Review: Penance

Publisher Description:

Penance Copper is tired of being a tool for evil.

She’s been working for Acid ever since she was small. She had no other choice, he owned her. Even with her superpowers, she’s never been able to escape. But at least he only has her steal. Never anything worse than that.

Until he orders her to use her powers to kill the superhero Justice for investigating trafficked girls.

Penance doesn’t want to be a murderer. She uses the opportunity to run away from Acid and make a new life. One where she can make up for everything she did on Acid’s orders.

But events larger than Penance are spinning into action, and soon she is embroiled in an intergalactic encounter with an alien boy named Kail, who is perhaps as lonely and broken as she is. Even if he is infuriatingly arrogant.

The first young adult series in the shared Heroes Unleashed universe launches with the Teen Heroes Unleashed series. Readers will love hardworking, sassy Penance as she tries to learn to use her superpowers to save the world instead of to steal.

Can Penance and Kail find the missing girls and save the Earth from an alien invasion? Or will Acid find her again and punish her for running away?

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Review: Penance by Paula Richey and Thomas Plutarch

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Penance. I encourage you to check it out!

This review contains minor spoilers.

Penance is an energizing young adult superhero novel, featuring superpowers, aliens, an extraterrestrial sex trafficking ring, and the imminent invasion of earth! This first installment of the Teen Heroes Unleashed series is wholesome and entertaining.

Sympathetic Youths

One of the typical attributes of YA fiction is the age of the main character. It is highly unfortunate that most YA fiction seems determined to reflect the worst of that age group, resulting in unappealing view point characters. Penance is not one of these.

Authors Paula Richey and Thomas Plutarch did not make Penance overly emotional or stupid in order to appear young. Instead, her inexperience is communicated through her eagerness to learn and her tendency to make herself involved in creating solutions to problems as she sees them. This proactive attitude is much more sympathetic than moody or sullen, and much more believable than unexplainably charismatic and rebellious.

Penance does rebel, of course. But once again, her rebellion is mature. It is not the acting out of a child wishing to be acknowledged as an adult as much as it is a young woman becoming an adult by taking responsibility for her own beliefs and behaviors. As a result, she rebels against the evil she had been part of and seeks to do the right thing.

Kail, the male lead, is also sympathetic. His respectful, goal-oriented outlook is easy to understand and like. It is a refreshing change from snarky and rash. He, too, sets an example of working proactively, even when situations are out of his control.

Strong Adults

The non-antagonistic adults in this YA novel are reasonable people. They are not negligent or stupid, rather their understanding of the situation is actively sabotaged. This makes them effective and trustworthy cavalry in the later acts of the story.

They also display a desirable trait: everyone is able to offer help, admit when they need help, and accept help from others. These heroes do not need to take on impossible odds alone in order to be heroic, and this results in more believable conflicts which in turn deliver better emotional pay-offs.

Furthermore, it almost completely avoids the always frustrating and ultimately pointless discussion wherein adults deny teenagers agency by insisting that they cannot help and should remain “safe.” Penance and Kail are sent to a safehouse at one point, allowing for some welcome down-time interaction between the leads, but it was clear that they would eventually return to action.

Punchy Action

The pacing of the story is lively. Even when Penance is bored, the audience is not. There is enough tension and expectation to drive the story forward, and the occasional point-of-view switch to a minor character is tolerable as the emphasis remains on the action.

This is animated and striking, effective without dragging in long sequences. No one character is overpowered, so the stakes remain high for each conflict. Penance has great powers, but she is also inexperienced and doesn’t always fully understand them. Her greatest success is actually not won through physical confrontation at all, but an application of head knowledge and relationship growth.

The action is enthusiastic, and it complements the rest of the story elements, rather than overshadowing them.

Young Adult

On the surface, most books are labeled “Young Adult” fiction due to the age of the main character, but there are two fairly consistent elements that appear in most YA novels.

The first is, of course, romantic tension, particularly of the trials and elations of first love. Penance is charged with the atmosphere of unspoken romantic attraction, which serves to layer additional tension within the story. Its unresolved nature will certainly contribute to readthrough as the series continues.

However, what makes Penance a distinctly YA story is the theme of self-discovery. Both Penance and Kail struggle with self-worth, identity, and belonging throughout the story. These are common for young people moving into adulthood, and thus they have an important place in YA literature.

That being said, Richey and Plutarch use the standard theme to point the reader eloquently towards Christ.

Christianity

Penance converts to Christianity early in the story, but it takes place “off stage,” so to speak. The reader sees her exposure and initial interest, but the actual moment when she takes the leap occurs while the story is in Kail’s point of view, away from his experience.

This makes Penance’s conversion far more tolerable than typical “Christian fiction,” which is generally defined as having a conversion of a main character as a major plot point. Changing hearts is a miracle of the Holy Spirit, and thus difficult to portray convincingly in fiction, especially when the author is preachy and determined to resolve a character’s every doubt.

As for Penance, the reader sees her searching and then trusting. It is enough that she reached a decision in that moment and is determined to see it through. She still has doubts and lots of things she doesn’t know or understand about God, but that is an unadorned, realistic depiction of Christianity, which leaves room for character growth.

The placement of the conversion early in the story emphasizes this. Penance’s faith becomes the answer to her questions of self-worth, identity, and belonging, while Kail’s trust in the false god of his culture is betrayed, leaving him unsure of his place in the world.

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Penance is a fantastic superhero novel for readers looking for congenial young characters to admire and aspire to, who engage in clearly praiseworthy efforts to protect others with their powers. I look forward to seeing more from the Teen Heroes Unleashed subseries of Heroes Unleashed!

This book is also available on Amazon.

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Review: Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast

Publisher Description:

You can feel Castle Bloodghast seething around you.

This ancient castle is the grave of many a hero. When a fearful angel appears to him in a vision, Gideon is charged to enter the cursed fortress in search of his childhood friend. But demons are the least of the denizens lurking in the heart of the castle. Gideon must battle the fruits of the most depraved genius as he struggles to reach his old comrade.

