“Remember this, those who are free die not groveling and on their knees, but upright, weapons emptied and tightly gripped in their hands!”
I.....I am at a loss for words dear reader...With these reviews I try to convey the excitement and love I have for this series but this book....was so moving and so powerful that words cannot do justice for what I felt while reading it. A work like none other that helped a weary mind find hope again. If any of you haven't picked up on it, the author truly puts his heart and soul into these books, and it will become obvious here, because that heart and passion radiate from every page and you cannot help but feel the power that this type of dedication brings. It truly is Aragmar's greatest work so far.
The book begins by showing us what the taz'arans have been up to since the clash and defeat at Gaour. We see that the Coalition haven't been sitting on their hands simply waiting. Developing new weapons of war and new plans trying to get every advantage possible against their enemy.
My favorite villain makes a comeback and I am truly proud of how far Nedal has come. With the example set by his Lord Captain it is truly a pleasure to watch how he manoeuvres and clashes with his superior, a reminder that all the characters have been put on a path and the author will not leave anyone behind, as no one character is less important that another.
We also discover what Omasa has in store and Aragmar finally pulls the curtain and we start to see that this is a fully fledged character, not just an "evil" counterpart to Anit'za. To be fair we have seen glimpses of this character but there is something immensely satisfying, not unlike Anit'za, to have finally spent enough time with the Lord Count and earn the right to know him better. What I found and truly surprised me and reminded me why I love this series - the fact that the villains are characters, something so often overlooked that I have stopped expecting it. I realized that Omasa is not simply a deep character but a tragic one. Someone doing everything in his power, and beyond, fighting on so many fronts, risking everything...to save his people and lead them to a better tomorrow. Not...unlike a terran, don't you think? This character has truly earned my, if not admiration, then at the very least immeasurable respect. He starts moving the pieces and his mind, and (one of his) plans turn to Lothoria.
The clash begins, like any self-respecting science fiction, in the orbit of the planet as we see that you never know when war will come knowing on the door of your little corner of space. We also discover how long a simple act of kindness and a bag of weed can take you. So a fight to brake an orbital blockade begins and I've gotta tell ya...after five books I finally understand what makes the combat in Starshatter so immensely enjoyable to read. You ready? It's....tactical. Ingenious isn't it? OK, let me explain. Unlike a lot of other authors, Aragmar does not forego the tactical aspects of combat, his simple, accurate descriptions allow you to understand what commanding officers intend to do and why they do it. Ships do not simply "move", they "manoeuvre" and "take position", they do not "fire" but "lock on" or "trace". Commanding officers demand a scan of the battlefield. Soldiers do not simply walk, they "dive for cover" and the do not simply "shoot", they "fire in full auto" or "in short bursts". And yet Aragmar does not overburden you with such things, allowing the combat to flow, as it should. And all of that somehow does not come at the expense of the narrative. I am not sure how he does it, but his simply described yet deep battle scenes are truly a masterpiece!
On the surface of Lothoria a grim picture is painted. "Enslaved" doesn't even begin to describe what the people of Lothoria are. It was truly heartbreaking and difficult to read about their everyday struggles and their completely crushed spirit. As everyone has, at one point in their lives, no matter how old, come against crushing adversity and hardship that they have tried to overcome and failed, you will no doubt immediately empathize with these people. And at the precise moment, sitting on the edge of despair, Aragmar comes and pulls you away through some familiar outlanderds. How he does it, I do not know but somehow he knew the exact moment to call our heroes to the rescue. Never has the path between despair and triumph been so short, in the span of a couple of pages I was taken on an emotional ride that stayed with me for a long time.
The crew of IMS Starshatter are back! Here to help the natives regain their long lost fighting spirit and thirst for life. And therein lies one of the key components of these books that make the series so real and relatable. The heroes are here to help. Not do it instead of the people but help the people do it. Just like in life, someone cannot do something instead of you, but can help you, teach you, encourage you. There are no freebies in life, and the author knows there is no point in rescuing someone if you do not teach them how to fend for themselves. After all "Give a man a fish....". It is a truly inspiring journey full of so much hope. By the end you start to realize and understand that even death is nothing to be afraid of as long as you do it standing up, defending your line in the sand because it is worth it, because sometimes the alternative is so horrifying that it becomes unthinkable, for you always got a choice, death for your freedom is a choice you can make. And that is a choice you shouldn't allow anyone take away form you.
The ground action, as always, takes on many forms. The crew once again moves with purpose, so they split and everyone heads out where they are needed. We witness the formation of a small but deadly and fluffy squad and a partisan type warfare, trying to sabotage the enemy and rescue the most valuable thing for a terran - children. We also get see the formation, training and deployment of an army. No detail escapes Aragmar as he meticulously describes all the stages and aspects in forming a ragtag band of outcasts into a proper rebel force. Which all culminates in a climactic battle where armies collide and legends are born, where desperation and hope intertwine to form a final stand and a charging battle cry that will echo through your mind long after you close the book.
It is great to see how the relationships between the characters have developed especially between Boris and Mack. The book is not without its touching moments, as I am always appreciative of the little moments of respite our heroes get. A little joke here, a kind gesture there, a secret sign - the crew show their love for each other in many forms and it is fun and heartwarming to watch a crew, a family, a constant reminder that there is no greater feeling than that to have someone to put your trust into and have that trust not only reciprocated but constantly reaffirmed as well.
Lothoria, as the title suggests, is not without its secrets. It is fascinating how Aragmar has managed to pull off a style more akin to fantasy novels and yet keep the narrative strictly in the realms of science fiction where everything has a logical flow. There is undoubtedly a mystique, akin to the description of the occult as we discover more about the metaphysical aspects of the universe. The planet is a crossroad for a lot of paths that started all the way back in the first book and the story takes breathtaking twists and turns ending in a clash, a symphony of light and shadow where all is put on the line and everything hangs in the balance. By the end of it, after the final touching line of dialogue, you will undoubtedly, like me, lean back and let out a sigh, admiring the great journey you just witnessed. You know what that reaction is dear reader? The reaction of experiencing a truly remarkable work of art.
What can be said about "Secrets of Lothoria" that I haven't said already? It is a truly amazing experience written by a good, talented man. Not a lot of them left these days, you know. "Bestower of courage and hope" I dub him for that is what he is to me. Through his books he gives me a hand to pull myself up when life knocks me down. Not a small feat when you think about it - to reach someone through your words, to help them. My hope and belief is he will continue to do so.