Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Salustro, Star Hunters (2015)

K.N. Salustro, The Star Hunters: Unbroken Light. Self-published, 2015. Pp. 292. ISBN 978-1-51773-515-9. $10.95 pb/$3.99 e.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Unbroken Light, the second book in K.N. Salustro’s “Star Hunters” series, picks up right where the initial book, Chasing Shadows, left off. Former Star Federation Fleet Commander Lance Ashburn is now a fugitive from the organization that previously claimed his allegiance. Rated as a “beta” criminal, he needs to stay undercover. That won’t be easy, because what he’s set out to do isn’t exactly low-profile. He needs to spring bounty hunter Lissa from the clutches of the militarized extremist Neo-Andromedan group, the Seventh Sun. Then, he and Lissa must do their best to interfere with the Seventh Sun’s machinations before they embroil the galaxy in chaos.

Unbroken Light sees the return of some familiar characters. Included among that number are my personal favorites from the first volume, the arkins (winged felines) Blade and Orion. Dr. Chhaya, Lissa’s brother Aven, and Federation officers Jason Stone and Erica Anderson also make return appearances. Salustro advances the story by introducing new players, including starship-dealing siblings Fang Ming and Fang Deshi, and Seventh Sun members Haelin and Vinterra.

Salustro tells the story from the perspective of several different characters on a rotating basis, chapter by chapter. There is only one instance where the same character’s viewpoint is used in two consecutive sections. Salustro weaves the disparate viewpoints together in a manner that informs rather than confuses the reader. The multiple points of view enable her to forward the action, ratchet up the tension, and to provide insight into the reasons for certain decisions—for example, why the Seventh Sun chose to use a lower-powered control collar on Lissa rather than the maximum-intensity model. Those chapters dealing with the viewpoint of Seventh Sun operatives give us a more three-dimensional view of the story’s antagonists.

As was the case in the first novel of the series, I found Salustro’s world-building to be a high point of Unbroken Light. She introduces several new planets, including Daanhymn, Sciyat, and Mezora, while re-visiting worlds like Phan, Ametria, and Yuna. I particularly enjoyed Salustro’s description of the starship dealership on Mezora. Rather than assuming other planets’ cultures will mirror those of Earth, Salustro envisions different customs and moral structures. For example, on Mezora, approved killings are allowed and the Justice Keepers and Truth Seekers operate with their own system for discerning right from wrong.

Unbroken Light includes many of the sorts of phenomena one might expect in the science fiction genre—the ability to travel vast distances in space, cloaking devices, holographic communication, and hover features, such as the hover chairs found in the Fangs’ starship dealership. Other items, like the Seventh Sun’s Awakening machine and the enerpulse pistols, are Salustro’s creations. In terms of diversity, Unbroken Light includes powerful characters of both genders and from a variety of species. There is also a same-sex relationship between two of the minor characters.

One of the central moral dilemmas in the book is whether it’s appropriate to purge an entire species as a response against the actions of extremists. Lissa and Lance hold the viewpoint that there are many Neo-Andromedans who want no part of the Seventh Sun’s activities, and therefore deserve the opportunity to live their lives in peace. Others, including Fleet Commander Keraun of the Star Federation, argue that it’s best to take no chances, and believe that the only way to deal with the threat posed by the Seventh Sun is to conduct a sweeping purge of the Neo-Andromedan race. Jason Stone and Erica Anderson must struggle with how far they wish to go along the continuum from favouring co-existence to supporting extermination. The Seventh Sun themselves have a stake in stirring the pot, as the resulting animosity toward Neo-Andromedans might drive more of them, albeit reluctantly, into the Seventh Sun’s fold.

One of the strengths of Unbroken Light is Salustro’s willingness to entertain the notion of grey areas. Even Star Federation officers can have feet of clay, as Erica Anderson demonstrates with her less-than-diplomatic handling of a situation on Mezora—based, in part, on ignorance of local customs. Salustro also resists the impulse to make her characters unrealistically heroic. The battles that Lance and Lissa engage in are reasonable in scope, and the outcome believable as a result. The conflicts they choose not to engage in likewise make sense.

In a previous review of Chasing Shadows, I commented on some aspects of the writing style that didn’t work well for me. I found Unbroken Light to read more smoothly. Most noticeably, the tendency toward awkward personifications of inanimate objects was greatly reduced. That isn’t to say that Unbroken Light is without its minor flaws. There are some instances of use of the wrong word, such as “fair much better” (25), “had to make due” (151), and “at the crash sight” (222). The book contained some phrasing I personally found ineffective , such as “sighed off the hunger for relief” (4), “his impatience stood out in sharp relief against the splash of black fur across his face” (5), and “voices swarmed around her ears” (30).

On several occasions, Salustro uses the same word repeatedly in close proximity, rather than seeking alternate phrasing. Examples include, “Anger rolling up and down her spine, she stood in the control room of her starship, spine straight…” (227), and “…voice clicking on the hard syllables. It sounded more like an accusation than a greeting, and Jason caught glimpses of hard, sharp teeth…” (95). Word repetition isn’t always avoidable, and it’s easy enough when proofreading your own work to miss it, but in my view some of the instances the repetitions might have been picked up with another set of eyes on the manuscript and could have been easily remedied by rephrasing.

Those comments aside, the pacing of the book is reasonable, the plot makes sense, and there is plenty of conflict to pull the reader along. Although Unbroken Light can be read as a stand-alone, I would recommend reading Chasing Shadows, its prequel, first. The background information provided in the first volume will give the reader a richer experience.

In Unbroken Light, Salustro continues to give us characters we can care about, and a compelling story arc. But if the end of Book Two leaves you with a hankering to find out what’s next, you’ll need to wait, for now. At the time of this review, according to Salustro’s blog, Book Three of the series was still in the works, with her goal being to publish in the summer of 2018. Will the Neo-Andromedans survive Keraun’s antagonism? Can Ashburn and Lissa continue to evade the Star Feds pursuing them? We’ll have to wait and see.

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