Down Among the Dead – The Farian War – Book Two by K.B. Wagers
Orbit, £9.99, p/b, 414 pp.
Reviewed by Steve Dean.
As it says in the title, this is the second book of a presumed trilogy. I haven’t read book one, so this review covers only this book.
Hail Bristol (that’s the name of the main character; I’m not saluting any towns or cities) is a former gunrunner, the Empress of Indrana (nifty career change), and, as we read this, a prisoner of the Shen, who are ruthless and fearsome aliens. So, there’s obviously been a lot of shenanigans in book one, some of which is recapped here and seems to involve other alien races and an attack that went wrong, and lots of Hail’s friends died. She’s in mourning, blaming herself as she languishes in a sort of house-arrest with some people who are by turns friends, advisers, staff, servants, etc. and there’s also a ghost slash hallucination.
As we get into the meat of the story, or tofu if you prefer, Hail is plotting an escape with her people. This doesn’t work out too well, and she’s invited to breakfast by her captors. They talk, trying to get her on their side. 120 pages later, they’re still having breakfast and talking, although Hail also learns some alien kung fu moves and suddenly discovers she can heal herself just by thinking about it.
There’s a tiny bit more action in the rest of the book and a psychotic episode that goes on for far too long. But for the most part, it’s Hail talking about the past, alien races, and the future, or Hail being told about the past, alien races, and the future. Everyone wants her on their side during the coming war, and she apparently has to agonise over which side to choose for an entire novel. I’m not really sure why they need her. She doesn’t seem to have any skills useful in a war. Maybe they just want her title for kudos.
I can only presume the action, the descriptions, the world-building, pacing and other such things are in the first and third books because they aren’t here. The planet Hail is being held on is one of the Shen worlds, but for all the description it gets, it might as well be Earth. The aliens are all of the ‘Star Trek’ variety, what I call humaliens, people with rubber ears and face paint. This might have been acceptable for low-budget, pre-CGI SF, but not when the author could have created aliens in almost literally any form, and yet they’re all bipedal apes, at least as far as I can tell from reading the book.
Although the main character might spend the whole novel deep in angst, the reader shouldn’t have to suffer along with them. Sooner or later, something needs to happen, and not just politics. Having that stuff happen in another book in the series has not helped this one at all.