Book Review: Ghosts of Empire

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Terry Mixon

Hey Space Cadets, here is the next installment of my book reviews. I’ve read this book several times. I had decided to re-read the first book and write a review since I love this series. However, I just couldn’t resist re-reading the rest of the series. Thus, I am now doing a review of book 4, Ghosts of Empire. I’ve listened to the audiobook as well as reading the eBook. I’ve enjoyed this story on all of the mediums I’ve found it! Now that I’m writing more reviews, I wanted to share a series that is near and dear to my heart with you! But enough about me, onto this review. Now let’s get to it!

 

Title: Ghosts of Empire (Empire of Bones Saga, Bk4)

Author: Terry Mixon

Narrator: Veronica Giguere

eBook Price:  USD 4.99

Audiobook Price: USD 21.99 or 1 Audible Credit

Obtained:  I bought both formats from Amazon.

Pages:  286

 

 

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 added my own twist! And not even much of one, since most of the books I read have kick butt descriptions (aka blurbs). If the blurb doesn’t catch my eye, then I tend to skip the book unless a friend recommends it. Generally speaking, my goal is to provide a spoiler-free review, so here goes nothing!

 

Princess Kelsey Bandar stared at the graveyard of dead warships. Fifty thousand wrecks from the civil war that destroyed the Terran Empire five hundred years ago. Now she must lead the fight against the forces that killed those ships. She must wage war against the implacable artificial intelligence of the Rebel Empire. With five old and damaged ships at her command, that seemed impossible. But it’s a fight she must win.

 

If you love epic, galaxy-spanning, action-oriented space opera, then you should read this series.  Plenty of adventure and intrigue to keep you glued to your seat in this page-turning novel! It’s the perfect blend of space opera and military science fiction. If this sounds like your flavor of badassery, then you’ve come to the right place!  This novel is the brilliant continuation of the Empire of Bones Saga, where the author harkens back to the heyday of pulp science fiction!

 

 

Characters: 

In this novel, there are two main characters who we follow; Commander Jared Mertz and Princess Kelsey Bandar. Keeping the focus on two characters made you feel closer to them, which is how I like things. All of the secondary characters were a lot of fun as well!  They were all fully realized, none of them felt flat or fake.

 

Admiral Jared Mertz: He’s a senior naval officer of the largely peaceful New Terran Empire, but he felt real and not one of those stereotypical military pencil pushers from the Pax New Terra. He was recently promoted to Admiral by his sister, an heir to the Imperial throne. He was a consummate professional who genuinely cared for the sailors and Marines under his command. He was a good officer, who knew his craft and was tactically creative during combat training simulations. As his duties grew, so did his abilities as a leader of men. He’s the kind of guy you’d want on your side once the New Terran Empire realizes that they’re still at war. When he’s exposed to combat for the first time, against the elusive “pale ones,” he proves that he’s got what it takes to get things done under fire. As the combat intensified during their expedition, he continues to prove his mettle. He’s the illegitimate son of the emperor, whose royal pedigree was discovered on his entrance physical for the Imperial Navy. This knowledge came with dark undertones, as Fleet tried to hold him back to prove they weren’t giving him special treatment. During this novel, we see more growth from him, as he’s forced to accept the continued burdens that come with his increasing responsibilities as a flag officer. This is especially evident as he is forced to risk everything in a desperate gamble to keep the existence of the New Terran Empire a secret. Like in any combat scenario, Jared’s orders lead to men dying; men and women whose ghosts will haunt his sleep. He was, by far, my favorite character in this novel. Overall, I enjoyed following him from the first word until the last! It felt like there was so much more to come from him!

 

Princess Kelsey Bandar: When we first meet her, she’s the spoiled daughter of the New Terran Empire, a petite bombshell of sassy entitlement. Picture a princess in your mind, and you can envision Kelsey. She’s the “spare apparent,” a term I first heard from Terry Mixon and summed her role as the second in line to the imperial throne. When she decided she wants to find a mission for her life, to become more than her status as an imperial princess, her father turns her life upside down. The emperor sends her on the voyage to explore the remains of the fallen empire, where she gets stuck on the other side of a one-sided flip point. During those adventures, she is implanted with super soldier Terran Empire Marine Raider enhancements and is left to deal with the consequences of those changes. She becomes an unlikely warrior, turning a spoiled princess into the “every man” soldier. Except she has those enhancements. In this newest edition, the Empire of Bones Saga, we see even more growth from her, making her an even more likable character. She’s coolly efficient under fire but well aware of her weaknesses in tactical doctrine. We again see her under the stress of galactic conflict, as she struggles to process everything that happened to her and her friends. Overall, I was thrilled at her growth in this novel, especially how she handled the action at Harrison’s World. I loved watching her process what happened in the last book, while things only compound for her in this latest edition. Her character came alive on the page, giving Jared and Talbot fits as they tried corralling her.

 

Senior Sergeant Russel “Russ” Talbot: He’s what you’d call your Space Marine’s Space Marine.  He’s such a motto jarhead that even his mother calls him Talbot! This character is one of the senior Marine Detachment NCOs on the Athena, and then the Courageous. Once Princess Bandar is assigned to the exploration mission, he’s tasked with leading her protection detail until their relationship is discovered. She doesn’t make it easy for him, but we see his true value when he’s imprisoned by the “pale ones” with Kelsey Bandar. We see that worth again when they assault Boxer Station and later Harrison’s World. Under the crucible of battle, his mettle is proven… solidifying him as one of the most pivotal secondary characters in this series. I really liked him, he’s a grizzled veteran of the numerous policing actions. Despite his experience, he felt real and not one of those stereotypical military killers. He was badass, a consummate professional and genuinely good NCO for his troops. 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. Overall, I enjoyed following him from the first word until the last! It felt like there was so much more to come from him!

