Category Archives: Kindle edition

Review of KINDLE Ebook Dreamer’s Pool – Book 1 of Blackthorn and Grim series by Juliet Marillier #Brainfluffbrainreview #Dreamer’sPoolbookreview

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I love Juliet Marillier’s writing – the Sevenwaters series is outstanding and I also very much enjoyed The Dark Mirror – see my review here. So when I realised Himself had treated himself to this offering, I tucked in.

In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.

I enjoyed this book, particularly that fantastic opening section. This classic fantasy romance has one major difference – the main protagonist isn’t a princess, or any other member of the royal family. She is an older woman with a terrible past, who now has been freed – on condition that she turns her back on her dreams for vengeance and always provides help if someone asks. In this medieval era fantasy, where clearly women have very limited options – she also has agency as a skilled healer, so she can rebuild her life. It’s made a lot easier by the presence of her companion, the hulking man who had occupied the cell next to hers, called Grim. He also has a dark past and is possessed of great strength and a strong work ethic – and has latched onto Blackthorn, after witnessing her temperament under the most dehumanising conditions. A word of warning – this book starts in a prison where the inmates are treated with brutality and while there is nothing graphic, there are two incidents of rape in this book.

The other protagonist is an unworldly prince, determined to marry for love in an age when dynastic and territorial concerns decide who you walk up the aisle with. He starts writing to a young woman who, it turns out, loves books and poetry as much as he does – and it’s all going swimmingly… until she takes a swim.

The romance bubbles alongside Blackthorn’s far more dramatic storyline, until it gathers momentum and near the end of the book, takes precedence as the conclusion of this story wraps up the whole narrative. Though this isn’t a ‘happily ever after’ tale – there are winners, but there are also significant losers and my sympathy does go out to the major loser. I would also add that I was a bit disturbed that a woman being sexually active was depicted as a negative attribute. It’s not a dealbreaker, and I’m conscious that faithful, chaste womanhood is part of the genre convention in classical fantasy – but this is the 21st century and I am a bit disappointed that this was used as a device to point up the female character’s unsuitability.

However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a well-written, entertaining story and if it didn’t quite deliver the promise of that fabulous opening, it is still an engrossing, page-turning adventure.
7/10

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Review of KINDLE Ebook Survivor in Death – Book 20 of the In Death series by R.D. Robb #Brainfluffbookreview #SurvivorinDeathbookreview

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I’ve tried one of these near-future murder mysteries written by the very successful Nora Roberts under her pen name J.D. Robb, but it didn’t really do it for me. I decided to give the series another go and this time asked Himself for one of the best books – and he recommended this one…

The only thing that kept young Nixie Swisher from suffering the same fate as her parents, brother, housekeeper, and young sleepover companion was the impulsive nine-year-old’s desire for an illicit orange fizzy at 2 a.m. Taking the bereft girl under her wing, Eve is determined to make sure the killers don’t get the chance to finish their lethal job. From the first, however, the investigation is baffling. The Swishers were a nice family, living on the Upper West Side in a house with an excellent security system. Ordinary almost to a fault, they seemed unlikely victims for this carefully planned and executed crime. Valuables at the scene were left untouched, there was no sign of vandalism — just the corpses of five people murdered in their sleep.

Firstly, don’t worry about crashing midway into this series. I didn’t need to break a sweat to figure out who was doing what to whom – and Robb provides plenty of information about Eve Dallas and her backstory, given this particular crime also resonates unpleasantly with her. I really liked Eve, who is a typical, gritty cop wedded to restoring some kind of order onto the street of 2059 New York. I also liked the fact that she is very happily married to bad-boy-turned-good Roarke – do be warned that this isn’t one to leave around for the younger teens to read as there are a couple of steamy sex scenes and the language is somewhat salty at times.

That said, while the home invasion is horrible, Robb is careful not to tip into gratuitous violence – or sentimentality. I was impressed that the little girl’s plight is also depicted with restraint and some understanding of how children cope with trauma.

