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NETHEREAL by Brian Niemeier – Review

POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

INTRODUCTION
Nethereal follows the journey of the Gen, Jaren Peregrine and his crew aboard the Shibboleth as they engage in piracy across space. They are under constant pursuit from Malachi and the Steersmen Guild. However, when they are gifted the Exodus. They plunged into a near, inescapable nightmare.

PLOT: 3/5
The plot starts off strong by introducing Nakvin. It displays her talents and how the magic of this universe is employed. She’s also on a job that involved getting close to a guild member before trying to make off with a plaque that contains information that would late lead them to an abandoned space fortress. We are then shown who she works for, a Gen pirate Captain named Jaren who commands the crew of Shibboleth. The Gen are all but extinct and Jaren is the last of his kind. A plot point that comes to a head later as the crew delves deeper into hell. But before all that, these pirates are being pursued by the cunning and determined newly appointed Guild Master Malachi, who has made it his personal mission to destroy the Gen pirate and his cohorts. There is also the secondary plot involving Mordechai and his own plans that go way beyond Malachi or even Jaren. The end result sees the pirates fighting their way through the various Circles of Hell before the conclusion sees the universe being almost torn asunder by the ambitions of powers beyond mortal comprehension. It needs to be read because it’s executed in a fun and memorable way.

As a whole, I found myself enjoying more so, Malachi as the main villain because once more started showing up, especially in hell. The novel lost some oomph as it meandered through the circles and their schemes. A small part of me wondered how different this story would be with Malachi versus Mordechai or if hell itself wasn’t a factor. There’s a really good moment where the two confront each other and it has to be the most memorable part of the book because, for the first time, Malachi is up against someone he can’t easily outplay or scheme. Mordechai offers a threat to his perceived control over the fate of Jaren.

There are also a few twists here and there, including some good old-fashioned backstabs. The pace is decent, a little fast though as I already implied. And as interesting from a world-building perspective the Nine Circles were. I found myself drawn to Jaren and Malachi more so than the Baals and other monsters.

I can’t end this part without mentioning the Event Horizon… I mean Exodus. It functions much the same as that cursed ship and even indulges the body horror shown throughout that film. It’s a dark edifice that if you’ve ever played Stellaris, you know that innocent blood went into making this abomination of a ship.

CHARACTER: 4/5

The human characters, Mordechai included even if he becomes a void-like being were all unique and engaging. Jaren’s crew each have their own personality, fears and wants. One of the defining moments of that relationship is when Jaren is pulling away from his loyalty to the crew, and Teg just straight-up socks the man to get him back to his senses. Malachi was a memorable villain but sadly, he’s no Mephistopheles. Though now I’m thinking what if he and Malachi were one and the same? Could have been a really good twist in hindsight. That’s the thing there are many standout characters but there are also a lot of characters generally. Including Sulaiman who provides an early insight into the machinations of hell and his long existence is reflected in his speech and mannerisms. I won’t say much more here because it’s getting into serious spoiler territory.

WORLD BUILDING: 4/5

The world-building is seamless throughout and is easy enough to follow even if you are thrown unfamiliar terms. As the story goes from place to place not just hell. It does feel lived in. You have stations, outposts and hidden bases on planets. The detail that went into the Nine Circles is also really good, each circle offers near horrors and dare I say some Lovecraftian elements. Even the ending portion of the book feels like something Lovecraft would employ or probably has in his own stories.

OTHER + FINAL THOUGHTS
As a whole, for the first book in the series, I liked it a lot, and I do plan on reading the follow-up books. And while the exploration of the Circles was fun, it took away from the Malachi conflict since he more or less disappears while the crew journeys through various hells. I would have liked more there since he was a strongly grounded antagonist that was sadly overshadowed. If you want a story that literally goes to hell and back then I would recommend this. If you want a more grounded pirate story that doesn’t do that then perhaps consider another book.

OVERALL: 4/5

As always a link to the book can be found here.