Abominations lurk in every shadow, and the worst atrocities are those committed by bloody human hands. Will Gideon put the corrupted experiments to the torch as they rampage out of control? Will he find a way to escape the curse and free his friend? Or will he break under the unrelenting horror at the heart of the fortress?

Enter Castle Bloodghast, where even angels fear to tread.

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Review: Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast by Adam Lane Smith

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast. I encourage you to check it out!

This review contains minor spoilers.

Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast is a heavy metal Christian campaign to bring a lost lamb out of a stronghold of evil and back to the fold. This fourth installment of the Deus Vult Wastelanders series continues to deliver hard-hitting action.

Chilling Setting

This time, Gideon Ira spends less time traversing the apocalypse-ravaged countryside and dives straight into a shiver-inducing dungeon crawl.

Castle Bloodghast provides a more structured feel to the pace of this story, alternating detailed battles with monsters and suspenseful exploration of dark laboratories. The juxtaposition of mad science and the deeper malevolent character of the castle itself gives the story a layered tension. This made it difficult to predict the sorts of evil the characters would have to face as they proceeded towards their goal.

Straight-forward Action

One of the unique attributes of the Deus Vult Wastelanders series is the stark nature of the story. No matter where you open the story to, something exciting will be happening, and there are no great complexities of character, plot, or theme, that detract from the entertainment value of the simple action.

Gideon Ira, for example, although confronted by demons with guilt and temptation, is in no great danger of submitting to them. He is a model knight of strong character. His companions are stalwart and true.

Furthermore, he was charged with his task by God, making it impossible that he should fail, as long as he remains faithful, which is under no doubt. In fact, the greatest uncertainty is how the characters will be able to prevail as they continue to rack up the injuries.

But we didn’t come to read about Gideon struggling to do the right thing. We get enough of that in our own spiritual life. We came to experience the righteous battle and undeniable victory of the Lord in glorious, bloody action!

Theme

The theme is, therefore, impossible to miss. Christianity is not tucked neatly under the surface to take the reader by surprise or present itself only when looked for. There are numerous confessions of faith and two conversions, both of which emphasize that anyone is redeemable by God.

The one that is central to the plot, Gideon’s childhood friend, is actively participating in the evil plaguing the region and is even possessed by a demon. He does not desire God, but God uses Gideon to confront him and change his heart.

Catholicism

It should be noted, that this book is very Catholic. Obviously, Catholics will not take issue with this, but what about a Baptist girl like me?

Adam Lane Smith is diplomatic, but as with all elements of the story, the religion is worn on the sleeve. However, the prayers and confessions, most of the theology in fact, are universal Christian beliefs. Nothing to violate the conscience of a firm Protestant.

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Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast is a great addition to the Deus Vult Wastelanders series. Although it is technically the fourth, each story stands well on its own, making it easy to jump in at any point!

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Review: Gideon Ira: Knight of the Blood Cross

Publisher Description:

Demons and Necromancers haunt a burnt and blasted future in the ruins of what was once America.

A holy crusader sworn to slaughter the dark cults of Ba’al the Ever-Hungry must rescue a band of innocent children with his blade and blood-soaked gauntlets, or die trying.

All of Hell thirsts for his blood, but a man of God will never be broken. This holy crusader’s vengeance will be brutal.

The first book in a new heavy metal Christian pulp series.

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Review: Gideon Ira: Knight of the Blood Cross by Adam Lane Smith

This review was written by Ben Espen and originally appeared on his blog With Both Hands on January 9, 2020. Periapsis Press is sharing it with permission. I encourage you to check out his website!

This review contains minor spoilers.

Gideon Ira reminds me of Solomon Kane, if he had a repeating firearm and power armor. This assessment of Solomon could easily be written of Gideon:

A hunger in his soul drove him on and on, and urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things, avenge all crimes against right and justice. Wayward and restless as the wind, he was consistent in only one respect–he was true to his ideals of justice and right. Such was Solomon Kane.

Gideon Ira: Knight of the Blood Cross is a post-apocalyptic adventure that will leave no demon unscathed.

Unlike Solomon, Gideon does not need to restlessly wander the Earth looking for evil men to ease of their lives. There is an abundance of such, and far worse, close to home, and Gideon finds his purpose in defending his home from the horrors that roam the world.

Not Gideon, but a brother in spirit

NOT GIDEON, BUT A BROTHER IN SPIRIT

We don’t know exactly what happened to the world. Since it has been several centuries since the world was “torn”, perhaps true knowledge of that event has passed from living memory. In my imagination, it was something like the precipitating event of the Doom series, a scientific investigation pushed far beyond the bounds of reason and sense in the pursuit of pure power.

However, the same civilization that presumably brought the world to ruin also left behind artifacts of great power that have been pressed into service by the defenders of humanity. Hence, Gideon and his brother Knights have the ability to not only combat wicked men, but also the foul demons and other hellspawn that were unleashed in the now legendary cataclysm.

And Gideon does this in abundance. In the opening chapter, Gideon does battle with a Pride demon, three times the height of a man and covered in insect-like armor. Later he massacres leathery flying monsters and animated skeletons by the dozens. Unfortunately, as natives of Hell, these things cannot truly be killed, only inconveniently discorporated.

A key difference in the world of Doom and Gideon’s world is that ordinary people are able to live out their lives, protected not only by Gideon’s fierceness, but also by holy places and holy signs. The unclean things cannot abide a cross, or the touch of a sacramental like holy water. Thus life can in some respects go on, for those who seek the protection of the Church.

While there are some fascinating hints that the devil-worshipers who live in the blasted wastelands and the faithful protected by careful maintenance of blessed objects are locked in a kind of economic interdependence, this is primarily an adventure novel, and not hard sci-fi or fantasy with rivets. Thus, we get a quick line that the flying transports the Knights use are fueled by demon blood, and a deduction that the population of the demon-haunted regions could only be sustained by defection and fed by theft, since they neither toil nor spin.