There had to be some suspension of belief over the fact that Eve scoops the little mite up and takes her home – but Robb manages to just about bring it off, I think. In amongst the investigation to discover who perpetrated this terrible crime and why, there is a steady stream of cop humour which I found very welcome. This book had me hooked right to the end, also believing that Nixie would eventually find happiness again – which mattered. And I now understand why this series is a firm favourite with so many folks, Himself included…
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Pirate Consort – Book 2 of the Telepathic Space Pirates series by Carysa Locke #Brainfluffbookreview #PirateConsortbookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed Pirate Nemesis – see my review here – which I discovered thanks to Lola of Lola’s Reviews. So it was a no-brainer to get hold of the second book in the series, when I realised it was available.

Mercy thought the hardest part of going home would be surviving the dangerous, psychically gifted pirates she calls family. But the truth is far more complicated, and now Mercy is their Queen—a role she never wanted. When a peace summit with the pirates’ greatest enemies ends in disaster, Mercy’s new life spins out of control. The Talented people she is supposed to be uniting are on the verge of a bloody war that will only end when all of them are dead. Will Mercy be able to stop the carnage and fulfil the role she’s been training for? Or is she too inexperienced and too overwhelmed?

I loved the fact that despite being able to snatch triumph out of the jaws of disaster at the end of the first book, Mercy is still struggling to cope with the demands of being Queen. I do get tired of books where the anonymous nobody gets boosted to take on the hugely responsible role they were predestined to fulfil – and then magically it all falls into place for them. Locke doesn’t fall into that tired cliché. Mercy is constantly playing catch-up in this high-powered environment where a bunch of telepathically powerful, touchy people look to her to enforce law and order.

So when a major incident crops up, requiring most of her coterie to see to it, she is left floundering. Quite right, too. And then she is thrown a lifeline from an unexpected source – which again, makes complete sense. I found I was completely engrossed in this page-turning adventure and urging Mercy to prevail.

The pacing is well judged – just as I was starting to wonder if the adventure was going to nock up to another level, the plot obligingly delivered the goods. Any niggles? Not really – if I was more invested in the romantic thread, I probably would be a tad taken aback at the speed with which Mercy and Sebastian were beginning to pair off, given her vehement views on multiple partners at the start of the book. But then, she does undergo a major change in her attitude during her training sessions – and it is the pragmatic course.

Overall, this is highly recommended for those space opera fans who like plenty of adventure with a splash of romance in their futuristic voyages.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Six of Crows – Book 1 of the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo #Brainfluffbookreview #SixofCrowsbookreview

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Yeah – I know, I know… Everyone in the galaxy has read this book and most of them – except the aliens lurking on Io – absolutely loved it. So I hesitated – partly because I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it and partly because I wasn’t sure I’d have anything meaningful to say about it when I came to review it, given all those folks in the galaxy got there before me…

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

I’ll be honest – criminal underworld fantasy heist adventures aren’t my go-to genre. I’ve enjoyed the likes of Scott Lynch’s The Gentleman Bastards Sequence – the first three and a bit, anyhow – and Daniel Polansky’s Low Town series is one of my all-time favourites – see my review of The Straight Razor Cure here. But I’ve begun too many books in this genre, only to abandon them when the filth, abject poverty and violence got too much. However, something about this one – including that amazing cover – was calling to me and I’m so very glad I gave in and eventually listened. It takes technical skill to keep this number of protagonists as viewpoint characters without one of them being skimmed, yet Bardugo pulls off this feat, so that we get to know each main member of the gang – why they’ve ended up as part of Ketterdam’s criminal underclass and what their particular role is supposed to be.

