by Shami Stovall

The future is governed through a genetic hierarchy—superhumans at the top, humans and defects at the bottom.

Clevon Demarco, a genetically modified human, has a cocksure attitude and the combat skills to back it up. With his unparalleled skills, he makes his living as a ruthless gunrunner on a shady space station near the edges of the quadrant. Stronger, faster, and wittier than most sad sacks, no one even comes close to Demarco’s abilities—until he crosses paths with the captain of the notorious Star Marque, Endellion Voight.

Captain Voight arrests Demarco and offers him a choice: go to a prison planet for his crimes, or join her starship, the Star Marque, working as mercenaries for the superhumans. But she didn\’t pick him at random. She has a plan to become a planet governor; a title no human has held since the superhumans won the war. It doesn’t matter the cost—assassinations, extortion, blackmail—she’s determined to claw her way to the top.

All Captain Voight needs is Demarco’s help to carry out her machinations, and she’ll give him everything he’s ever wanted in return.

A fast-paced space opera for those who enjoy Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds, or anything by Robert A. Heinlein.

I wheezed and hacked as I stepped out of the vat. The slimy fluid filled my nose and ears, and it took me a moment to snort them clear.

The bright lighting of the room hurt my eyes, but I adjusted in a matter of moments. I got a quick look around and froze up.

Everything was so well ventilated and clean…

I wasn’t in Section Six.

It was a medium-sized room with a single metal door. My healing vat sat in the back corner, extending from the floor to the ceiling. There was a computer terminal and two large, steel crates with the words Medical Supplies stamped across the side. But those things paled in comparison to the viewing window on the far wall.

I walked over, eyes wide, and stared out into the depths of space.

Capital Station hung in orbit around Galvis-4, a brown-and-turquoise planet that acted as the station’s anchor. The space station—white and pristine from the outside—didn’t look half bad from a distance. It was a hexagonal torus, forever spinning to maintain gravity, powering itself from the rays of the system’s star. From the outside, one would never know of the filth that dwelled inside. From space, it was impossible to see the overcrowding and meaningless death that had made the station so infamous.

We had left the dock, but the starship I was on hadn’t left for its destination. Why? My thoughts didn’t linger on it for long.

Man, my new skin felt great.

I rubbed my arms and shins, impressed by how supple everything had become. I wiped away as much excess mother-cell fluid as possible, but the stuff was everywhere. Just… everywhere.

The door to the room slid open. I tensed and whirled around on my heel.

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Fast pacing and action abound in this book. It definitely earns the classification of “space opera.” Often when I read books full of so many action sequences, I feel overwhelmed in fight details. Stovall did an excellent job of keeping the battles compact and understandable while still imbuing them with the sense of urgency needed to make those scenes work.

Demarco, our POV character, has a dry wit and harsh sense of humor. He’s not the kind of guy one messes around with. He’s been genetically modified, which is neat, but I never really understood exactly what had been done to him. He is faster and has more keen senses than the average human at least. Despite this, he takes his fair share of beatings, which was refreshing from a character who’s Mr. Tough Guy.

Stovall’s characters are a well-rounded cast. Endellion, the ruthless captain, had me waffling about whether or not to like her all the way until the end. She’s tough as nails and determined, which are really her best and worst qualities. My favorite character was Sawyer, the ship’s all-purpose programmer/mechanic/intelligence girl. She’s sweet and innocent, and her closest living relative is the most adorable flying fish who farts helium (complete with toot noise) I’ve ever seen. I cheered for her the entire book.

The pacing moved along at a good clip. The timeline, though, tripped me up a bit. At the end of the book, two or so years have passed, and I was a little surprised when I realized this. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but if I had to guess, I’d say that Demarco’s relationships with most of the characters didn’t feel like they’d been growing for that long. This does kind of fit with his character, but I still found the result jarring.

The ending brought all the plot points together in a satisfying way and left room for a sequel. I will say that this is a mature readers-only book. There were some adult scenes, and there’s a lot of cursing. If you’re okay with this, though, this is a crazy adventure with high stakes and so much going on. Definitely worth a read.


Shami Stovall relies on her BA in History and Juris Doctorate to make her living as an author and history professor in the central valley of California. She writes in a wide range of fiction, from crime thrills to fantasy to science-fiction. Stovall loves reading, playing video games, entertaining others with stories, and writing about herself in the third person.

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