However, the real meat of the novel consists not in the derring-do of Gideon, but in the Solzhenitsyn like realization that the real border between good and evil lies not in the boundary formation made with crosses and blessed paint, but within each man’s heart. In a world where demons roam the Earth, and holy water and crosses repel them, you might be tempted to think that the petty arguments we have about religion would fall by the wayside.

In a way, that is correct, insofar as the Catholic Church dominates Gideon’s world. However, it doesn’t really change the fundamental relationship of men to truth, or the way that temptation works. What has changed is that in cases where you might suspect demonic influence, it is now overt rather than covert. The demons just shout the things that they might have previously whispered to you in a dream. In our world, dark conspiracy theories claim that worshiping the devil is a means to worldly power. In Gideon’s world, you really do get magical powers from kneeling before the demons, and all the fun that comes from seeing your enemies driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of their women.

On the other hand, we have very real evidence of the power of God. Those demons fear holy things, and are burned by the sacramental holy water that priests can produce in nearly unlimited quantities as long as they have a source to draw from. In a curious reversal to the unlife of the hellspawn, an embodied demon can steal your life by force, but not your soul. The demons must rely on the old-fashioned methods to do that.

Thus, faith, hope, and charity are critical virtues to maintain in Gideon’s world, just as much in ours. Gideon himself, as stalwart as he is, primarily draws his strength from the theological virtues. For that, plus a fun, finely crafted story, I can heartily recommend this for anyone who likes pulp adventure.

If you enjoyed this guest review, please check out http://www.benespen.com/

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Review: The Devil’s Dictum

Publisher Description:

In a topsy-turvy United States founded by pirates, the personal assassin to the chief justice receives a terrifying order: round up and kill all men who look like himself.

Why does the chief justice want these men dead? What threat could they possibly pose? And can the assassin save them—or will he become the final victim?

Spooky, sly and satirical, The Devil’s Dictum recasts J. Edgar Hoover as a Satanic high priest, Calvin Coolidge as a private eye, and Richard Nixon as the pilot of a giant armored robot.

Readers hungering for original and mind-blowing alternate history need look no further.

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Review: The Devil's Dictum by Frederick Gero Heimbach

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Devil’s Dictum. I encourage you to check it out!

This review contains minor spoilers.

The Devil’s Dictum is a satirical alternate history featuring a United States founded by pirates and propagated into a country of wickedness more playfully crude than baldly evil. This stand-alone novel crafts a coherent and exciting story out of glittering fragments of our history.

Alternate History

What if the pilgrims were rebuffed from landing at Plymouth Rock by pirates, who then founded the United States of America – “the only satanic republic”? The setting for The Devil’s Dictum rests on this scenario. This is not really a serious thought experiment, but rather a situation to create comedy.

This is executed brilliantly, weaving historical figures and real places into ridiculous circumstances, not unlike a child with a number of movie-based toys. The result is a delightfully original and pleasingly unpredictable.

I especially enjoyed the numerous “In Point of Fact” items peppered throughout the story. These pseudo-serious records and artifacts from this alternate world fleshed out the setting nicely, often contributing to comedy and the plot in unexpected ways.

Decay, Destruction, and Neglect

The setting of the story, this satanic United States, is steeped in a well-developed atmosphere of decline. From the first chapter, Heimbach makes clear that things are falling into disrepair, and not all of it is based in physical descriptions of the characters’ surroundings, although those tend to be falling apart, too.

The madness of most government officials, the crude humor in a literal river of urine, the national motto “Eh. Whatever.”–all contribute to the mood of atrophy.

However, the story itself does not take on the weight of hopelessness this might suggest. The situations are so outlandish and entertaining that the sense of degeneration is less heavy than it might be in a more earnest alternate history. The other element that makes the setting bearable is, of course, the main character.

The Special Master

The Devil’s Dictum follows the Special Master as he navigates a bewildering and terrifying new agenda from his boss, the Chief Justice. His uncertainty further contributes to the setting’s atmosphere, but it is our hero’s integrity that equips the reader with optimism.

The Special Master is a compelling and sympathetic character. Even though he works as an assassin, his resolve to discover the truth and protect others makes it easy to root for him. He upholds a moral decency, applying honesty, mercy, and respect. He even treats the Chief Justice with consistent kindness, even as their relationship deteriorates, which tends to soften the central antagonist for the reader from irredeemably evil to misguided and pitiable.

In a crumbling world, the Special Master is reliable and upright, providing an appealing point of view character.

Rewarding Plot

The plot of The Devil’s Dictum is well-laid and each element introduced plays a role later, often returning more significantly in a light-handed foreshadowing that allows a pleasing sense of gratification.

This was often accomplished through the “A Point of Fact” chapters. They often touched upon people or places that had already been introduced and seemed to be included primarily for flavor, but would actually expose the reader to additional concepts or items that would come into the story later. As I was reading, I would be distracted by the former, which kept the foreshadowing from being too explicit.

The World’s Only Satanic Republic

The Devil’s Dictum, with its satanic rituals and under-handed deeds, did not join the cacophony of media in derogatory treatment of Christianity. Rather, the ideals of Christianity were used primarily to craft a humorous, photo-negative world.

Still, a story with a setting predicated on a religious impetuosity must consequentially have a great deal to say about religion, whether intentional or not. The themes derived are thought-provoking, to say the least.

First and foremost, Heimbach presents a forthright argument that the success of the American Experiment was (and continues to be) possible due to the Christian values of the founders. By replacing the pilgrims with pirates devoted to Satan instead of Christ, and further by portraying various consequences including the decay and neglect, The Devil’s Dictum presents an interesting scenario that opens a discussion of less dramatic what-if’s when considering the importance of our nation’s founding values.

