It's been a long time since I've read science fiction. I have lived in several genres over the years: Fantasy, western and archaeological adventure for the most part. I've dabbled in Gothic (Wuthering Heights, Rebecca), suspense (Ludlum, Francis, Follett, MacLean) and others. Sci-fi has always been something that I just had to be in the mood for. I've hit some of the classics like Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, Dune, and Ringworld, but anything you might term recent has been in the Star Wars universe or the excellent Star of the Guardians series by Margaret Weis, who also pens the very 'spacey' Mag Force books with Don Perrin.
You might ask yourself, "Isn't this supposed to be a review of 'Sovran's Pawn'? Why is he rambling on about all these other books?"
First, I want people to know that I'm not some yahoo that happened to download Sovran's Pawn for my Kindle, read it, and spew out a generic (and mostly useless) review. If shoppers know the kind of books I've read and enjoyed, they'll be better equipped to take my review in context and have a much better feel for whether they want to spend their hard-earned credits on a worthy novel.
I admit that noting some of the Sci-fi books I've read is also a way to try and gain a little genre credibility; further, I want to let potential readers know that I don't always read science fiction, but when I do, I like the good stuff.
Sovran's Pawn is an extremely well-written novel. As the self- and independent publishing industries have taken off, I've read a fair number of novels that are, to be nice, not very well written. Spelling and/or grammatical errors leap off the pages and, in some cases, spoil the read completely. JC Cassels does not labor under the weight of poor writing. I can honestly say that I did not catch one single error. That doesn't mean there weren't any - it just means that after the first few chapters of no mistakes jumping out at me, I could settle down and enjoy the story.
Sovran's Pawn, besides being technically well put together, shows real strength in character development and dialog. Bo and Blade - who reminds me of the line from the Talking Heads' song Life During Wartime, "I got three passports, a couple of visas, don't even know my real name," - are complex characters who live and breathe (sometimes quite heavily). These aren't cardboard cutouts but rather three-dimensional characters that live on the page and quickly begin to pull you into the story and make you care about what happens to them. Secondary characters are also introduced and fleshed out very well. Some readers might be put off by some of the more lengthy segments where in-depth characterization takes place, but I think on the whole it's time well spent as the story will continue far into the future and knowing the folks you're traveling with will be an advantage later.
Steve Martin once made a joke about attending a plumbers' convention and used all sorts of wild jargon that sounded very plumber-ish but ultimately was all bogus. At least I've never come across a seven inch gangly wrench - but I'm not a plumber either. My point is that the science part of this sci-fi novel all worked for me. I'm not an engineer or quantum physicist so I don't require pages and pages of boring explanation regarding the effects of putting an object into a ship's hyperspace wake or complex diatribes on the forces required to escape a strange planet's gravitational field. With all that said I believe Cassels got the tech right and also applied it in the right amounts. Sovran's Pawn is a novel about people that happens to be set (mostly) in space. It's not a space novel that happens to have people in it.
Lush descriptiveness is one of the things I look for in a good novel. It's devilishly hard to pull off without sounding long-winded. Sovran's Pawn isn't quite as descriptive as I would like; there are some scenes where I just couldn't visualize the setting as clearly as I wanted to. Now, that may be exactly the way it was written, but I tend to read novels in which the author spends a little more time painting the world for me so I have a deep, mental image of the landscape the characters are inhabiting. I'm not saying the descriptiveness is bad in Sovran's Pawn - it most certainly is not - it's just a little less than optimum for me personally. I don't get paid to be a critic so take it for what it's worth - an opinion.
If I had to single out one thing to pooh-pooh about Sovran's Pawn it would be that - to me - it read kind of like a romance novel in space. Sovran's Pawn doesn't have Blade running around with no shirt on, flexing; it definitely wasn't that bad but - and this may be a mandatory character building exercise - Cassels spends a great deal of time constructing the relationship between Bo and Blade. Again, that's my opinion and if you like being up close and personal as two adults get to know each other better, this is your book!
Let me clarify one other thing: This is a grown-up book. There are a (very) small number of expletives used, and those were for good effect and in no way gratuitous. But Sovran's Pawn deals with some relatively mature themes so I'd hesitate to recommend it to some of my younger or more conservative friends. With that said I applaud the author's handling of the aforementioned mature themes. Cassels obviously spent a great deal of time crafting this story and although there were a couple of scenes that made me wriggle a little (I'm getting sensitive in my old age) this would earn a relatively mild PG-13 if it were a movie.
If you've read this far you should know that Sovran's Pawn is a darn good book. And despite my delicate sensitivities I will be waiting patiently for the next installment of the Black Wing Chronicles. With apologies to the author who, having read this, probably thinks I'm a lunatic; I have tried to be as forthright in my assessment as I could be. Reading material is a very personal thing and each one of us has different tastes. While there are some things about Sovran's Pawn that I might wish were a tad different I can roundly appreciate a well-written novel.
Have a read and tell me what you think!
The Kindle version of Sovran's Pawn that I reviewed was purchased by me on Amazon.com - I received no compensation for this review, other than the pleasure of reading a great book.