Book Review: Dynamo (Mech Wars Book 2)

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Hey Space Cadets, here is the next installment in my series of book reviews. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m a member of the TRMN. It’s a fan club for the Honor Harrington Universe by David Weber, and they do contests for their members all the time. There is a reading contest going on recently, and we get points for page reads. I’m thrilled that it prompted me to read more, as I’ve let writing get in the way of reading!  In addition to reading more this month, I’m working on the editorial revisions for book four of The Sleeping Legion Series.  Finally, if you haven’t read it, Operation Breakout is live!

But enough about me, onto this specific review. Now let’s get to it!

 

Title:  Dynamo (Mech Wars Book 2)

Author:  Scott Bartlett

Narrator:  Mark Boyett

Price:  $2.99 USD (Kindle Edition) & $7.49 for Audiobook Add On

 Obtained:  I received this audiobook from the author as an ARC copy.

 Pages:  278

 

 

 Rating:  5/5 Grenades

Summary:

First, let me say that none of what I’ll say in this section couldn’t be found on the back copy of the novel.  Heck, I cribbed this summary from the back, and then I add my own twist!  And not even much of one, since his description was so spot on!  Further, I wanted to provide a spoiler free review, so here goes nothing!

The human body is no longer enough, not against rampaging alien hordes. The wars of the future will be fought with mechs. One of those mech warriors, Chief Roach, won a hard fought victory over the ferocious Quatro.  It won’t last long unless something changes. Strange meteorites have fallen to the surface of Eresos, containing mechs – quadruped mechs, clearly designed for the enemy.  Now, Roach and the surviving members of Oneiri Team must escort these fearsome new weapons through a harsh alien wilderness, while defending against constant attack. If the quad mechs fall into the enemy’s possession before Roach can get them to the space elevator, it’ll get ugly.  Humanity will lose the advantage granted by their own MIMAS mechs, and they’ll be right back to where they were: outmatched and overpowered by the savage alien beasts.

If you like mechs, explosions and plenty of gritty combat, then you’ve come to the right place!  This follow-on novel is a brilliant sequel to the Mech Wars Universe, an epic military science fiction series.  To give you an easy comparison, if you enjoyed the Four Horsemen Universe by Mark Wandrey and Chris Kennedy, then you’ll love this novel!  There are other mech books out there, but I won’t recommend books I haven’t yet read.

 

Characters: 

In this novel, we get to interact with a smaller cast of characters than the previous novel.  It was still a larger cast than many authors can manage, but to be honest, I think it was necessary to cover the scope of the author’s expansive universe.  All of the characters were flushed out, and three-dimensional that I thought were a lot of fun to get to know.  I felt like the characters continued to grow, and didn’t stagnate after he first introduced them.  They’re all so flushed out at this point, maybe we should advance him to four-dimensional!  I felt like I could relate to them as people, and I would love to hang out and drink a beer with them.  Here’s a summary of the main characters.

Jake Price:  He’s the son of a former Darkstream soldier, who follows his father’s footsteps, despite his father’s reluctance to support the decision. He’s consistently scored at the top of the leader board for the lucid dreaming simulations, which brought him to the attention of the Darkstream Corporation. Once he’s recruited, he’s quickly assigned to the mech pilot unit.  After the training and real world experience from book one, he begins to shine as a rising star.  We learn of his deep love for his ailing sister, who motivates him to fight so he can pay for her medical care.  Through this family trauma, we learn that he’s a man of strong moral fiber and the kind of person you’d want on your side in a pinch.  Overall, I really loved Jake’s character development throughout the story.  I can’t tell you more about this character without spoilers, so I’ll leave it right here!

Gabe Roach:  He’s a grizzled veteran of the UAF and a Chief in the Darkstream military forces. He is the stereotypical military badass, with a duffel bag full of regrets.  In this book, we learn more about those regrets, but again, no spoilers!  He’s the kind of guy you’d want on your side in a firefight, though he’s a bit of an ass to his own subordinates. After losing someone very close to him, he takes the fight to the enemy and begins helping slow the gradual combat losses the company is having against the aliens and the new merc company that appeared out of nowhere.  You get to see a lot of character growth from him in this book, and you begin to see where his age and experience becomes a slight draw back.  Every war leaves scars, and his run deep.  He was a deeply complex man, without sliding into the soldier stereotype realm.  Overall, I really liked him.