A second thematic reflection evident throughout the story is that evil does not have to be ambitious or overt in order to destroy. The national motto, “eh, whatever,” embodies this sentiment. There are plenty of obviously evil acts in the story, but neglect and the failure to follow through are just as detrimental to the success of the nation.

Finally, there is the complete absence of women in the country, which says something important about the role of women in society that I’m sure would be irritating to modern, politically-correct sentiments.

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The Devil’s Dictum is a satirical tale of adventure in a twisted-history version of the United States. A highly entertaining stand-alone story!

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Review: Hell Spawn

Publisher Description:

My name is Officer Thomas Nolan, and I am a saint.

Tommy Nolan lives a quiet life. He walks his beat – showing mercy to the desperate. Locking away the dangerous. Going to church, sharing dinner with his wife and son. Everyone likes Tommy, even the men he puts behind bars.

Then one day a demon shows up and he can smell it. Tommy can smell evil – real evil. Now he’s New York City’s only hope against a horrifying serial killer that preys on the young and defenseless.

But smell alone isn’t enough to get a warrant. Can Tommy track down the killer and prove his guilt?

Dragon Award Nominated Author Declan Finn returns with his typical action-packed, Catholic influenced style, in this groundbreaking horror series about an honest, religious man given the powers of a saint to fight demons in the Big Apple.

How do you do forensics on a killer possessed by a demon?

Can Tommy catch the killer before he becomes a martyr? Or will the demon bring darkness beyond imagination to the whole of New York? Read Hell Spawn today and find out!

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Review: Hell Spawn by Declan Fin

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Hell Spawn. I encourage you to check it out!

This review contains minor spoilers.

Hell Spawn is an action packed novel that is one part exorcism horror, one part urban fantasy. This first installment in the Saint Tommy, NYPD series reverberates with tension, featuring physical battles with the demon-possessed, God-given superpowers, and chillingly palpable evil.

Fantasy Horror

Hell Spawn takes place in New York City and stars a sharp detective with powers that enable him to stand up to powerful, supernatural forces.

The mash-up of urban fantasy, with its tendency towards high stakes and grueling fight scenes, injects the exorcism horror premise with non-stop action and retribution against evil.

Strong Action

These powers, including bilocation and healing, deliver most of the action. Tommy is a likable character and the demon he faces off with equivalently loathsome, making every confrontation a suspenseful one-two punch of trepidation and gratification.

The story kept up the pace, too. When the action let up, the tension swept in to replace it in a drive towards the satisfying conclusion. This story starts the series, but stands alone well, without compromising on the comeuppance that evil deserves.

Urban

Declan Fin’s NYC is grim, as the setting for a story with both a serial killer and a demon must be. However, it is not “dark” in the sense that it is not hopeless. There is a sense of community and belonging for most of the people we meet, and even the criminal element in the neighborhood works to keep out the worse bad guys.

Of course, Fin also taps into the fear such dense population presents to the mind, that you don’t truly know your neighbors and you are never far from threats to your family.

The contemporary, real-world setting is starker than most examples of urban fantasy due to the blatant naming of activist groups and the incorporation of real-world antagonists taking actions we recognize as evil as opposed to mythological beings whose behavior has cataclysmic consequences but may be morally muddled.

Horror

And that is from where the true horror in Hell Spawn springs: not the debilitating agony of a loved one held hostage by a demon, as so often seen in exorcism horror, but from real-world perpetrators of evil much closer to home. The evil usually kept safely behind the fourth wall and the suspension of disbelief is undeniably part of our world, our country, our cities.

Of course, this existential sort of horror is not the only kind present in Hell Spawn. There is a great deal of body horror, due to the nature of the serial killer, and a truly shudder-inducing haunting sequence.

Reckoning

But, to reiterate, Tommy gives this evil no quarter. Instead of the typical, possession tale trajectory, there is no wallowing in helplessness, no harrowing battle with one’s own guilty conscience, no futile death with the demon still at large. Fin’s upstanding hero has been empowered by God to lay the smack down.

The demon can only possess a willing and degenerate host—a simple mechanism which makes all the delicious vengeance possible. There is no young girl thrashing around and projectile vomiting because she played with a Ouija board (although that is still not advisable).

Instead, it is depraved criminals—people who actively reject redemption and embrace their own demonic possession—who face off with the hero. There is no need for him to pull his punches.

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Hell Spawn is an intense ride that delivers both dreadful terror and righteous retribution. This is an amazing start to Saint Tommy’s journey!

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Review: The Mummy of Monte Cristo

Publisher Description:

Revenge takes time; fortunately Edmond Dantes doesn’t sleep. Or breathe.

In a world of monsters and magic, Edmond Dantes has a pretty good life. He’s just been made captain of a ship, and he’s about to marry his sweetheart.

But when jealousy, spite, and ambition conspire to frame him for treason, he loses everything. To make things right, he’ll need to give up the only thing he has left: his humanity.

They thought their troubles died with Edmond. They were wrong on both counts.

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Review: The Mummy of Monte Cristo by J Trevor Robionson

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Mummy of Monte Cristo. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)

This review contains spoilers.

The Mummy of Monte Cristo is a hair-raising adaptation of Alexandre Duma’s classic revenge story in the style of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, packed with loads of undead and horror delicacies to relish!

The Count of Monte Cristo

The original adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas is ripe for this kind of adaptation. The original story was actually released in parts from 1844 to 1846, which lends the novel an episodic nature of consistent action and tension scaling.

The elements of historic context, particularly the unrest and uncertainty for the average citizen around the Bourbon Restoration and the Hundred Days period when Napoleon returned to power, seep the tale in a beclouded world in which horrible tragedy and gripping vengeance can take place.

Finally, the characters, complex with secrets and inter-relational conflict, make monstrous additions more tenable than, say a public figure such as Abraham Lincoln (Vampire Hunter).

Undead Adaptation

So, then, with such a great starting point, does Robinson pull it off? Yes!

