Before I begin my review allow me to ramble for a bit. For 5 or 6 years now we've been watching multiple attempts to murder entertainment. Games, movies, TV series and books have been put on the altar of "political correctness". Interesting characters, stories and ideas have been sacrificed, hammered by vitriol and deemed "inappropriate" in some way, replaced by grotesque ideas of what constitutes a "good" story/character. Idiotic "morals" have been shoved down our throats and if we do not accept them then we must be...you know what - here's a hat - pick out a feminist insult. And amid all this "virtue signaling" the entertainment industry forgot how to entertain, how to have fun. That is exactly what I got reading this book. You like the characters because they are likable, not because you are to told to. Villains are villains because they have their reasons, not because the are villains ergo you must hate them(in fact, I found myself cheering for one of the faggots. Seriously, he is such a scumbag that I can't not cheer for him). In short, I had fun.
Starshatter is written by @Aragmar who goes by the pen name Black Knight. It is the first book in a series that follows the starship Starshatter and her crew. Being the first book, it is obviously a stepping stone for the series and it mainly introduces the characters and setting but that doesn't mean it is devoid of action or heart.
The action takes place in an alternate universe where humanity has reached and is actively exploring the final frontier. I don't want to go into details as this is something you should discover for yourself but suffice to say: before, during and after the Second World War things unfold very differently. But humans quickly discover that they are not welcomed among most of the alien spacefaring species: pirates, slavers, drug cartels and other alien empires stand between humanity and peaceful life. Thankfully they are not alone in the fight for survival as they are aided by species they have helped uplift into sentience: gorillas, bunnies and hamsters, and other alien races - each with their own unique ideals, quirks and way of thinking.
I firmly believe it is important for an author to take their time and establish the characters and setting first, before truly beginning the journey as the gravitas on any events would not be able to sink in if we are still familiarizing ourselves with the heroes and what makes them "tick". And, luckily, this is the case here - the book follows ten(-ish, again I do not want to spoil anything) characters, each from different walks of life: from a slave working in a godforsaken mine to a gunslinging girl on a sacred mission. Each of them unique in their own way. At the end you will undoubtedly have at least one or two favourites. This is something special as at no point does the book slap you over the head and point at the "true" hero who you are supposed to cheer for and ignore the rest. Instead there are subtle hints that each character will go through their own arc with their own struggles and victories. Through their viewpoints we are allowed to explore the world of Starshatter in all its horror and glory.
On the opposite end of the scale stand, of course, the villains - they come in different shapes and sizes but at the forefront are the soldiers from the Taz'aran Empire. Needless to say they are not happy that a part of the galaxy where they were free to do as they please is suddenly occupied by filthy aliens who have the audacity to refuse being enslaved and killed. Now, I've seen some people say the villains are disappointing or not smart enough. And therein lies the simple brilliance - space is big, yes it sounds funny but it is none the less true, there is place for all types of people. Just the way support or secondary characters are a thing, why should the same not be valid for the villains? I would say - patience, Rome was not build in a day. Just as the heroes begin their journey from the first book, so do the villains, it is only fair after all. Being three books deep into the series, I fondly revisit this book as my favourite scumbag starts his journey to greatness here.
What I immensely enjoyed was the sense of scale that very few fictional worlds manage to pull off. @Aragmar fully realizes that space is actually big. It might sound funny but it is something hard to present to a reader and the only other time I've seen it successfully implemented is in the Warhammer 40k universe. From a close firefight on an abandon station to the daring boarding of pirate spaceship, to giant mechs fighting to help secure an entire planet - the action flows on many levels.
Through the fights and character introductions, typical for the beginning of a grand space opera, Shtarshatter shows another side - that of a hard science fiction novel. I believe that the "why" is key to any science fiction work. How does the universe and technology work and why they work that way - the different types of weapons, ships and mechs, how they are constructed, their strong and weak sides. The book does this masterfully as the answers to such questions slowly unfold but the exposition is well implemented so it does not overstay its welcome.
When it is all said and done, this is a great introduction to a grim universe which however is not devoid of hope and laughter. Where, on the surface, simple ideas are introduced which turn out to be far deeper. Where the reasons to fight are not for theological or philosophical questions, but for simple survival, not only physical but for one's humanity as well. Where the idea to lay your body on the line to save your loved ones, your children is not scoffed at but celebrated. I do not claim to be a writer or a critic, just a dude who appreciates and gets true joy out of being told a great story. I really had fun so I urge you to take up a weapon and buckle up next to me - we're in for a great ride.
You can support @Aragmar by buying Starshatter for kindle or paperback version here