Lisa Sato:  She is a junior enlisted soldier for the Darkstream military, and is a true believer.  This religious fervor is shaken by the events of this book, and oh what a ride you have with her.  I’d love to hash that out, but I promised a spoiler free review.  She’s trained all her life on the lucid dreaming, or just lucid, simulations and has reached the pinnacle of combat training. Unfortunately, she learns the hard way that training on dream simulations does little to prepare her for real life combat.  Luckily for her, Tess DID prepare her, and she takes the Darkstream soldiers and mobsters by surprise.  In this novel, Dynamo, we see her grow as a soldier and as a person.  More importantly, we see her evolution from soldier to combat leader, and it was a fun evolution.  I’d give an example, but I promised a spoiler free review!

Tess Notaras:  She is a gray haired, retired Darkstream soldier, who is disillusioned and jaded.  She’s got nothing nice to say about the company and thinks they train soft soldiers, unlike her training in the UAF military.  She righteously takes full advantage of this weakness when she joins forces to combat the corruption within Darkstream.  She deepens her friendship with Lisa and seeks to shepherd her into the promised land of competency.  Soon, they’re interacting more as equals, and it helps flush her out.  I definitely want to know her backstory.  She doesn’t have any real growth and serves more like the mentor character role.  This doesn’t feel like a cheap trick though, as you never feel like she’s a superfluous addition to the universe.  If you want to include a mentor archetype, follow Scott Bartlett’s example because he got it right with Tess.

Quatro:  This is the alien species that inhabit the Steel System, and I envision as a cross between a horse and a bear.  Humanity still thinks they’re not fully sentient, merely apex predators and that’s all I can say without spoiling bits of the plot.  If you didn’t read book one, skip this line!  Okay, so we now know these aliens are sentient, and we find out a lot more about them in this book.  Let’s leave it at saying you’d feed them your Granny to get away from these hulking monstrosities!

Meddlers:  This was the alien species that was never present, but lurked in the backdrop.  We still don’t know a lot about them, but you get the idea that they’re not the kind of alien you bring home to mommy.  The created the Amblers and the Gathers, robots that seemed to collect resources for some unknown reason.  The humans in the system took advantage of this, never wondering about who or what built these machines and whether or not they would come back.

Overall, I will give these characters 5 out of 5 Grenades and can’t wait to see where the author takes these character throughout this new series!

 

Plot: 

Like most of the military fiction, I love to read, this was an action-packed novel.  The story is set in a world where humanity is post-Sol System. The premise for this series has humanity having used worm holes to permanently colonize the Steel System, under a purely capitalistic society run by the Darkstream Corporation.  It was a good set-up and well-executed premise that held my interest from the first minute of audio.  The plot grew and expanded, and never once did you ever feel cheated for not having read Scotts earlier books in this larger world.  There were more characters than I normally like, but it was so seamless that I didn’t even notice until I sat down to write this review.  The author balanced the action, with the exposition and world building, so the story never felt flat.  Everything that was good about book one remained, but he kicked the espionage and intrigue up a notch!  I really got into this book, and couldn’t put it down because the plot was that compelling.  Even in the audiobook format, the novel was easy to follow.  I really loved the premise of this plot, and more importantly, I enjoyed how he executed it.  The pacing was excellent, and there was never a slow moment.  I couldn’t ask for anything more; a unique premise, perfect execution, and incredible pacing!  I again give Scott 5 out of 5 Grenades!