The Mummy of Monte Cristo is packed with tons of undead flavor, from the tweaking of historical events to include a near zombie apocalypse to Edmond Dantès’ mummy transformation. I loved the classic mummy monster mechanics such as the use of his wrappings as weapons!

But Robinson didn’t stop there. Nearly every character brings more horror to the table: vampires, cannibals, a life-sucking amulet, dark rituals, death-curses, and so much more. The result is a setting that feels more like an alternate history, a place where everything is a little bit different, rather than a dark corner of our own world where monsters could exist.

And it is all seamlessly integrated into the original tale! A common critique of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is that the tone is inconsistent; the romance and the zombie action don’t mesh very well. But Robinson pulls it off beautifully in The Mummy of Monte Cristo.

The melodramatic nature of the original lends itself to the adaptation, of course, but the alterations to exposition, dialogue, and action are all so smooth that I could not at first blush identify the point of integration. The presence of monsters or other supernatural elements are a give-away for changes, but Robinson tailored his voice to Dumas’ so that there are no jarring juxtapositions, and I was often in the middle of a scene before I thought, “Well, this wasn’t in the original!”

Humanity

This adaptation is also appropriate for The Count of Monte Cristo thematically. Dantès alienates himself from his humanity while he enacts his revenge, cutting himself off from both society (external) and emotions (internal) and devoting himself to a self-assigned role as an agent of Providence. Thus, “humanity” is an important theme in the original, incorporating ideas of justice, forgiveness, mercy, and hope.

In The Mummy of Monte Cristo, Dantès abandons his humanity literally in order to purse his revenge. However, the thematic thread takes a vastly different path in this adaptation than the original. Whereas the original Dantès regains his humanity through forgiveness, Robinson’s Dantès cannot become human again. He does not forgive Danglars; in fact, Danglars earns the most graphic death in the adaptation.

Neither is the idea of a limit to human vengeance present – an important idea in the original. The quote, “Tell the angel who will watch over your life to pray now and then for a man who, like Satan, believed himself for an instant to be equal to God, but who realized in all humility that supreme power and wisdom are in the hands of God alone,” is not present in any form.

Rather, Dantès is given a new vocation to continue to pursue and defeat “petty and harmful men” and to “make sure there is no possible way for the world to be troubled by the undead again.”

Responsibility

This difference is an important one, but it should not be taken as a commentary on or contradiction of the original theme of vengeance and forgiveness, but rather a completely separate message to a very different audience.

In The Mummy of Monte Cristo, vengeance is part of Dantès’ origin story. Like many superheroes, he awakens to the evil present in the world by first becoming a victim to it and rising to enact vengeance against it. Once that is accomplished, his abilities and awareness make him responsible for pursuing justice beyond revenge.

He himself still needs forgiveness and love, but he does not extend it to evil, nor attempt to rejoin humanity in general. This is a typical motif in modern storytelling (The Myth of the American Superhero) wherein the hero remains apart from society rather that rejoining it (The Hero with a Thousand Faces).

Personally, I found Danglars’ new end thick with Schadenfreude and the idea of additional adventures to come enticing, although it did come at the cost of a moral ideal and stronger theological argument.

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The Mummy of Monte Cristo is a seamless adaptation of a great adventure story into a darker, undead version sure to satisfy your thirst for all things classic horror and bad guys getting what they deserve. If you enjoy Dumas’ original story or the undead genre, this is a must read!

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Review: A Greater Duty

Publisher Description:

The Galactic Alliance was not ready for war. When it is suddenly invaded by the cold and relentless Tyrannodon Armada, under the command of emotionless, amoral Executor Darkclaw, it is immediately sent reeling.

The invasion was a godsend for some, however, such as Grand Admiral Nayasar Khariah, who had wanted nothing more than revenge on the Alliance following an attack on her homeworld. The arrival of the Tyrannodons presents her with an opportunity, one that she seizes gleefully.

However, Executor Darkclaw, who has been prosecuting the invasion on orders of his master, the all-powerful energy being known only as the High Lord, has started having second thoughts once he unexpectedly starts feeling emotions he does not understand. Suddenly, he finds himself heretically questioning the only purpose he has ever known—irrevocably altering his view of the ongoing war.

Meanwhile, within the Galactic Alliance, Second Scion Dalcon Oresh, member of an order dedicated to preserving the it, struggles to stop the Alliance’s bleeding, the source of which may not be entirely external.

Darkclaw’s newfound friendship with Nayasar will be pushed to its breaking point, Nayasar’s relationships with her closest friends and loved ones will be strained as her quest for vengeance becomes more and more a personal obsession, and Dalcon must determine who he can truly trust.

All the while, the imminent existential threat of the High Lord looms over everything, and the key to stopping him, and saving not just the Alliance, but the entire galaxy, may only be found in the remains of a ancient, powerful race, and the creations they left behind…

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Review: A Greater Duty by Yakov Merkin

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed A Greater Duty. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)

This review contains minor spoilers.

A Greater Duty is a detailed military space fleet novel featuring diverse alien species and exciting battles both in space and on the ground. This self-contained story makes a compelling start to the Galaxy Ascendant series.

Heavy Action, Light Mechanics

A Greater Duty features both detailed tactical battles in space and heart-pounding clashes on the ground. This varied military action keeps the engagements fresh as the war progresses throughout the story.

I particularly enjoyed the ground battles, where the characters’ choices felt more crucial and personal than those made from the command center of a flagship. It also felt more fantastical: Nayasar rides on a battle mount decked out with enough weapons and technology to make it pack the punch of a light tank. These fights also stuck out to me as having greater individuality than the space battles, since the settings and situations differed between them, while the space battles were fairly consistent, conveyed largely through dialogue and shifting shapes on a display.

The science fiction elements of the story are less detailed, preventing the story from becoming bogged down with too much realism. There are a few innovative technologies, but they are only described enough to serve the story, rather than existing for their own sake.