Inevitably, the plan put in place by the cold, calculating Kaz doesn’t run all that smoothly and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have cared all that much, but I fell for Inej, or the Wraith, which is her gang nickname. I wanted her to be able to move on and resume a better life for herself. And then, once we are pulled right into the heart of the story, Bardugo reveals hidden layers of the main character in the middle of plot – ‘Dirtyhands’ Kaz, himself. It’s very well done. The character development throughout the story is masterfully handled – you only have to read a handful of reviews to realise these characters matter to readers.

And I haven’t even started on the plot, yet. Because for a book in this sub-genre to really work, we need to have a clear idea of what’s at stake, what the plan actually is, how it goes wrong and what happens next… There are any number of places where an author can slip up during the delivery of a novel in a criminal underworld fantasy adventure – and I’m not particularly forgiving of a lot of them. I don’t like it when the plot wanders, or one character takes over, or a romance blossoms right in the middle of what should be an action adventure story, or the major climax isn’t so major after all. So I regularly abandon books which have committed these crimes, unfinished and of course, unreviewed.

Six of Crows deftly skips around all these potential pitfalls as if they don’t exist. Every single requirement is triumphantly nailed such that this one became increasingly difficult to put down. And once I finally finished it, I suffered from book hangover so that I struggled to find something else I wanted to read – this hardly ever happens to me! So, at the risk of sounding like everyone else in the universe, except for those embittered, six-legged critters on Io, this is an excellent read and very highly recommended to… well – anyone with a pulse, really.
10/10

Book Review of INDIE Ebook Black Holiday – Book 2 of The Black Chronicles by J.M. Anjewierden #Brainfluffbookreview #BlackHolidaybookreview

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I read and enjoyed the first book in the series – see my review of The Long Black – sufficiently to want to track down the next book in the series and discover what happens to Morgan next.

Morgan has finally made it, earning an officer’s slot on S.T.E.V.E., the ancient flagship of the Takiyama Merchant House. She’s survived so much to get here, and isn’t about to let lingering nightmares over those events stop her now. That said, even the toughest mechanics need down time. Grudgingly taking some shore leave, Morgan goes to visit the estate of her friend Emily, Baroness Novan – and gets caught up in trouble that, for once, isn’t of her own making…

I have tweaked the blurb because it tells you exactly what happens next and given that I never read blurbs, I was genuinely shocked at how events overtook her. Morgan is a really likeable character, if a tad on the grumpy side right now – but that’s hardly a surprise given that she is suffering from PTSD. I really like the fact that there is such a fallout from all the adventures that befell her in the first book – and that she isn’t willing to face them.

That didn’t prevent me from really rooting for her as she finds herself facing desperate people who believe they have right on their side. I liked the fact that Anjewierden takes care not to depict all the members of the group dealing with Morgan as having exactly the same viewpoint. Some are certainly nicer than others and in fact, Lanky’s story is a heartbreak in itself, given that he has never been given an opportunity to make up his own mind, having been brainwashed since a child. Morgan’s courage and resourcefulness is still evident without being unbelievable – and once again, kudos to Anjewierden for not resorting to the usual tactic, so popular in this genre, of having someone bashed on the head resume consciousness after a couple of hours with nothing worse than a bad headache and a bit of blurred vision. As the story makes clear – head injuries are always serious and mostly incapacitating, often with long-term problems.

There is plenty of tension, along with the action and the story ends with a chilling twist that leaves me determined to get hold of the third book once it becomes available. Recommended for fans of character-led space opera.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #CertainDarkThingsbookreview

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I encountered this remarkable author when reading The Beautiful Ones – see my review here. My admiration of her writing grew when I read Prime Meridian, so I treated myself to this one, which everyone mentions when talking about her work. Would I, too, enjoy it?

Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…
Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

I’m not adding the rest of this rather chatty blurb, as it ventures into Spoiler territory and this one is far too good to be compromised by unwanted knowledge about future plotpoints. It’s a gem. Moreno-Garcia is superb at getting under the skin of her characters and making you care, even when they aren’t very likeable. Atl is entitled and spoilt – a fact even she acknowledges. She has done terrible things – and yet, like Domingo, I was smitten. I really wanted her to succeed in fleeing Mexico City without be executed by the police, or worse still – fall into the hands of a sadistic young vampire, who has a very valid reason for wanting to torture her. As her story unfolds, along with Domingo’s own life as a street kid, I found myself inhabiting the smelly hideout and eking out a precarious existence, while constantly harried by the inescapable hunger for blood.