  

World Building:

This is the second book in the Mech Wars Series, and I absolutely loved it.  I liked it even better than the last book, it just kept getting better.  Whenever I get some cash, I’ll be buying Scott Bartlett’s entire back catalog! This novel had a very flushed out world that was consistent, made sense and sucked you in.  I loved the way he handled inserting new tidbits about the larger universe and history in such a way that you didn’t even notice.  He did it so well that I was able to start with this series, even though it’s an offshoot of his earlier Ixan Prophecies Trilogy.  You never felt like you were missing anything to understand the world, and made me want to become part of the larger world.  I was hooked, and now I want to know it all!  Maybe it’s time to start considering Scott Bartlett Worlds Support Groups?  Scott described the world with just enough details to let me picture it.  However, I still struggled to visualize the Quatro aliens.  Since they were so vital to the world, Scott created, it was a bit irksome.  Again, maybe it was the audio?  On the plus side, you can visualize these aliens when they’re in their space suits or other external garments.  Since I didn’t read it too, I will again give him the benefit of the doubt.  Another part of the world that Scott Bartlett built that I really loved was the concept of the lucid dreaming.  You get to see more of it in this book, and it becomes an even bigger plot device.  It’s shown to have consequences, and no longer feels like some sort of handwavium magical trick.  It becomes real, and one of those “use at your own risk” type of tools.  Basically, lucid was set up like a dream based virtual reality simulator.  I think the idea has a lot of merits, and I don’t think I’ve ever read this idea anywhere.  As I said above, this amazing concept only gets better as Scott explores it more.  Give the man points for creativity!  I’ve gotten used to Scott’s decision to use naval ranks for the Darkstream military, but it still feels odd.  These troops are serving a dirt side garrison and policing role, which made that choice stand out.  It didn’t distract from the plot, so I merely note it here for those who care about such things.  Maybe my own Army bias?  If you’ve read this series, let me know what you think!  Overall, the world building was well done, and I was sold on the way it happened.  It felt believable, and the characters fit within the universe Scott created.  It was a fun ride that made me wanna suit up…which is the goal of action/adventure authors!  Like much of the stories I read, this one didn’t take itself too seriously, which allowed you to focus on the fun which is why I read in the first place.  I still give the world building 4.9 out of 5 Grenades.  It was a step up from the last book, and if I could’ve pictured the Quatro better, it would’ve been a perfect score.

 

Description: 

I have to give it to the author, this novel was chalk full of visualization, and you could definitely imagine yourself in this world.  The only scenes that were confusing and difficult to envision were the alien species known as the Quatro.  This is a bit more problematic, as we’re two books in but once they get their super secret outfits I had no problem visualizing them!  I wouldn’t mind it one bit if the author shared artists rendering of these creatures!  Seriously, it would’ve made reading this book a lot easier.  This issue wasn’t so glaring that I couldn’t enjoy the hell out of the book, and those loving books light on description will be in heaven.  Another place where Scott went lite on the details was on how everyone looked.  I know this is the current trend, so I reluctantly accept it, but I don’t personally like it.  I’ll reign in my rant, and move on to the next point of this section.  A huge plus for me was Scott’s descriptive use of language, he balanced the explanation of this new world with the need to move a story along.  This book didn’t have a single place where I couldn’t picture the scenery and the equipment, which added to the world that felt tangible and I enjoyed it.  The author’s description of his universe was so evocative that I began imagining myself in the mech suit fighting with Gabe and Jake.  It only got better in this book, when compared to the last one.  This is partly because one book in the series builds on the next but even as a stand alone it was good.  My wife listened to part of this audiobook with me, having not read the first one, and commented specifically on how descriptive it was.  File that under the “for what it’s worth” folder, and let’s move on.  The only slight draw back of how descriptive Scott was it could be a little bit distracting.  Seriously, it made you wanna take a moment and explore every nook and cranny, but that’s a sign of an amazingly built universe.  In summary, I didn’t find any issues with the descriptions, except for the previously mentioned alien species.  Like many authors these days, Scott Bartlett was lite on the details of what the various characters looked like.  I don’t really like this trend, but the action was so gripping that I just didn’t care.  I wanted the action, the adventure, and the PEW PEW!  Scott brought it, this was definitely his A game.  I give Scott 5 out of 5 grenades in this category.