For example, the space ships are mainly military vehicles, and thus described less in terms of the science behind space travel and more along the lines of practicality. This does result in some less meticulous elements, such as their tendency to arrive places whenever it is most convenient for the story, rather than some consistent sense of distance traveled.

However, I can’t help but feel that this is a net gain, as the emphasis resultingly landed on the conflict and the characters, which is consistent for the military science fiction genre.

Suspense

A Greater Duty’s true strength, however, lies in the main character Darkclaw’s emotional journey and the tension that develops as he becomes more sympathetic towards his allies and begins to question his High Lord.

The question of how he can stand up to an all-powerful, mind-reading energy being builds through the entire story. It makes Darkclaw particularly sympathetic, and the climax manages to deliver a satisfying pay-off to this building suspense.

Foils and Emotion

Darkclaw begins the story entirely emotionless: a completely rational character. He believes the Tyrannodons to be superior due to this trait, although others of his species do have limited emotions. His struggle to maintain his composure and hide his emotions as they develop is extremely relatable, and his resolution to then change his behavior once he understands others better as a result of his emotional experiences is admirable.

Nayasar was a more frustrating character for me, though she makes an excellent foil for Darkclaw. She not only feels things very vividly, but she throws herself into her emotions. She dwells on the deaths of civilians that she feels responsible for, and actively resists the advice of others that would help her to find healing. Her quest for revenge ends with a realization that allowing her emotions to control her caused her to hurt others.

Dalcon is likewise an interesting foil for Darkclaw, although perhaps a more subtle one. He begins the story as a character who values rational behavior. Like Darkclaw, he works to maintain his composure. Where Nayasar represents a character willingly ruled by her emotions – and the dangers that involves – Dalcon is a character who intentionally sets aside his emotions in order to keep from alienating people who recognize his species as dangerous. He has intentionally distanced himself from his home world and his inherent fire abilities as a result. In the end, he does not have as urgent a repentance as Nayasar, but he does become aware that he has likewise been isolated, and seeks reconciliation with his people.

Darkclaw manages to walk a middle road between these extremes, and is able to achieve peace and unity with both his own people and the peoples of the Galactic Alliance.

Loyalty, Sacrifice, and Religion

A Greater Duty emphasizes the values typical for the military genre, including loyalty, sacrifice, bravery, and, of course, of duty. However, these values interplay with the thematic thread of emotion in a unique way. When Darkclaw lacks emotions, he retains loyalty and a sense of duty, but they are to the High Lord, governed only by a sterile logic based on the High Lord’s rhetoric. However, as Darkclaw begins to experience emotions, his loyalties and sense of duty change to align with his allies. He is even able to appreciate the religion of Nayasar’s people.

So, then, is the thematic argument of this story that feelings determine morality? Not at all. Nayasar’s emotions steer her to commit condemnable acts. Rather, the note seems to be that emotions breathe life into these values. Camaraderie strengthens the loyalty between characters. Enacting responsibilities leads to fulfillment. Courage is not even possible without fear. Grief deepens the sacrifice of subordinates; love, self-sacrifice.

Merkin delivers a message of emotional balance, neither blindly employing them as a moral compass nor condemning them as solely problematic. Rather, A Greater Duty embraces the reality that, while feelings should not be responsible for structural integrity, their presence alongside virtues turns a plain building into a cathedral.

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A Greater Duty delivers detailed action and a thought-provoking spin on the usual themes of the military sci-fi genre. It is an exciting first foray into the Galaxy Ascendant series!

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Review: Collateral Damage

Publisher Description:

Destructive Battles Rage Between Hellish Kaiju and Giant Mech Protectors

A desperate father must rescue his son when a deadly kaiju rampages across his city.

When opportunists lurk and buildings crumble around him, the battle might be the least of his worries. Each minute means more destruction, and the clock is ticking.

The first in a new kaiju series where the ordinary collides with the oversized, Collateral Damage is based on a short story of the same title originally published in Broadswords & Blasters Magazine. Experience the first taste of this series with a punch to the gut. Mind the shadows — you could be crushed.

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Review: Collateral Damage by Adam Furman

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Collateral Damage. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions (You can request a review here.)

This review contains minor spoilers.

Collateral Damage is a high-speed science fiction thriller about a father’s battle to save his son, underfoot of a kaiju/mech battle for humanity’s survival. This first installment of the series is a wild ride of paternal determination and an intense mashup of the ordinary and the fantastic!

Aggressive Pacing

While Collateral Damage begins with a simple premise: a father of a broken family doing whatever he has to in order to be with his young son. Initially, the goal is to pass an apartment inspection in order to get visitation rights. The common situation provides a moderate amount of tension, stemming from the relatability of the father-son relationship.

The initial obstacles are likewise of the everyday sort, but the situation quickly goes off the rails. When a kaiju attacks the city and his son is unaccounted for, DeShawn hurdles into an epic quest to find him and keep him safe. He meets with one problem after another, but never gives up.

Furman does an exemplary job of utilizing the “yes, but / no, and” storytelling technique. The consistent complications deny the release of tension, pushing the drive of the story even harder with every event. Furthermore, DeShawn is impacted physically at every turn – a tactic reminiscent of Jim Butcher – which continues to amplify the suspense.

Present Tense

Reading a story told in present tense can take some mental adjusting if you aren’t used to it (generally, it is more common in short stories than genre fiction), but in Collateral Damage, the style is used to further emphasize the immediacy and build the suspense.

The effect is one of careening into the unknown. It is not unlike a Crash Bandicoot game in which the character runs full-tilt towards the screen; the player is perched on the edge of his seat, reacting to problems seconds after they appear and trusting that there is a way through to the finish line and to victory.

Biting Visuals

The fast pace and intense emotional investment do not prevent the setting from making an undeniable impression. Images, such as driving a blue convertible through a mech’s legs as it battles a giant monster overhead, stick with you.

