The UFS Phoenix is on a mission to find a lost data-core that may contain the secret to defeating the alo-deepynine alliance. But the means to find the data-core is hidden deep in tavalai space, in a highest-security vault where the tavalai's manipulative State Department keep all their most treacherous secrets. To recover it, Phoenix must pull off the most daring heist the Spiral has ever seen. But Phoenix will need help - in the form of a rebellious faction of the tavalai Fleet; a fanatical parren mystic who lusts mostly for power; a cynical old tavalai marine who's spent much of his life fighting humans; and a superintelligent AI queen who will sacrifice anything to rescue her race from extinction. None of them can be trusted, and neither Captain Erik Debogande nor Major Trace Thakur is experienced in this kind of work. But each must gather his ingenuity and courage and learn as they go, as the scale of the threat confronting humanity looms larger, and the clock is ticking.
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Contents: PG 13. No sex, lots of F-bombs (marines), no religious cussing, several ship-to-ship battles and close-quarters combat. There is obviously death, but nothing too grisly. The violence does not feel gratuitous. The tone of the series is fairly upbeat and heartwarming, but serious, not frivolous.
I've heard all three books in the series and am looking forward to book four. Sequel or bust! This particular book had fewer ship-to-ship battles than the first two books. Most of the action occurs on the ground, in the various segments of a major galactic-level heist. Crew Phoenix must break into a top secret vault, the titular Kantovan Vault. It's location is fairly extreme and rather hard to credit, but it makes for a good story. There are some poignant scenes in this book, including the death of a lovable character.
Set in the distant future in the far reaches of the Milky Way, Joel Shepherd serves up a solid space-opera populated with humans, aliens (froggies, humanoids, furballs, bugs) and even some robots and drones (various species of cybernetic super-intelligence). The crew of the military warship Phoenix are likable, and the main characters grow on you across the three books published so far. Bonding occurs credibly as this honorable but renegade crew gradually uncovers a conspiracy at the highest levels of authority, a secret terrible and fearful, hidden away for centuries, and protected at all costs. When Phoenix stumbles on the truth, they are forced to make some tough choices, and to engage in desperate missions, driving them further and further from home, into deep space. For the most part, they stand alone, but gradually they do acquire a few allies. I hope to see more alliances, and to see some of the current alliances deepen, and maybe some to be tested.
Spiral Wars feels a little like Sullivan's Riyira fantasy series, because long-believed lies are slowly uncovered, history revealed to be myth. Some friends prove fickle and some alliances false. There is a sense of suspense and intrigue, of holding one's breath for the next shoe to drop.
I've been reading space opera lately, but I tend to avoid tales told in 1st person "i-me-my perspective" because a singular voice gets old fast. This series, told in 3rd person, is better than most I've read. It compares on a par with Bujold's Vorkosigan series. I would rate it higher than Ryk Brown's Enjoyable Frontier Saga, and a little better than Dalzelle's Black Fleet and Omega series. I liked it more than Fox's Ember Wars series, and slightly more than the Expeditionary Force series by Alanson. I also recommend the engaging Linesman series by Dunstall, but it is somewhat lightweight. I also enjoy the Liaden series by Lee and Miller, but it is a very slow work in progress. I also highly recommend The Expanse series, by Corey.
One flaw in Shepherd's writing style is that he tends to slow the pace by stopping to describe things too much — including trivial aspects of the setting, and how the technical stuff works. Some people might like the technical explanations, but I zone out a little.
If the author can maintain this quality of storytelling until the conclusion of the series, he will have created a solid hit. I say quality of storytelling, not quality of writing, because his books are riddled with punctuation errors, resulting in fragmented sentences that hamper reading. I recommend the audiobooks instead of the e-books. He needs an editor.
The narrator John Lee cleans up all the proofreading issues and delivers a value-added and highly enjoyable rendition of Spiral Wars.