 

Narration Quality:

I’m still relatively new to the whole audiobook revolution, so my experience is limited.  It’s growing, but I know I’m behind the power curve on this one.  I know that I hate accents that seem too cheesy, and despise narrators that sound like robots.  With those pesky caveats, I will review the narration quality of this novel.  The audiobook was well done, and the accents were consistent.  The narrator, Mark Boyett, did a fantastic job narrating this book.  I would definitely listen to more books by him, and with Amazon’s recent audiobook price increase, that is saying something.  Let’s be honest, the recently increased price of audiobooks has taken them out of the range of impulse buys.  Even at the new price, I would listen to more by this narrator!  He didn’t bore you, or make you zone out because of his monotone.  His performance didn’t feel robotic like a machine was reading the novel to me.  You’ll often see that from me because it’ll drag me out of a book so fast that I can’t listen to it anymore. With Mark Boyett, it felt like a friend was sitting with me reading an amazing story that he couldn’t put down.  Only he made kind of cool voices, with believable accents that didn’t yank you out of the story.  Overall, I give him another 5 out of 5 grenades for his performance.

 

Overall:

I really loved this book, and it made my morning walks extremely enjoyable.  I even found myself hiding in the bathroom so I could listen to this while I was supposed to be editing my own book!  Shh, don’t tell Boss Man!  This book I “read” entirely via the audio book.  I didn’t even buy the eBook, just loaded the audiobook into my Audible account and went to town.  The production quality of the audio narration was top notch, and the story was compelling.  Gave me a case of the feels, as I found myself getting angry at the injustices perpetrated by the Darkstream Company.  Seriously, I wanted to strap into a mech and storm the company headquarters with the foot soldiers!  I even mourned the loss of the brave warriors killed in battle, and drank a few shots in their honor!  This was my second novel by author Scott Bartlett, and I’m sold on his writing style.  When my wife unfreezes my credit card, I’ll probably binge read his entire back catalog!  What first caught my eye was the fantastic cover, it was amazingly compelling.  Seriously, if I weren’t color blind and art dumb, I’d add a section to the book review template on the covers because so many of them are kicking butt these days!  I especially liked how Scott made this cover fit with those for the other two novels in this series, they really work together.  The military culture shown in this book was spot on, and unlike the last book in this series, there were no issues with rank confusion or the military culture.  In this book, he even stopped to mention the combat reloading of weapons which is often missing.  However, I couldn’t find any place where it talks about the mechs themselves reloading.  They DO run out of ammo, which is a plus but I was curious about their weapons and didn’t get answers.  A minor issue, all things being equal, so I call it a win!  Moving right along, the ground combat Scott described was visceral and immersive, just what you want from the military science fiction genre. I said in my review for Powered that “I’ve never considered mech combat in my worlds, so I’ve not had reason to think about what their tactics might be.”  Well, after reading these books I’ve begun to consider this concept, and I’m even more impressed with Scott’s work.  It’s even more clear that the author has spent A LOT of time reasoning this.  The battle scenes were believable, gripping and the machines weren’t portrayed as godlike.  I never felt like the author missed a chance to get creative with the tactics.  Such a detailed portrayal of the tactics is rare, especially when coming from a civilian.  Seriously, the author weaponized the awesome power of the PEW PEW and is now a certified Grand Master in the Church of the PEW!  I was hooked from the first page!  He wove the action in such a compelling way that you wanted to jump into a mech as well.  Basically, Scott had me hooked from the beginning and kept it going throughout the whole novel.  This is a book I would happily recommend, and an author I will definitely read again.  Buy the book!  But hey, it’s easy to spend someone else’s money!  I give this novel a 5 out of 5 grenades!  If it weren’t cheating, I’d give it 6 grenades!

 

If this book sounds like it’s right up your alley, check it out, you won’t regret it!  Well, unless it inspired you to join Bartlett’s Army.  And you enlist, get kitted up, only to realize that your uniform blouse is red.  And then you’re put on the away team, getting to be the first one off the orbital elevator.  Then the bull like Quatro see you, and well, you end up finding out why China shops are bad places to be.  Well yeah, I guess this could be bad for you.  Or maybe you’ll be okay?  I mean, chicks dig scars right?  You could be the first red shirt to live?  On second thought, be warned, fanboy/fangirl syndrome just MIGHT kill you.  Be wary, you were warned and if you have to go out like that at least enjoy the view from the end times!

 

Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!

JR

> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are videos used by JR Handley for use under the Fair Use Doctrine.

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