The Prey of Gods, by Nicky Drayden

The world ends with fireworks and a pop concert, as we’ve come to expect.  South Africa, and particularly the southeast coast city of  Port Elizabeth has tried to move beyond Apartheid, beyond the poverty of global south post-colonialism, but time has a long memory and more short-lived humans are often destined to repeat history, despite all good intentions otherwise.  Because the problem with good intentions is the secrets every person hides, and for some, those secrets can kill.

The Prey of Gods, while it has an apocalyptic feel, is a novel of new beginnings, wonder, and family.  All the main characters have both something to hide, and must work to move past whatever secrets keep them in a place of darkness or fear.  There are, of course, villains, but even they are driven by a history written when the world was still young, and can’t help themselves.  This is where the novel excels, in fact, taking a mythologized history and literalizing it to create a speculative future.  The gods lived, died, and are now reborn.  What humanity does in response what drives the story.

The large cast of characters in this novel makes it difficult to pin down the driving plot, however it is Muzi’s desire to live a life outside the shadow of his larger-than-life grandfater, Stoker’s desire to live a life free of lies of identity and personality, and Nomvula’s desire to have a mother who is more than a shell of a person, to have someone in her life who really cares about her, that sets the world on fire and pushes the story to its inevitable conclusion.  Throw in a not-so-young-anymore pop diva who remade herself in the image of a woman who never knows fear or pain, a goddess of death determined to take over the world, and a drug dealer with a penchant for the new, and you’ve got the kind of volatile situation that leads to the birth of artificial intelligence and a new species of sentient robots, as well as genetically engineered extinct animal hybrids on the loose.

The Prey of Gods is a buzz-saw of a novel, because it manages to squeeze so much into so few pages, and although the second third of the story drags just a little with the necessity of pushing so many character viewpoints into a short period of chaotic time, there’s plenty still to chew on when the smoke clears.  Overall this novel is a great debut and positive outlook for the future of speculative fiction.

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Earthrise, by M.C.A. Hogarth

In my quest to support indie sff authors, I discovered M.C.A Hogarth on Amazon and after reading a little about her work, decided to get the first in her “Her Instruments” series, called Earthrise.  Named for the ship that Reese purchased with her share of the family’s compound on Mars, the novel traces the adventures of Reese and her doughty crew as they attempt to save one of a species of long-lived and reclusive humanoids from vengeful and violent slavers.  What starts out as your run-of-the mill maguffin plots turns into quite something else, as Reese’s mental and physical health, combined with the interference of a mysterious benefactor, send the Earthrise off in directions Reese could never have anticipated.

The Earthrise itself is crewed by a feathery and fluffy cast of characters from all over known space, most of whom are genetically created species from when humans first began colonizing worlds other than Earth itself.  Though Reese at times displays discomfort with the overly affectionate ways of felinoid siblings Irine and Sascha, or the mysterious habits of Bryer, the phoenix, she is still loyal to her crew, and they to her.  This is a story of found family and what people will endure for each other.  Reese’s crew also numbers a Gleaseahn, a sort of gryphoid centaur, and a sentient fuzz ball who communicates telepathically–a Fliztbe–whom Reese calls Allacazam.

Earthrise starts out as your typical mcguffin plot, but it’s well-paced with some extra side plots and character development thrown in, making it not only entirely readable, but even bingeable.  Reese’s quest to make it as more than just another homemaker on Mars is compelling, and the tidbits thrown in about the matriarchal societies built through artificial insemination almost demand another series just for themselves.  The timelines are somewhat confusing, though, which distracts from the main conflict that develops after Reese accomplishes the original, seemingly innocuous, mcguffin plot and finds she and her crew are embroiled in something much deeper than a simple rescue mission.

Although there is no open romance in Earthrise, it is signposted as a romance series.  Probably, though the teambuilding story that pulls all the characters in Reese’s crew together is interesting and compelling enough to satisfy a reader for whom romance is not the biggest pull.