SPSFC2 Semifinalist Review: Empire Reborn, by A K Duboff
Team Escapist, has decided to hold off on posting actual scores, but that doesn’t mean reviews aren’t coming! And as said before, this review expresses my own opinion and not the opinions of other members of either Team Escapist, or other judges on other teams within the SPSFC2 competition.
The review …
Although an interesting plot, and I loved the use of the ‘men in black’ trope and secret base on the moon, (which was unfortunately explained to me in a foreword describing the universe in which the book takes place), Empire Reborn, was just too perfectly wrapped up in a pretty little bow. Which wouldn’t be an issue if the book’s back blurb didn’t promise more.
Action and intrigue start off the story well, and it definitely caught my attention, but after a few chapters every character seemed a bit perfect; their looks, attitude, standing in life- all Mary and Gary Sues. Ultimately, does having chestnut coloured hair mean anything or bring anything to the story? Because of this, the characters never left the second dimension. They presented more like avatars of goodness, loyalty, honesty and bravery.
This was a thread I found throughout the book. Everything seemed simple and perfect. Which made it all kind of shallow and boring. It had a ‘watered down’ feel to it. I never felt any real anticipation or tension, nothing was propelling the story forward or creating any sense on urgency. All the characters were good people, doing good things, being the best, and not coming across any complications that created any sense of urgency. It was all just nice. Cozy. Warm fuzzy feelings. Unlike what the back cover blurb offered- and this discrepancy is major. It’s breaking a promise to the reader. The back blurb is more than just a description. And so are the first few chapters. They should lay the groundwork for what the reader is about to experience- whether it be intense action, literary prose or slow burn. It should introduce what the overall vibe of the story will be. If you don’t follow through, you’ve broken the promise to the reader, created click-bait, and then left the reader unsatisfied and wondering why they didn’t like the book.
To say that the editing is good, should not have to be said. It should be a given. Editing shouldn’t even be a consideration, it should just be done. Unless you are referring to developmental or content editing. That said, Empire Reborn, was clean and easy to read and follow.
But as I got further into the book, I noticed the chapters started to lengthen, for no real reason. No rhyme or reason for chapter breaks. And the more I read, the more I felt like I had missed something having not read other series in the ‘series’, and I was being told everything that happened in past books so I could better understand what was happening in this book. It really dragged the story down in its pacing. Particularly, because it was a lot of info-dumping disguised as dialogue.
Any plot forward progression turned to a slow burn in the middle section, which should be where the story picks up. It became a lot of talking, thinking, researching, discussing. Earth’s awareness of everything seemed like an afterthought. And that should have been exciting since it was mentioned in the back blurb. But not only did this come up too late in the book to have any real impact (considering them knowing didn’t really change anything), Earth’s reaction to … well, everything … was so downplayed I almost missed it.
Overall a very interesting premise, unfortunately mired by rose-tinted glasses making the world, universe and characters all too pretty. Which led to a watered-down version of what could have been an exceptional story.