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Amadan na Briona

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Exordium: 1 - The Phoenix in Flight

The Phoenix in Flight  - Sherwood Smith, Dave Trowbridge
I wanted to like this book so much more than I did, but it's emblematic of my ongoing ennui about space operas. I used to love 'em unreservedly, and now and then I still come across one that blows me away, but lately, most of them are either kind of 'meh' or I just can't get past the cheesy juvenilia of "ADVENTURE! AMONG! THE STARS!"

(He says as he works on his own Adventure! Among! The Stars! novel...)

Maybe this is what happens when I start reading more literary and classic fiction - my standards for SF have gone up accordingly.

Phoenix in Flight is an old-school space opera that's the first in a series. It's a big epic "clashing empires" story full of space battles and super-tech and ancient artifacts and really, really evil villains. The protagonist is Krysarch Brandon nyr-Arkad, the playboy-playing-hooky son of the ruler of the Thousand Suns. Some twenty years ago, the Thousand Suns squashed an empire called Dol'jhar when the Dol'jharans got too uppity, and Jerrode Eusabian, Lord of Vengeance, Avatar of Dol'jhar, has been plotting his vengeance ever since. Yeah, it's one of those settings, full of lots and lots of hyphenated and apostrophized names.

So, like all highly intelligent rulers of spar-spanning empires, the good guys let an enemy full of psychopathic torture-happy space-orcs keep their homeworlds and a battlecruiser, and as the book begins, Brandon is running away from his big coming-of-age party because he's nursing resentment over how his best friend got shafted years ago while they were both attending starship officer school. As it turns out, his runaway stunt is well-timed since that's when the Dol'jharans basically take out the entire royal family and their space fleet and subjugates their former conquerors. Brandon spends the rest of the book on the run with a bunch of "Rifters" (space pirates).

There are running battles in space and in the royal palace, lots of planets, aliens, artificial intelligences, a fair amount of quippy dialog, and a large cast of characters, about half of whom die by book's end. It's fun but rather overburdened with all those hyphens and apostrophes, chapters hopping around between minor characters' POVs, planting seeds that evidently won't sprout until later in this five-book series, and tons of sci-fi jargon and made-up swearing.

I think most SF fans will like Phoenix in Flight, but it's not deep or stretching the genre in any way. Although it was entertaining enough for me to maybe read the follow-on volumes someday, I can't say they're going to bump any other books on my TBR list out of their current slots.