Count Cassius Mass was the greatest star pilot of the Crius Archduchy. He fought fiercely for his cause, only to watch his nation fall to the Commonwealth. It was only after that he realized the side he'd been fighting for was the wrong one. Now a semi-functional navigator on an interstellar freight hauler, he tries to hide who he was and escape his past. Unfortunately, some things refuse to stay buried and he ends up conscripted by the very people who destroyed his homeland. Their mission for him? Destroy his clone before he's used to rouse the defeated Crius Archduchy from their apathy.
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Part epic space saga, part comedy of errors, Lucifer's Star surprised me with its world building and plot depth. Just when I'd think the end was near, another layer would unravel, and the plot would rocket in a new direction. The narrator did a great job with the different voices, but I'd have to say Ida was my favorite. She fairly screamed "cantankerous old lady"! A very enjoyable listen.
What would you do if you found out the cause you struggled and sacrificed so much for, the very nation you fought for, was actually the bad side, the greater of two evils? How would you reconcile that in your mind? That is the issue Cassius Mass, the Fire Count, ex-Crius Archduchy Fighter pilot and noble, as well as the clone of a noble, has to deal with five years after his side lost the last war against the Commonwealth.
He has been on the run, hiding, and for a time, fighting against the people who brought down his country and killed all those he loved in a night of fire and death. Now he is navigator on a space freighter, just keeping a low profile hoping he will be forgotten. When his lover Isla tells him she knows who he is, and reveals her own secret, that she is a bioroid (a human body with a robotic brain), this touches off a series of events that will effect the power of the galaxy as its known. The ship's Captain Ida is secretly a commonwealth Watcher (Think secret police), and she too knows who Cassius is, and she will get him a pardon and get his fortune released if he agrees to perform a task for her. This task it to infiltrate a ship and get Ida's intel source out, with the vital information she has. The problem? After they get onto the ship, Cassius discovers the source is his dead sister Zoe, or at least her duplicate bioroid, and the secrets she carries could bring down the commonwealth or the Crius resistance and even draw in aliens into a conflict with humanity! The story continues on with a series of adventures, double and triple crosses, betrayals, tortures and revelations about the crew and about the nature of the ultimate enemy, leading to the climactic final scenes where Cassius must decide which side, if any, to ally himself with, all while staying true to his own beliefs. All in all, one incredibly complex and deep dark science fiction plot.
As with all CT Phipps books, this one is very character driven. As good as all the sci fi elements are, the complexity of the plot is, it is the characters that drive everything. From Cassius, the war hero pilot who was cloned by a powerful noble to displace his two natural born children, and has struggled to follow his own path, to Isla, the beautiful burned bioroid who was a pleasure slave and is now struggling to be free against her programming, to Clarice, Isla's other lover and a woman with a past as deep as Cassius, the cast of characters all have many hidden layers. their motivations make sense in the context of their environments. They all have interesting back stories, which are slowly drawn out throughout the book. This group of characters is very much an example of reactions showcasing nature vs. nurture. Can a noble's clone from an amoral society built on slavery and privilege, a feudal society in all but name, safeguard the lives of those that in a previous life he wouldn't have given a whit about? Can a bioroid pleasure slave violate her programming and fight for what she believes in? These are the types of quandaries the characters have to deal with, and so many more. When these characters all find out what is behind all the plots, will they stay and fight, or cut and run? You'll have to read it to find out, but it is worth the time investment.
The plot is very complex, with many twists and turns, betrayals, double and even triple crosses. It seemed everyone in the book had at least one secret, and many of the characters had multiple secrets. As always, even when dealing with very dark subject matter, CT Phipps manages to inject some humor and snark into the proceedings, keeping this from turning into Grimdark Game of Thrones in space. The characters are all relatable on some level, which is not something every writer excels at creating, but which this author has always managed. As you read further in the book, new layers open up before you, sucking you deeper into the story. The sci fi elements are all really well executed, and there are even a few new touches for the genre that definitely have the WOW factor to them. Definitely a treat for sci fi fans.
The narration work is handled by Eric Burns. I was surprised at how well a relative newcomer like Eric handled the various voices, from the crew of the Melampus to the various other worlders and the Chel. He does a great job creating various voices through tone and cadence for the various male and female characters. His narration was steady, varying pitch and speed to the action.All in all, an excellent job bringing the story and characters to life.
The author is working on the sequel, and I can't wait to get into it! You will find yourself getting invested in these various characters, and wanting to see where their next adventure takes them. The story theme, that struggles like this are more shades of grey, rather than black and white, are topical in any time. I cant recommend this book highly enough to any fans of sci fi or thrillers. It is in a class all its own!