are without depth. That is something I greatly appreciate as sadly it is something of a rarity in the entertainment industry these days, as it seems protagonists do borderline villainous stuff which people mistake for depth. One can be a good person and still have layers to them which everyone here has.
Another thing that stands out is how comfortable everyone is in their role, no one objects when given orders or advised in some way. At first I thought it strange, the crew are not in the military, there is no incentive to take orders, but then the realization hit me: every character is aware what their strengths and weaknesses are, they know themselves and are not "above" admitting when they are not competent in a certain area be it tactics or something else entirely, and there is nothing shameful about it. I must admit, at first I thought that was weird but then I realized that in this alternate history, humans have overcome their petty differences (for the most part, they haven't created some unreachable utopia where everyone agrees, therefore no one is allowed to think differently) and are united by a common goal, they are better people not just because of who they are but also because of the efforts and sacrifices of those who came before them. Which makes me....hopeful. The feeling of hope is tricky to pull off and @Aragmar does it beautifully, but without the usual naivety that goes along as he knows one has to fight(in various ways) to reach and claim a better tomorrow. However, the book is not without its curious and darker moments as we continue to explore and learn about the heroes and universe around them: the obsessive, almost fanatical determination of hamsters to help people; the very nature and essence of the Galaxy; the heavy toll sometimes simply living takes on you and the constant fight not to lose hope and the will to go on.
We reach the first clash between Anit'za and Omasa, which I dare not spoil for you but where we can truly enjoy a battle of the minds and where we see that the hated pirates and taz'arants are not without their virtues. They can be heroic and protective, and ready to sacrifice themselves for the cause. I found a subtle yet very nice difference in the fact that most, if not all, terrans would sacrifice themselves so that someone else might live, while a taz'aran would sacrifice themselves so that they can kill their enemy.
The action flows from space to the surface of Carrola where we see that key to victory is often not the bigger weapon but quick thinking and the ability to adapt. That mind and determination are often what wins you battles.
@Aragmar shows us how alien other planets can be without overstepping the laws of nature which are very much in effect here. And that sometimes laws on nature take the shape of a burly man on a bike madly swinging the deadly weapon that.....a shovel is known to be. The entire battle from space to ground is told masterfully as the fast-paced action smoothly unfolds and when it is all over the heroes are not without their wounds - physical and emotional.
But it all culminates in a daring assault on an enemy base. As I mentioned in my previous review, @Aragmar masterfully pulls off the sense of scale. And here the grim reality hits you - that all the sacrifices, all the death and suffering has been for a single planet in a part of space nobody acknowledges or cares about.....and that has happened and keeps happening many times over on a much larger scale. The bitter sense made me laugh. We all know about the concept of the hero's journey: destroy the Ring, kill the Emperor, stop the Reapers. But here....what do you fight here...? Life itself? The way the universe works? Which are never fair. What can these heroes truly accomplish?! As hopeless as it seems, I believe in them and am rooting for them. I do not know where the path we've been set upon will lead us and that's one of the reasons I am excited about this series.
What I do know is that wherever Anit'za and his crew go, I will follow, cheering them on, weapon in hand as the ride we're on doesn't show any signs of slowing down and if fact, is picking up speed. I cannot wait to see where it takes us next.