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BEYOND BLUE EYES by Ana Mocikat – Review

INTRODUCTION – 5/5

Beyond Blue Eyes begins with a covert operation involving the cyborg Nephilim and her allies as they take down a group of terrorists situated beyond Olympia. These people went off the grid and have tried to go back to humanity’s roots; thus, they stand as a threat to the notion that people need Olympia to survive. These efforts to go off the grid are quickly shown to be fruitless as the ruthless efficiency of the Blue Death sweeps through the camp leaving very few survivors. The only ones remaining by the end are children that are then moulded into cybernetic killers like Nephilim. While a little video gaming in its execution, this opening is very strong. It establishes how efficient our main character is and that she is one of many with a shared network to keep them working at their best. There’s one part where the POV changes to that of someone in the camp and you get this short wonderful description of how others perceive the Blue Death;

And to top it off, the man is ruthlessly dispatched with the Blue Death’s leader mocking him afterwards. The one thing the opening does well is that establishes what to expect from each character while also setting Nephilim up via EMP to undergo her own transformation into a freer person. 

PLOT – 4/5

The plot is more so Nephilim becoming freer and seeing Olympia for what it is. And around the midpoint, you are introduced to a group aiming to bring down the city and those who run it. However, what I like about this plot is that it mirrors a lot of what we see in 1984 and Animal Farm. Both books are referenced directly by Metatron with direct quotes from each one but an attentive reader might quickly realise that the status quo for this present world is very much alike to the one we see in 1984 with three separate powers seemingly warring with each other and forming alliances together. The cyborgs also have the potential to be the pigs of this story, as Metatron hints at plans far beyond his current station. Without spoiling anything more, I actually like how these two stories are implemented into Beyond Blue Eyes, it provides an additional sense of hopelessness that sadly rings true for all those involved. Ultimately, the backbone of the story is essentially uncovering a wider global conspiracy to bring down Olympia. One side is direct, while the other has infiltrated society itself. The execution seems to stray from how Cyberpunk is usually handled, and I could argue this book subverts a lot of that expectation but in a good way. 

CHARACTER 5/5

The characters are the best part of this book, and it’s hard to settle on a favourite. Metatron is a great villain, always one step ahead and very much a capable threat. It’s actually nice to see a competent male villain since often these days they are dispatched comically easily. Metatron is not like that, he’s like a twisted mix of Big Brother and O’Brien. His manipulation of Nephilim and the other Angels is pretty stand out but even he has flaws such as being quick to anger when questioned about his motives by those closest to him but for the most part, the leader of the Angels is very much in control and I look forward to seeing what his goals are in the sequel. 

Nephilim’s arc is also what you would expect from a cyborg gradually becoming more human. She learns to let people in and starts living for herself. The truth of what she is is fairly obvious but the way it’s shown to her is once again very 1984. The book relies a lot on mental subjugation and it does that very well. A character I didn’t expect to like but ended up quickly becoming my favourite is Finwick. What starts off as a creep, turns into a genuine hero who not only outsmarts the man himself, Metatron but his willingness to put his neck on the line for Nephilim is how she’s able to become free of the network. It could be said that without Finwick, her dreams of being free might have fallen short. 

Jake is also very well done and from the get-go, you get a sense he is not who seems, almost too good to be true. While there is a romantic subplot with him and Nephilim, it does a lot to actually show the difference between human and cybernetic interaction. He is a reflection of a society that is more intimate and that definitely comes across. 

The other characters all stand out in their own way, even Adriel who I wish we saw more of, he’s present in the beginning but is alas overshadowed by a very strong cast of characters. 

WORLD BUILDING 5/5

The world-building is great and I look forward to seeing more of it when I read the sequel. I won’t go too much into it here but the three different organisations and how they operate are well thought out. Plus it plays into the references mentioned earlier. 

OTHER + FINAL THOUGHTS 

All in all, a fun read for anyone that likes science fiction or cyberpunk. The only thing I will say is that the backend of the story has a lot of sex, if that’s not to your taste, then you may find your enjoyment a little hampered. But honestly, even that serves a purpose in the grand scheme of the story. It was nice to actually read a cyberpunk novel that didn’t just revolve around bringing the system down and even that element was subverted in its execution, more so this is a story about individuality and the price you have to pay to get it. 

OVERALL: 4/5 

And as always, you are welcome to form your own opinion of any book I read. Since I’m fairly random when it comes to what stories I read, expect to see a broad mix of authors you may or may not know.

A link to the book, Beyond Blue Eyes can be found here – here

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