I mostly read SFF, so while it isn’t my go-to genre, I’ve read one or three books featuring vampires. This is the one that best depicts their otherness, the differing races, differing customs and what drives them. It clearly lays bare their sense of entitlement and utter lack of humanity, while demonstrating their dangerous ability to mimic those emotions in order to influence the humans around them. I could see all that – and yet I still wanted Atl to prevail. And as for Domingo… sweet, trusting Domingo, who was enchanted by her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. What did I want for him? Well, not to have his throat torn out, obviously. Other than that – I wasn’t sure. He clearly wanted to become part of her life and leave with her when she went on the run. Was that the best thing for him?

I don’t know how Moreno-Garcia manages to worm her characters right into my inscape – I suspect she is a witch, whose books weave an enchantment. But I have yet to read anything of hers where I haven’t passionately cared about her world and the people in it. As for what happens to Atl and Domingo – you’ll have to read the book to find out. Even if you’re sick of reading vampire books, even if you’ve never read a vampire book, pick this one up and give it a go. It is every bit as beautiful and dark as that amazing cover.
10/10

Shoot for the Moon Challenge – January 2019 #Brainfluff2019targets #ShootfortheMoon2019 #authoringannals

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This is now an annual event – in the dying days of the year, my writing buddy Mhairi Simpson and I sit down together and set ourselves targets for the coming year. The theory is that in aiming for the insanely unrealistic, we’ll achieve more than if we were more cautious in our goalsetting. These are the targets I set for 2019.

• Edit and publish Mantivore Dreams – Book 1 of The Arcadian Chronicles
I’m hoping to release Mantivore Dreams sometime in the summer – it’s been held up by my delay in getting Mantivore Prey completed. Once I’ve finished the first draft of Mantivore Prey, which isn’t so much of a rewrite as starting more or less from scratch, then I’ll have a better idea of the publishing schedule.

• Complete, edit and publish Mantivore Prey – Book 2 of The Arcadian Chronicles
At long last, the writing is going smoothly and I now know exactly where the story is headed after two false starts and some 50,000 words discarded. One of the more miserable aspects of being ill at the back of last year was that I lost my writing mojo… I think I can realistically complete the first draft by Easter. I wrote just over 13,000 words towards book in January and am now well past the halfway mark.

• Rewrite, edit and submit Miranda’s Tempest
I know have a strong sense of where this one is going and I’m determined to get this novel written, edited and resubmitted before the end of the year. I now have a wonderful editor prepared to look at my manuscripts who understands my writing style and makes it the best it can be, which should help enormously.

• Outline and start on the first draft of Bloodless – Book 1 of the Beth Wheeler mysteries
This is the first book in the spin-off series from The Sunblinded, featuring disaster-magnet Lizzy Wright who now finds herself solving murder mystery cases in space. It’s a genre I’m very fond of and look forward to writing.

• Release paperback editions of Dying for Space and Breathing Space
Another consequence of my illness late last year – I’d scheduled for these to occur then and it simply didn’t happen. Hopefully I’ll have both Dying for Space and Breathing Space available in paperback by Easter.

• Organise reviews for the release of Netted
We now have the cover done and I’m in the process of going through the manuscript for the final time looking for any errors. Netted is due to be published sometime in the autumn by Grimbold Publishing and I’m very excited about it. I’m hoping to soon have an arc available for anyone interested in reviewing the book – please let me know.