Some of the descriptions are quite graphic, emphasizing the “collateral damage” occurring while the battle rages above. The destruction, violence, and even gore further contribute to the rising tension by reducing the control the reader perceives the main character as having.

But it also casts some thematic threads.

Timely Theme

The story works off a simple premise, and the central theme reflects that. The importance of a father figure and the desire for a whole and loving family are threads that lead to the payoff, the feel-good ending the reader craves like water after a gut-wrenching race.

However, there is another theme, more timely than timeless.

There are political events occurring in the world that are intriguingly similar to our own current events. Zenith, a communist group of zealots works to overthrow the mechs, the force established by the government to defend the people.

Zenith has occupied part of the city, obstruct roadways, accost ordinary people on their way home from work, steal and kill, and take advantage of a bad situation to further their own goals. However, they have some valid concerns, including the blasé acceptance of the damage caused and lives lost as a result of the mechs’ battles, and the impunity of the mech pilots for their behavior. Most people seem to love them, though, and watch their battles as a kind of entertainment.

In this situation, DeShawn is once again painfully relatable. He does not mindlessly embrace the mechs, forgiving the carnage and rejecting all criticism of them, and so he is himself rejected by others as “anti-government.” One character even goes as far to call him a monster for his mere opinion. However, he also cannot accept Zenith who stole his wallet, appropriated his apartment, and killed the people he approached for help. As a result, he is labeled a “patriot” by them.

Collateral Damage

He, like so many people in the Western world today, finds himself in a no-man’s land, disavowed by opposite ends of the spectrum as the enemy, and denied the opportunity to find common ground with either of them due to the labels they are so quick to brand him with. He represents the “collateral damage” in this political and cultural war.

The thematic arc resolves with DeShawn’s conclusion that he is happy that the mechs exist. This is not a surrender of his inhibitions regarding them, nor an inconsistent, emotional response to his rescue. It is a nuanced discernment of the good and the bad, one that has been denied to him throughout the story.

I am reluctant to pin any particular, deeper message onto this thread, any call to action regarding our own world’s politics. But the story clearly cautions against the adoption of an “us vs them” mentality, and the satisfying ending is really only possible because DeShawn lets go of some of his own judgement towards his ex and his father, enabling them to become a whole family instead of one divided against itself.

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Collateral Damage is an exciting kaiju thriller with a breakneck pace that will keep you up late reading it and thought-provoking themes to mull over for days afterwards! I am looking forward to seeing where Furman takes this series.

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Review: The Last Ancestor

Publisher Description:

They killed his father, oppress his people, and threaten them with extinction . . . and one of them is his best friend.

The Growlers rule their corner of the planet Yxakh with an iron fist, intent on driving the human refugees from their land. They almost did eight years ago, killing Garrett’s father in the process. Only their guns, and lots of them, keep the Growlers at bay. Now a young man, Garrett burns for revenge, but finds it hard to reconcile this hatred given that his best friend is a Growler youth named Ghryxa.

Desperate to cleanse his land of the invaders, the Growlers’ High Lord dispatches his trusted heir on a mission to acquire the humans’ superior weaponry. The Earthlings barely won the last war . . . but this time the High Lord will leave nothing up to chance.

Garrett and Ghryxa run headlong into the High Lord’s conspiracy and find themselves the only thing standing between their two peoples and all-out war. Now Garrett must participate in an ancient rite with the fate of humanity on his shoulders. It’s a chance to be a hero like his father . . . but only if he makes it out of the Growlers’ forbidden city alive.

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Review: The Last Ancestor by Alexander Hellene

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Last Ancestor. I encourage you to check it out!

The Last Ancestor is a dynamic sword and planet romp of faith and daring. Alien-dog people, the ruins of a crashed spaceship, and a secret church populate this exciting first installment in The Swordbringer series.

Raising the Stakes

Hellene does a great job of ratcheting up the tension throughout this story. The beginning is a bit slow, taking time to introduce the main character Garret’s family and do a bit of exposition, but the events of the story consistently build upon one another from standing up to bullies on a playground, to foiling a kidnapping, to fighting to prevent a war.

Even during the final conflict, a duel to the death with humanity’s survival on the line, the stakes were raised!

The only element that slows down the action is the multiple point of view characters, particularly the politicians. I didn’t find that they contributed much; in fact, they tended to deflate the suspense at certain points.

Strong Theme

The Last Ancestor is built consistently around “doing the right thing,” despite the consequences. This begins with the opening scene in which Garret saves a potential enemy, who becomes his best friend Ghryxa, and ends with the choice of martyrdom over renouncing his faith. In fact, almost each event of the story involves Garret choosing to put his well-being on the line in order to do what he believes is right, usually help someone else.

This theme would be wholesome enough on its own, but it is underscored by two parallel themes.

The first is perhaps less glamorous, or at least less lauded, than being willing to die for a cause, but it is no easier: embracing weakness and any accompanying humiliation in order to do the right thing. While Garret faces death and injury, his friend Ghryxa confronts his desire for his people’s acceptance and chooses to do the right thing at the expense of his reputation.

The other theme that contributes to both of these is the importance of a father’s role in teaching morality to his children and to others through them. Garret’s father died in the war, sacrificing his life to save others. Garret remembers him throughout the story, usually when he is considering what action to take. It is clear that his father continues to have a great impact on his conception of right and wrong and his role in society. Furthermore, Ghryxa’s understanding of these things is largely based on his relationship with Garret.

Honestly, I would love to see a story about this man, who left Earth with his family in a shoddy spaceship, fought to make a home for them, and died to protect others!

Kind Character

Garret is a unique character, and one that I enjoyed following on this adventure. He behaves consistently with kindness and honesty, and while he is not necessarily slow to anger, he is slow to act out of anger. His affection for his younger sister is endearing and refreshing for a youthful lead character, especially a teenage boy.

