Hey Space Cadets, how’re you all doing? I hope you’ve sufficiently recovered from your cabin fever and winter doldrums? Summer seems to finally be in the air, and in the south of the US of A that means asphyxiation by pollen! I managed to survive the dreaded yellow death and lived to tell about it. I’ve got my new glasses and can finally read again, though I fought off the doctor’s recommendation of bifocals. Now the intemperate weather has again made sane people hide from the seasons I’m back to the writing.
I should have an announcement for the release of my Galaxy’s Edge novel in The Order of the Centurion Series. I’m waiting for edits from Jason Anspach and Nick Cole and am biting my nails in anticipation. They’ll also be helping me pick a title, which I hope to get to you soon! The instant I can share more, I will!
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 three 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 reviewed here. The third novel in this series, Inflicted, was equally amazing and you can read my thoughts on it here. But let’s not waste any more time dancing around the issue, onto the review!
Author: Scott Bartlett
Narrator: Mark Boyett
Price: $3.99 USD (Kindle Edition) & $17.95 for Audiobook Only
Obtained: I received this audiobook from the author as an ARC copy.
Rating: 5/5 Grenades
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!
In this stunning conclusion to the Mech Wars Saga, the star system is burning down. Seaman Jake Price’s “betters” have failed the people of the Steele System, so he’s taking matters into his own hands. Darkstream has tricked the public into believing the Quatro are the enemy, but the company has already sold the system’s security to the true enemy: the Progenitors. Now, Jake is calling on everyone who remembers what it means to fight out of duty instead of money. If they can’t stop Darkstream in time, the system will burn, and the inferno will consume everyone in it.
Like in the previous novels, we’re again with Jake Price. He’s managed to maintain control of his humanity without merging with the alien mech, but can he control its power? Can he harness the alien tech and counter the power of Darkstream? If he can, the survivors of the Steel System can stand a chance. If he fails, everyone dies. The mission is simple; defeat the tyrannical Darkstream and help the Quatro find their way home.
If you like mechs, explosions and plenty of gritty combat, then you’ve come to the right place! This final novel is an intense conclusion to the Mech Wars Universe, an epic military science fiction series. To give you an easy comparison, if you enjoyed the Terran Armor Corps Universe 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.
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 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, 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. When he assumes command of the alien mech, he fights off the voices urging himself to surrender his humanity. His love for his brothers and sisters in arms drives him to greatness and makes him an awesome character to get to know. 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!
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 three books, and oh what a ride you had with her. It only gets better in this book, as we get to see her final maturation and growth into a formidable combat leader of the resistance fighting for their homeworld against Darkstream. I’d love to hash that out, but I promised a spoiler free review. In this novel, Infliction, we see her grow as both a leader and diplomat. She fights through her conflicted relationship with Jake and Andy and comes out on the other end. More importantly, we see the results of 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 more about her backstory and see her grow and mature. 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. Towards the end of the novel we get our answers, but it also raises more questions. Overall, they were an awesome bad guy and a testament to Bartlett’s creativity.
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!
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 for 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 three books remained, but he kicked the espionage and intrigue up a notch! The action continued right up to the end until we got the surprise conclusion you won’t see coming. We had a lot more of the “meddlers,” which I saw coming. I just didn’t see them being used in this way. I give Scott Bartlett points for his original plotting! 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!
This is the fourth and final book in the Mech Wars Series, and I absolutely loved how Scott wrapped it up. 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. We learn how all of these pieces that he’s dropped along the way fit in and wrap up into a neat little bow. Scott Bartlett 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. It made me want to become part of the larger world, and now I’m excited to read the series that came before this novel and the ones that come after. 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 has been the one sticking point for me in this series, though not so much that it took me out of the story. Maybe it was the audio? I never did look it up in the eBooks, so it could just be the medium. 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’m still willing to give Scott the benefit of the doubt. Another thing that I haven’t gotten into 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. When we found out more about these aliens, they were even more scary! I really appreciate this development, it didn’t feel like the letdown I feared it might be. This time the Progenitors spoke directly to key members of the story, leaving you guessing. I loved this development and can’t wait to see where it ends in the follow-on series. 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 5 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.
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 four 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. This is where the narrator came in, with the various accents he added to the characters. I don’t know if this matches the ebook, but it helped me picture them. 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 Jake and Lisa. It only got better in this book, when compared to the last three. The description of the combat scenes were truly Grade A top line stuff. This is partly because one book in the series builds on the next but even as a standalone it was good. There was only one slight drawback on 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. I loved seeing the space station, and the combat scenes set on it were compelling and the descriptions were done subtly and with a finesse than most authors can manage. 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.
I’ve become a veteran in the audiobook revolution, and I’ve learned what my preferences are with regards to narration. I’ve started listening to audiobooks while on my morning walks, it’s how I keep myself motivated. I listen while doing chores, running errands and just going about my daily life. 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. Like I said in the last three Mech Wars book reviews, I’d definitely listen to more books by him. 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. I did become an Audible member, but that’s still only one audiobook a month. This scarcity means I’m very discerning with my audiobook purchases. 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. He built the tension at the appropriate plot points, and I felt chills when I thought my favorite characters might die. With that in mind, I give him another 5 out of 5 grenades for his performance.
I really loved this book, and it made my morning walks extremely enjoyable despite the death by yellow snow! As a caveat to my review, I want to remind you that I “read” this book entirely via the audiobook format. I did buy the eBook, but I never felt the need to break it out because the narration quality was that good. 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 and the losses suffered by the Resistance Movement. 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 fourth 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 three 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, we saw Scott stop and show the conclusion of the conflict that exists within the survivors of the Oneiroi Squad. It was emotionally compelling and added tension to the plot arc. Scott addressed the consequences of the moral ambiguity that sometimes happens when a military splinters and turns on itself. Where does duty fit in the moral realm? The internal conflicts only added that bit of grounding that every military science fiction novel needs. They DO run into tough choices and have regrets for the calls they have to make which is a plus in my book. Another good thing about this book, and the series writ large was how Scott used the mech technology he created in the Steel Universe. 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 all four of 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. If I ever have a panel on mech robots, I’d have Scott sitting proudly next to Robert Heinlein and the creators of the Four Horsemen Universe. The battle scenes he wrote with these mechs 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 suited up in a mech suit, only to realize that your armor is red. And then you’re put on the away team, getting to be the first one off the orbital elevator. Then the metallic meddlers see you, and well, you didn’t need your guts inside your body, did you? 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!
–> 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.