• Regain my fitness and stamina
My hypertension has been diagnosed and I feel so much better. I’d always been under the impression it was a symptomless issue, not so in my case – I felt dreadful. I’m still having major problems with rejigging my sleep patterns and need to better manage my stress issues, which are compounded by my habit of working too hard. I have restarted my Pilates class and when I feel better, I also want to find some sort of aerobic class to also join, such as Fitstep or Zumba.

• Continue delivering my Creative Writing courses at Brighton Metropolitan College
I am now running three courses a term and also hope to run a three-week Poetry Course and One Day Summer Surgery course this year. I love teaching my wonderful students and really miss them during the holidays – which is so very uncool…

• Continue teaching TW
Tim is now studying music at Chichester College three days a week and doing really well. However we still have the final element of his English exam to work towards during the next two terms. It’s lovely to see him developing into an articulate, charming young man who is sensitive to the needs of others and enjoys going out with his friends.

• Continue blogging about books and writing
I thoroughly enjoy reading and reviewing books – I’m keeping my target for the year at 100 books, although this last year I read 162 books and published 124 reviews on my blog. I am easing back from posting every day as I simply don’t have the time, but will continue to read and review. I’m intending to join two challenges – Love Your Library and Beat the Backlist, as well as continue with my Discovery Challenge to find more female authors I haven’t previously read. During January I read 12 books and posted 5 reviews.

These are my writing, reading and life challenges for 2019. Wish me luck!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ebook NOVELLA Knife Children by Lois McMaster Bujold #Brainfluffbookreview #TheKnifeChildrenbookreview

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Those of you who are regular visitors to my blog know that Himself and I are huge fans of Bujold. So it was a given that we had pre-ordered this novella in The Sharing Knife series, which was completed a number of years ago.

Lakewalker Barr Foxbrush returns from two years of patrolling the bitter wilds of Luthlia against the enigmatic, destructive entities called malices, only to find that the secret daughter he’d left behind in the hinterland of Oleana has disappeared from her home after a terrible accusation. The search for her will call on more of Barr’s mind and heart than just his mage powers, as he tries to balance his mistakes of the past and his most personal duties to the future.

Bujold’s claim that this novella can be read as a stand-alone is correct. While I suddenly recalled exactly who Barr was about a quarter of the way in, it really didn’t matter. As ever, Bujold absolutely nails the story. She has written a series of successful novellas, getting the story progression, characterisation and pacing spot on – something the majority of authors who attempt this writing form don’t often achieve in my experience.

I have always had a soft spot for this particular world, where mages a long time ago let loose terrible magical creatures who feast on living energy, growing stronger and evermore powerful with every victim they consume. Theses malices can only be stopped by the death energy of a Lakewalker, who are the descendants of those irresponsible magic-users. Unsurprisingly, there is a gulf between the non-magical community, mostly farmers, who are at major risk from the malices and the Lakewalkers, who are the only people able to kill the malices – but at a very high cost to themselves.

This story, where Barr is forced to confront the consequences of his wild past and try to fix things, drew me in from the first line and wouldn’t let me go until the final full stop. Like most of the other people who have reviewed this book, my main regret was that it ended. However, it was brought to a fitting conclusion that I found unexpectedly emotional. This is Bujold at her awesome best and is highly recommended for any reader with a pulse, particularly if they enjoy well written fantasy.
10/10

Box Set – The Sunblinded Trilogy – Running Out of Space, Dying for Space, Breathing Space – #BrainfluffTheSunblindedTrilogyboxset #TheSunblindedTrilogyboxset

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A chance to get hold of the complete set of Lizzy Wright’s adventures to date for a great price –

just click on the spiffy new box set image to check it out…

RUNNING OUT OF SPACE:
Lizzy Wright has yearned to serve on the space merchant ship Shooting Star for as long as she can remember – until one rash act changes everything…

Lizzy and her friends weren’t looking for trouble – all they’d wanted was to prove that fertile English girls could handle themselves when on shore leave without being accompanied by a sour-faced chaperone and armed guard. Looking back, maybe taking a jaunt off-limits on Space Station Hawking wasn’t the best idea – but no one could have foreseen the outcome. Or that the consequences of that single expedition would change the lives of all four girls, as well as that of the stranger who stepped in to save them.