I appreciated how Hellene built his themes out of Garret’s consistency as a character, rather than a repentance. Cringe in the beginning of a story may set up a character for development over its course, and portray an important moral lesson, but I rarely enjoy it. The Last Ancestor presents another important lesson, one that is not overrepresented in fiction: Garret’s journey is all about persistent diligence, rather than changing behavior.

Planet

I cannot go without mentioning the setting in this review! Hellene has done an excellent job crafting a tangible world with geography, monsters, and alien culture.

The alure of exploring caves for a crashed spaceship filled with treasures of a bygone world, the exhilaration of sneaking into a forbidden city, the resolve of holding firm in your beliefs against fearful pressure – all of these can be attributed to the deliberate worldbuilding and intriguing setting, and they contribute to the plot’s emotional payoff.

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The Last Ancestor is an entertaining adventure on a distant alien planet that does not relegate the Christian faith to a footnote of history, but incorporates its young character’s convictions into the plot in a satisfying way. I look forward to reading the rest of The Swordbringer series!

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Review: The Heights of Perdition

Publisher Description:

Falling in love was out of the question … until it was the answer. 

There is nothing Aeris St. Cloud wants more than to win her father’s love and the acceptance of her family unit by joining the Military Academy at New Hope. But after she is captured by the fearsome space pirate, Captain Chainsword, Aerie is certain falling in love with her nation’s arch enemy is the last possible way to earn their coveted esteem.

Driven by vengeance, Exton Shepherd never set out to save anyone. As he circles the war-torn world in his pirated starship, the Perdition, he only sees his father’s ghost lurking around every corner and the looming darkness on the horizon. When Aerie unexpectedly tumbles into his life, he finds he cannot trust her, anymore than he can ignore her. But just like the raging war down on Earth, it’s tempting to think he can … 

When the war ascends to the heights of the Perdition, Aerie’s loyalty, and Exton’s heart, are put to the test. But will love be enough to save them — and others — from certain destruction?

The Heights of Perdition is the first book in the Divine Space Pirates trilogy, a futuristic romance series where family, faith, and freedom take center stage. 

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Review: The Heights of Perdition by C. S. Johnson

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Heights of Perdition. I encourage you to check it out!

The Heights of Perdition is an engaging science fiction romance that is as much about exploring thematic ideas of freedom and the role of government as it is about blossoming love. Filled with space pirates, futuristic tech, a world reeling from nuclear fallout, and—of course—romance, this first installment of The Devine Space Pirates trilogy rises to the challenge of realizing the expectations of both the science fiction and romance genres!

Romance

It should first be said that The Heights of Perdition is a classic romance novel, and the science fiction elements are definitive of the setting and external conflict, not the romance. That is to say, there isn’t any weird alien sex. In fact, the story could more narrowly be described as deriving from the Christian romance genre, so, while sexual tension is present, actual sex is held in reserve. This is important to acknowledge because I believe audience expectations when it comes to romance novels is diverse and easy to disappoint.  

The romantic tropes in this story—kidnapped, enemies to lovers, forbidden love, revenge, etc.—are pulled off admirably without treading into too cliché. Some might argue that the romance proceeds a bit quickly from enemies to acknowledged attraction, but I prefer that to a drawn-out interpersonal conflict founded only on the characters’ mutual resistance to their relationship. It works in Pride and Prejudice because pride and prejudice are the characteristics that define the hero and heroine, but not all lovers are those two characters.

Aerie and Exton are genuine people who quickly establish that truth and honesty are important to them as individuals, and it is realistic that they apply that to the expression of their feelings. This shifts the focus of the Problem that Threatens to Keep Them Apart away from the two of them and onto the external conflict. As their relationship progresses, the stakes are raised and the tension builds in the action.

Cliff Hanger

The one expectation of the romance novel that The Heights of Perdition declines to meet is the “happily ever after” ending. Aerie is kidnapped accidentally by Exton and his crew when they steal a tree she had climbed. The plot turns around the question of what to do with her, correlating with the subplot of Aerie’s desire for acceptance and belonging.

The external conflict that threatens their relationship is big, too big for a single novel to resolve satisfactorily. It becomes clear that the oppressive government of the URS will need to be brought down. This means that, although all the story beats of a romance novel are present, including realization that each is “the one” for the other and a stated commitment that they will always love one another, their romance does not conclude with the emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

However, it does end with the plot’s central question answered. Aerie belongs with Exton, but the conflict succeeds in tearing them apart right at the end. This results in a cliff hanger ending that is unusual for romance, and may rub the unexpectant reader the wrong way.

I liked it. I felt that the story had me invested enough in the characters and the conflict to carry me through the rest of the trilogy, and leaving the romance unresolved meant that there would be room for romantic tension in books two and three without betraying the happily-ever-after down the line (one of my pet-peeves).

Science Fiction

The setting is nicely realized. Descriptions of the pirated spaceship create a vision that captures the wonder of the night sky and man’s ingenuity without the bland professionalism of USS Enterprise or the dirty penny smell of the Death Star. It is easy to believe that Aerie feels at home there.

Likewise, the URS capital city New Hope feels down trodden and oppressive merely by its situation underground, out of sight of the sky.

All the world-building, the history of how the URS came to be, the laws and regulations that citizens must adhere to, the prevalence of punishments, the existence of resistance, make possible some intriguing thematic discussions worthy of the sci-fi genre.

I felt particularly drawn to the character’s frustrations resulting from the government’s actions in the name of “survival,” as COVID19 has brought similar discussions to the forefront of everyone’s minds. This story plays with the ideals of freedom and safety, the morality of acting for someone’s “own good,” and the regulation of ethics. It also really brought home to me the impact of the Christian heritage (religion, family, and love) on how we view the government’s role in our lives.

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The Heights of Perdition is an engaging romance story set in a thought-provoking science fiction setting. I am keen to see how the love story and the setting develop in the rest of the Divine Space Pirates trilogy!

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