Books : reviews

Katy B. Wagers.
There Before the Chaos.
Titan. 2018

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 30 September 2019

Hail Bristol: former runaway princess, interplanetary gunrunner, Empress of Indrana.

When the Empire’s closest ally asks her to intervene in a galactic military crisis, she embarks on the highest-stakes diplomatic mission Indrana has ever faced.

Caught between two powerful alien civilizations at each other’s throats, Hail has one chance to make peace, before all of humanity becomes collateral damage in a full-blown galactic war.

Empress Hail Bristol is settling down into her job. The various crises that caused her to become Empress seem to be resolved. So, time for a new set of crises, then. The Empire’s oldest allies, the Farians, are acting oddly. When they finally ask the Empire for help, it’s no longer clear which side anyone is on.

Although logically a new sub-series, this is a great continuation of Hail’s story, as she juggles diplomacy, old friends, new alliances, and tricky politics. The first two thirds are relatively calm, focussing on how Hail is settling in, her issues with the Farians and their complex history and life-cycles, and her traumatic claustrophobia brought on from her previous adventures. But when the action starts, it doesn’t let up, leading to a shattering climax.

How will Hail deal with the latest disaster? I’m waiting impatiently for the next volume.

Katy B. Wagers.
Down Among the Dead.
Titan. 2019

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 29 March 2020

Hail Bristol: Former interplanetary gunrunner, Empress of Indrana, highest-value prisoner in the galaxy.

In a surprise attack that killed many of her dearest subjects, Hail has been captured by the Shen—the most ruthless and fearsome aliens humanity has ever encountered. As she plots her escape, the centuries-long war between her captors and the Farians—the Shen’s mortal enemies and Indrana’s oldest allies—finally comes to a head.

Neutrality is no longer an option. Will Hail fight? Or will she fall?

Hail Bristol, Empress of Indrana, ex gunrunner, was mediating a peace deal between Indrana’s long-term allies, the Farin, and their hated enemies, the Shen. But that ended in disaster: an embassy turned to rubble, and many of Hail’s closest friends dead.

Hail and a handful of surviving crew have been captured by the Shen. For about the first third of the book, Hail is in deep depression about the loss of her friends, but violent training for an encounter with the Farian gods takes up her time. Once she escapes, things take a turn for the more complicated, as different Farian and Shen share different visions of the future, pulling Hail in different directions: the fate of the galaxy, no less, is at stake, and less violence no longer seems to be an option.

Further clues to the background of the Farians and their gods are scattered liberally throughout, and, as usual, prophecies come true in entirely unexpected ways. I particularly liked Hail’s reaction when offered a cure for her heir-production problem. Another fine entry to the series: I can’t wait for the conclusion (but I’m going to have to).

Katy B. Wagers.
Out Past the Stars.
Titan. 2021

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 27 March 2021

Hail Bristol: former prisoner, Empress of Indrana, the galaxy’s only hope

When Hail finally confronts the Farian gods, she discovers that they’re part of the Hiervet, an alien race who spread war throughout the galaxy long before humanity’s ancestors crawled out of the sludge of Earth’s oceans.

The discovery carries with it dire news: the Hiervet are coming, eager to take revenge on those who escaped them, and they don’t care who gets caught in the crossfire.

The fate of the galaxy is on the line and Hail will have to make one final gamble to leverage chaos into peace.

Empress Hail Bristol has confronted the Farian gods, and discovered they are not what they seem. As the book progresses, she also discovers a lot of other groups are not what they seem. She has to uncover the truth, whilst treading carefully around the various prophecies, and discovering the stakes are even higher than she had thought: the fate of the entire galaxy rests on the decisions she makes. No pressure, then.

A fitting ending to the series. Despite the incredibly raised stakes, this is much less dark than the previous book, as Hail has stopped doubting herself so much, and just gets back to what she is so good at doing: ploughing ahead and mowing down the opposition. Although now she also negotiates with the opposition on occasion.

There is a conclusion to the story, but I do hope to see more of Hail in the future.

Katy B. Wagers.
Behind the Throne.
Titan. 2016

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 31 May 2017

‘I just said I wanted to kill someone. Giving me a gun probably isn’t the best of ideas’

Hail Bristol has made a name for herself in the galaxy for everything except what she was born to do: rule the Indranan Empire.

When she is dragged back to her home planet to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir, she finds that trading her ship for a palace is her most dangerous move yet.

Cressen Stone is a successful gunrunner. But she was once Hail Bristol, heir to the throne of the Indranan Empire. And her mother the Empress is dying. So Trackers are sent to bring Hail home. The home she deserted over a decade ago. The home she doesn’t want to see again. Or at least, that’s what everyone back home thinks. And when she gets home, her gunrunning skills may be all that can keep her alive.

Hail rapidly recalls all the royal protocols, much to her dismay, but she needs to work out which faction is trying to destabilise the Empire before she ends up as dead as her sisters. Her gunrunning skills may allow her to beat assassins hand-to-hand, but they won’t save her from bombs, or shield her from politics. It seems that the current troubles may be related to why she left the Empire in the first place.