Now Lizzy has more excitement and danger than she can handle, while confronting lethal shipboard politics, kidnapping, betrayal. And murder.

DYING FOR SPACE:
Cadet Elizabeth Norman finally gets her wish to train as an officer – until her dreams of active service are crushed…

After all Lizzy’s been through, the General absolutely refuses to allow her to serve on the front line. Worse… the only alternative offered to her is a desk in Procurement – as far from the action as it’s possible to get. Spying on her boss.

Just when she’s cursing her bad luck and hating every dreary day – people around Lizzy start dying. And as the body count rises, she realises that doing nothing isn’t an option…

 

BREATHING SPACE:
Lizzy Wright is now Chief of the largest mercenary force in Sector Two – a job she can’t walk away from without risking a bullet in her back…

It’s not even as if she’s qualified for the job of Leader of the Peace and Prosperity Corps – more a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong surname, and now she feels the job is twisting her into someone she no longer likes.

The situation comes to a head when her psychotic brother – busy expanding his piracy operations – causes chaos throughout Sector Two. Forced to go undercover in a disguise which bites back, and in the company of a speed-enhanced oddball with a price on his head, Lizzie must contend with corruption, betrayal, and murder. Not to mention highly territorial aliens with their own agenda…

‘Running Out of Space is an excellent novel, with enough pace and plot to keep you reading, and enough subtext to keep you wondering.’ Mrs Vivienne Tuffnell – 5 stars

‘It is a great piece of Sci Fi, full of action and unexpected twists.’ mj – 5 stars

For fans of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series and Elizabeth Moon

Review of NOVELLA Ebook The Expert System’s Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky #Brainfluffbookreview #TheExpertSystem’sBrotherbookreview

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Anyone who has spent the odd moment or two glancing at my blog will know I’m a huge fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky – see my review of Children of Time here. So when I realised faaar too late that Himself had treated us to this novella, I immediately tucked into it…

After an unfortunate accident, Handry is forced to wander a world he doesn’t understand, searching for meaning. He soon discovers that the life he thought he knew is far stranger than he could even possibly imagine. Can an unlikely saviour provide the answers to the questions he barely comprehends?

This is another of Tchaikovsky’s interesting offerings where he provides us a rich, well-developed world through the eyes of Handry in an immersive first-person viewpoint. I really liked Handry – what happened to him was clearly very wrong and somehow the fact that it took a long time before the inevitable happened made it somehow worse… This is classic Tchaikovsky – what happens when an injustice occurs? How does this future colony cope with a victim of circumstance? For starters, you begin to see that Handry isn’t the only one on the raw end of a bad outcome – humanity is clearly struggling on a planet that was never designed for animals with our DNA. And over time, the increasingly beleaguered colony found a biological option to help humankind survive – hence the ghosts, a form of parasitic infestation that syncs the brain of the host with a skillset and knowledge that is no longer available to the average colonist.

And then he encounters Sharskin… I have read several reviews where the readers felt this was a predictable story. While I got a sense of exactly what we were looking at once they arrived at Sharkin’s settlement, I didn’t foresee what would happen next and the way in which Handry’s loyalty and sense of humanity would be tested. Because at the end of the day, this novella is all about one of Tchaikovsky’s major themes – a question he keeps coming back to in a variety of fascinating forms and forces his readers to ask – what does it mean to be human? What is the price you pay for your adherence to your code of behaviour? What happens when you turn your back on that code? What defines you, then?

I thoroughly enjoyed this clever, thought-provoking story and have found myself thinking about it quite a lot since I finished reading it, which surprised me rather. There’s something about Tchaikovsky’s writing that always gets into my inscape, leaving me pondering those questions he raises while telling a cracking story. Highly recommended for fans of colony adventures.
9/10