The Blackwing Chronicles began with Sovran's Pawn, an engaging introduction to Bo Barron and Blade Devon. Bo is the fugitive daughter and heir-in-waiting to her missing father, the Barron. And despite her fugitive status Bo has assumed the role of Barron in the still-unexplained absence of her father. Blade is...well...one can never be quite sure what - or who - Blade Devon is at any given time. Is he the handsome holovid actor whom the ladies drool over, an IC Predator agent and one of the most deadly men in the universe, or something else entirely? Whoever he is, someone wants Blade Devon dead.
Hero's End, the second book in The Blackwing Chronicles series, opens with a hit being put out on Devon. I'll tell you right up front that in JC Cassels' universe, sex and violence are almost the coin of the realm. That's not to say that Hero's End is some smutty space opera; far from it. The author has simply taken a couple of humanity's worst - or best, depending on your definition - traits and magnified them. Skyhoppers and Joy Babes abound, as do assassins and other dangerous folk. However, Cassels does an outstanding job of writing about the seedy underbelly of society without wallowing in bad language or needlessly graphic situations. And don't for one minute think that the seediness is limited to those who inhabit the less fortunate strata of Cassels' universe. Just like in our own world, the predilection to sin is no respecter of bank balance or position, and is one of the many factors that keeps readers guessing. I'll tell you right from the launchpad: nothing - and no one - in Hero's End is what - or who - it seems.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty, I have to say that Hero's End was both an easier and a tougher read than Sovran's Pawn. It was easier because I was familiar with the universe that Cassels has deftly imagineered. Also, the author has populated The Blackwing Chronicles with a cast of characters that is easy to care for and become invested in. The tough part, for me, is staying the course through Bo Barron's emotional journey. I'm a guy, and I've been married for almost a quarter of a century, but I still don't handle intense emotional turmoil very well. Maybe I'm just shallow; I don't know. Without providing any spoilers it's difficult for me to give specific examples of what I mean. In general, although there was plenty of emotional upheaval for Bo in Sovran's Pawn, we see a whole other level of that in Hero's End. Blade goes through his own emotional crises as well, but maybe it is because I'm a guy that Blade's torments seem to make more sense to me.
From a characterization standpoint, I'd say Cassels gets full marks. Although I don't personally care for some of the deeper exploration of Bo's innermost psyche, I can appreciate the craft with which it is written. Lest I leave out the character and bit players, it is hard to find fault with any of them. I've read several books in which the main characters, fully realized and fleshed out in living color, move around in a cardboard, two-dimensional world of almost cartoonish and clichéd secondary characters. That is absolutely not the case in Hero's End. I found each one intrinsic to the tale and employed in fitting and useful ways.
The plot of Hero's End continues apace from where we left off with Sovran's Pawn despite the passage of time between the two volumes. The intrigue, mystery, adventure, action and yes - the romance - are all ratcheted up several notches. I grew more appreciative of Cassels' writing ability the farther I read.
The scourge of everyone's Seventh Sector - grammar and usage - is very well done in Hero's End. I've included notes in other reviews indicating the downfall of many independent novels is poor diction, if not just downright messy grammar. Hero's End was a very clean read. There has obviously been a lot of love and care taken with this novel and as a reader I appreciate that very much!
Overall, I would recommend Hero's End to anyone who enjoys a good spacer. As the author personally noted, for some there is not enough romance and too much space and for others too much romance and not enough space. Personally, I found the characters, plot, descriptiveness, and tech to be spot on. My only gripe is the quantity of romance - yes, I'm one of the too much romance guys.
For my Christian readers, Hero's End is a bit stronger in some areas than its predecessor and might bring you a little pause as you make a reading decision. I will leave it up to you, but provide these guidelines: If John Boy yelling, "Darn!" on The Waltons gets the fan going, Hero's End is not for you. If you are an avid fan of science fiction, adventure and romance and you are not shocked or deterred by the programming content of network television after 8 p.m. then you'll probably be fine with the content of this novel. Anything in between is going to be a case-by-case, personal decision.
From a purely creative point of view, Hero's End is an excellent, well-written novel. It is likely one I would never have read due to that pesky romance stuff so I am thankful to have had the opportunity to read and review it.
The Kindle version of Hero's End which I reviewed was provided to me electronically by the author - I received no compensation for this review, other than the pleasure of reading book two of The Black Wing Chronicles.