This is a great page turner with a full cast of lost heirs, sarcastic bodyguards, misunderstood Empresses, evil cousins, scheming prime ministers, gentlemanly ambassadors, and rival empires. The Indranan Empire is descended from Hindu India, with a matriarchal overlay, which results in some interesting cultural features. I’m looking forward to the next book, seeing how Hail copes with her changed circumstances in very perilous times indeed.

Katy B. Wagers.
After the Crown.
Titan. 2016

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 4 December 2017

Former gunrunner Hail Bristol has been dragged back to her home planet to take her rightful position as empress. But violence and betrayal from all sides are pushing Indrana to the brink of civil and interplanetary war.

Unsure whom to trust, Hail must rely on her gunrunner instincts to survive and save her people and her empire.

Ex gunrunner Hail Bristol is now Empress of the Indranan Empire. Her troubles are just beginning. The adjacent Saxon Alliance is making threats of war, terrorists back home are demanding equal rights for men, senior military figures have mutinied, and her own government may be trying to undermine her. When she goes to meet the king of the Saxon Alliance to broker a peace deal, she discovers just who her enemies, and her friends, really are.

This is a strong sequel to the original tale, moving the plot briskly forwards, as crisis piles upon crisis. It has very little middle book of trilogy sag; Hail carves a bloody streak through her enemies, but she has so many enemies, on all sides, that they carve equally bloody streaks through her people. Eventual victory will be expensive, and is by no means assured.

Katy B. Wagers.
Beyond the Empire.
Titan. 2017

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 6 February 2018

Former gunrunner-turned-empress Hail Bristol was dragged back to her home planet to take her rightful place in the palace. Her sisters and parents have been murdered and the Indranan empire is reeling from treasonous plots and hostile invasion.

Hail finds herself fighting a full-scale war for her throne and her people, with the aid of a motley crew of allies old and new – even as the same powerful enemies who killed her family conspire to destroy everything she loves.

Empress Hail Bristol has a problem: someone else has taken over her Empire, and she needs to get it back, even though she never wanted to be Empress in the first place. Old enemies, and new alliances, all have to be juggled if she is to succeed. But even if she does, will the cost be too high for her to bear? And will her subjects forgive her for the secret she has kept from them?

This is a snappy conclusion to the trilogy, as Hail continues to carve a bloody streak through her enemies, and occasionally her allies. It ties up most of the loose ends in a satisfactory manner, but leaves enough unfinished business, and new problems caused by the resolution, to ensure that Hail can have plenty more adventures in this universe if she wants to.

Katy B. Wagers.
A Pale Light in the Black.
Harper Voyager. 2020

For the past year, their close loss in the annual Boarding Games has haunted Interceptor team Zuma’s Ghost. With this year’s competition looming, they’re looking forward to some payback—until an unexpected personnel change leaves them reeling. Their best swordsman has been transferred, and a new lieutenant has been assigned as his replacement.

Maxine Carmichael is trying to carve a place in the world on her own—away from the pressure and influence of her powerful family. The last thing she wants is to cause trouble at her command on Jupiter Station. With her new team in turmoil, Max must overcome her self-doubt and win their trust if she’s going to succeed. Failing is not an option—and it would only prove her parents right.

But Max and her new team must learn to work together quickly. A routine mission to retrieve a missing ship has suddenly turned dangerous, and now their lives are on the line. Someone is targeting members of Zuma’s Ghost, a mysterious opponent willing to kill to safeguard a secret that could shake society to its core … a secret that could lead to their deaths and kill thousands more unless Max and the team stop them.

Rescue those in danger, find the bad guys, win the Games. It’s all in a day’s work at the NeoG.

Katy B. Wagers.
Hold Fast Through the Fire.
Harper Voyager. 2021

Zuma’s Ghost has won the Boarding Games for the second straight year. The crew—led by the unparalleled ability of Jenks in the cage, the brilliant pairing of Ma and Max in the pilot seats, the technical savvy of Sapphi, and the sword skills of Tamago and Rosa—has all come together to form an unstoppable team. Until it all comes apart.

Their commander and master chief are both retiring. Which means Jenks is getting promoted, a new commander is joining them, and a fresh-faced spacer is arriving to shake up their perfect dynamic. And while not being able to threepeat is on their minds, the more important thing is how they’re going to fulfill their mission in the black.

After a plea deal transforms a twenty-year ore-mining sentence into NeoG service, Spacer Chae Ho-ki earns a spot on the team. But there’s more to them that the crew doesn’t know, and Chae must hide a secret that could endanger everyone they love—as well as their new teammates—if it got out. At the same time, a seemingly untouchable coalition is attempting to take over trade with the Trappist colonies and start a war with the NeoG. When the crew of Zuma’s Ghost gets involved, they end up as targets of this ruthless enemy.

With new members aboard, will the team grow stronger this time around? Will they be able to win the games? And, more important, will they be able to surmount threats from both without and within?