The gorgeous spacescape adorning the cover first snagged my attention when browsing – and for a change I also clocked the fact that this was the second book in the series. So before requesting it, I got hold of The Cruel Stars, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So when I was approved for a copy of The Shattered Skies, I was genuinely pleased – and reread The Cruel Stars just before tucking into this military space opera adventure.
BLURB: The Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements, returned from the far reaches of Dark Space to strike a devastating blow against humanity. Though their victory seemed inevitable, a small group of reluctant heroes managed to beat back the invading force. Now left with the remains of a crippled civilization, they must work together to rebuild–and to stand guard, in case those weren’t the only enemies hiding in the dark…
REVIEW: The first book is full of action right from the start, as the Sturm’s horrific weapon incapacitates all the crucial personnel holding power throughout the galaxy by dint of a terrifying attack that scrambles their brains. However in The Shattered Skies that impetus takes a while to get going. But it was a pleasure to get reacquainted with Commander Lucinda Hardy, who finds herself captaining the only surviving warship that can hold its own against the Sturm; Booker3, a super-soldier slated for total deletion before the hammer falls; Princess Alessia, the 12-year-old sole survivor of the most powerful ruling house throughout the system; Sephina L’trel, outlaw and smuggler with a small crew of misfits who have slipped through the cracks; and finally an elderly living legend – former war hero Admiral Frazer McLennan, who has been studying the crash site of the Sturm’s dreadnought to glean whatever information he can about their society. He is accompanied by an A.I. who looks after McLennan’s needs, while the two of them spend their time exchanging insults.
Inevitably in a cast of five protagonists, I had favourites. During The Cruel Stars, it was poor little Alessia’s plight that snagged my attention. Birmingham’s riveting depiction of her kidnap by the Sturm was the highlight of the book for me, as it was written with power and emotion without sliding into sentimentality. My least favourite character was Frazer McLennan and his Intellect, whose constant bickering became a tad tiresome. I was pleased to see that Birmingham was smart enough in The Shattered Skies to have Lucinda Hardy also find these exchanges annoying, too.
While it’s always better to read the first book in a series, particularly as The Cruel Skies is a cracking adventure from start to finish, Birmingham makes sure readers who haven’t had the pleasure won’t flounder too much. But once The Shattered Skies hit its stride, once again I was swept up in the conflict, though there were times when I felt the pacing could have been tightened up. The battles are vividly depicted with plenty of action and tension, so that I could easily visualise who was doing what to whom. Deaths are given plenty of emotional heft and matter to the protagonists, making me care, too – something that doesn’t always happen in this genre.
In this book, there is also the addition of an intriguing antagonist emerging from the ranks of the Sturm who is on the trail of our plucky freedom fighters. He is suitably menacing without sliding into the cliché of a pantomime villain. I liked the fact that he absolutely believes in the rightness of his cause and that we are given clear evidence to back up his point of view. Birmingham’s multi-layered society with its various factions convinced me and provided a strong backdrop for the unfolding story. I’m very much looking forward to reading the final book in this series and recommend this series to military sci fi fans looking for vivid, convincing characters and a high-stakes space war. While I obtained an arc of The Shattered Skies from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.