Book Review: Meltdown (Mech Wars Book 3)

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Hey Space Cadets, how’re you all doing?  I hope you’ve sufficiently recovered from your turkey comma, and are back at it?  Survived the dreaded Black Friday, without loss of life or limb?  I ate the turkey, avoided the shopping, and visited with my in-laws.  Now that the holidays are over, I’m back to the writing.  I should have an announcement on the release of my fourth and final novel in The Sleeping Legion Series soon.  I’m working on that new, super-duper secret project and having a blast.  The instant I can share more, I will!  I’ve got a short story in The The Expanding Universe 3 Anthology that’s coming out on the 15th of December. If you want tons of fun, for the low price of 99c, then pre-order it!  It’s a collection of some pretty amazing stories.

But enough about me, let’s talk about books!  Here is the next installment in my series of book reviews.  I’ve read the first two awesome books in this series, and you can find my reviews on my blog. The first novel, Powered, was reviewed here. The second novel in this series, Dynamo, was equally amazing and you can read my thoughts on it here. So let’s not waste any more time dancing around the issue, onto the review!

 

Title:  Meltdown (Mech Wars Book 3)

Author:  Scott Bartlett

Narrator:  Mark Boyett

Price:  $3.99 USD (Kindle Edition) & $13.97 for Audiobook Only

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

Pages:  312

Meltdown 

 

 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!

 

We’re again with Chief Roach, who has merged with an alien mech, but can he control its power?  Harnessing alien tech was the only way to counter the power of the quadruped mechs piloted by the Quatro.  It seemed like a simple choice at the time, famous last words, right? Except, Roach’s awesome new weapon is like a sword with no hilt. It seems to be doing everything it can to fragment his psyche, one already weakened by the loss of the love of his life.

 

Roach must lead Oneiri Team across an Eresos engulfed by the fires of war. Their mission is to stop the legions of Quatro from laying waste to what remains of humanity’s colonies. If Roach can’t resist the alien mech’s promises of glory and chaos, there will be a meltdown. Not just for Oneiri Team, but for everyone on the planet.

 

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 Terran Armor Corps (3 Book Series) by Richard Fox, 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 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 well rounded 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 graduates from the mech unit training and becomes one of the leaders in the small unit, the Oneiri Squad. He shows his prowess in combat and demonstrates that his top marks during his training weren’t just a fluke. After the training and real-world experience from the first two books, he begins to shine as a rising star.  We learn of his deep love for his ailing sister, which 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, as he comes to terms with having merged with his mech in ways we didn’t think were possible in the last book. His experience is still the same drawback that it was before.  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 his character arc but started not liking him as a man.

Lisa Sato:  She was a junior enlisted soldier for the Darkstream military, and true believer. That is, until reality smacked her in her face.  This religious fervor was shaken by the events of the first two books, and oh what a ride you had with her.  It only gets better in this book, as we get to see her mature and grow into the leader of the militia fighting for their homeworld against Darkstream. I’d love to hash that out, but I promised a spoiler free review.  In this novel, Meltdown, we see her grow as a leader and diplomat.  More importantly, we see her evolution from soldier to combat leader, and it was a fun evolution.  I’d give an example, but again with that 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 leadership competency.  In this novel, we learn her backstory, and oh what a surprise that was.  Unlike previous books, we get to see her morph and grow.  Finally, a character arc worthy of her potential!  This doesn’t feel like pandering 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 wasn’t around much, but they lurked around in the backdrop. The veil was lifted, and we see more of these mechanical monsters.  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. I didn’t think that Scott Bartlett could outdo himself, but he’s again raised the bar with this novel. The story is set in a world where humanity is post-Sol System. The premise of this series has humanity having used wormholes to permanently colonize the Steel System, under a purely capitalistic society run by the Darkstream Corporation.  Unfortunately, the system was occupied and not every race is keen on sharing. A war ensues, and now there’s a third player in the game, the mysterious “meddlers.”  They’re playing both sides, and I think they’re planning on swooping in to kill whoever survivors. 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.  The author balanced the action, with the exposition and world-building, so the story never felt flat.  Everything that was good about the first two books remained, but he kicked the espionage and intrigue up a notch!  We also see more of the “meddlers,” which I saw coming.  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 third 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 fleshed 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. In this novel, we see a lot more of those tidbits, though they didn’t feel like info dumps. Scott Bartlett did it so well that I was able to start with this series, even though it’s an offshoot of his earlier The Ixan Prophecies Trilogy (3 Book Series).  You never felt like you were missing anything to understand the world. It made me want to become part of the larger world, this novel sealed the deal and now I’ve added the previous novels to my TBR list.  I’m hooked, 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. This sticking point has been the one sticking point for me in this series, though not so much that it took me out of the story.  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 thing that I haven’t gotten used to was Scott’s decision to use naval ranks for the Darkstream military. It still feels odd, since 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!  Finally, the last piece of world building to discuss is the development of the “meddlers.” We see more of them, and they seem genuinely scary in their silence. They never speak directly to anyone, they only attack when you least expect it.  I loved this development and can’t wait to see where it ends. 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 three books in. Luckily, 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.  The good news, is that Scott has improved in describing parts of the world in which the series is set.  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 two.  This is partly because one book in the series builds on the next but even as a standalone it was good.  My wife listened to parts of this audiobook with me, having not read the first two, and commented specifically on how descriptive it was.  Obviously, this is only antidotal, as she’s a lot of more comfortable with very little description than I am.  File that under the “for what it’s worth” folder, and let’s move on.  The only slight drawback 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.  In other ways, it got better in how he described the world around the main characters.  Like many authors these days, Scott Bartlett was lite on some of 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.  I’ve started listening to audiobooks while on my morning walks, it’s how I keep myself motivated. 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.  Heck, I went searching for more books narrated by him on Audible when I received my monthly credit.  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 writing my own book!  Shh, don’t tell my wife!  This book I “read” entirely via the audiobook.  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.  I had moments of frustration, as we saw things the characters didn’t.  I metaphorically screamed, “look behind you,” a few times. Scott did his job, and nobody came away unscathed.  Seriously, I wanted to strap into a mech and storm down the orbital elevators with the reserve regiments!  I even mourned the loss of the brave warriors killed in battle, and drank a few shots in their honor!  This was my third 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 colorblind 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!  They fit into the genre, while not looking like a cookie cutter version of what’s already out there.  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.  Further, he addressed the reloading and shifting/morphing of the mechs themselves.  He also addressed the mechs themselves reloading, which added that bit of grounding that every military science fiction novel needs.  They DO run out of ammo, which is a plus but I was curious about their weapons and didn’t get answers.  He kept the science of the mechs close to the vest, which was a smart way to handle the situation and I took notes for my own later use.  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 redshirt 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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