 

Crown Princess Elise Orison: She’s the heir to the throne of Pentagar and serves as the Pentagaran ambassador to the New Terran Empire. She is our eyes into one of the other polities that arose from the ashes of the Old Terran Empire. Elise is a bubbly woman, who is enchantingly feminine while retaining the aura of command competency. Overall, she didn’t get as much air time in this book, but I wanted to see more of her. I included her because I suspect we’ll be seeing more of her as we kick off deeper into this series. Since I’ve already read the follow-on novels, I’ll just say that she’s a character to watch, but no spoilers here!

 

Coordinator Olivia West: She’s the equivalent of the president of humanity on Harrison’s World and has other clandestine roles in her government. I can’t explain more about her without giving away spoilers, but we do find out about her back story as the novel progresses. She’s a strong woman, one who doesn’t sacrifice her femininity and empathy in her quest for power. Because of her upbringing, we see that she has certain beliefs about the lower classes, a world view in stark contrast with the egalitarian New Terran Empire. We watch her grow as a character and as a woman during this novel, I can only hope that there’s more to come from her!

 

Lord William Hawthorne: He’s a foppish dandy, a privileged nobleman who uses his wealth to live a life of leisure with his husband. He’s a man with a secret, though there isn’t much that I could say about him without spoiling the big reveal so instead I’ll merely say that I liked him. He seemed like a fleshed-out guy, one who I wouldn’t mind chatting with over a beer. I hope that we see more of him as the series progresses.

 

Deputy Coordinate Abigail King: She’s the second in command of Harrison’s World, and the political rival of Olivia West. In addition to being her rival, she’s also her polar opposite. She’s hard, crass and unladylike. By the standards of her political position, she’s relatively young and used her familial prestige to rise through the ranks and assume. She’s a Higher Order member of the conservative party on Harrison’s World, set on bringing the disgraced political body back to prominence. She has very defined views on the class system that exists in the Rebel Empire and sees living under the ruling AI overlords as an acceptable trade-off for the ability to put her boot on the neck of her rivals. She’s drunk on power and lets it consume her. As villains go, she was a well-written one. You’ll definitely love to hate her, but don’t take my word for it… Read the book and find out for yourself!

 

Master Calder: He’s the proverbial man behind the curtain, the puppet master pulling the strings. We don’t know a lot about him, other than that he’s a powerful man with access to a lot of disposable cash. The character served his role in the plot but was only a peripheral focus of the adventure because he worked through proxies. Because of his role, he came off as a little flat, but that didn’t stop you from being able to insert whatever cartoonish villain came to mind.

 

Overall, I really loved the two main characters and the entire supporting class of this book. I give these characters 5 out of 5 Grenades and can’t wait to see where the author takes in the books to come!

 

 

Plot: 

The premise for this series was not that different from other space opera stories out there, humanity post-earth trying to reclaim the spacefaring society that they’d left behind. However, it’s in the execution where the author excels. His stories are pure escapism and enjoyment, under the banner of intergalactic science fiction. This book, like the rest of the novels in this series, fit squarely within the scope of an expansive space opera that I love to read. I loved that there were never any lulls that bored me, this novel was action-packed with a defined plot. There were places where I thought that he could’ve expanded certain things, but the novel as is – still works. It was just so fun that I wanted to explore every nook and cranny. The story is set as the New Terran Empire is finally revitalizing their exploration of the empire that they lost during the rebellion 500 hundred years before the story began. The New Terran Empire sets out to explore rediscover and reclaim territories it had lost. During one of those exploration missions, the main characters get stranded in an unknown region of space, and the usual shenanigans ensue. This gripping adventure was never boring, and the characters and universe behaved in a way that made sense for the worlds the author created. It was a good set-up and well-executed premise that held my interest. Since I’ve read the rest of this series, I can assure you that there are bigger things to come from the Empire of Bones universe. What I like about this universe is that it fit squarely within the large expansive worlds through the copious amounts of space opera that I read. This plot fits nicely into that framework, and Terry is raising the bar on this one. As you can tell by the gushing, I really got into this book. I couldn’t put it down; the plot was that compelling. Heck, this is my fourth or fifth re-reading of this series. I really loved the premise, and more importantly, I enjoyed how the execution. The pacing was excellent, and there was never a slow moment. There was never a point where the plot was confusing, or that I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I couldn’t ask for anything more; a unique premise, perfect execution, and incredible pacing! I again give Terry Mixon 5 out of 5 Grenades!

 

 

World Building:

This is the fourth book in the Empire of Bones Saga, and I absolutely loved it. The world was flushed out, and everything was explained in a way that made sense. The universe was consistent, with just enough of the mundane facets of life thrown in the fall grounded in this reality. Everything made sense and sucked you into the story. Some of the details seemed inconsequential, but those hooks just make me think that the larger universe will continue to grow and expand. I loved reading about the culture of the New Terran Empire, and Terry spoon fed us those details in a way that didn’t feel like an info dump. I loved how Terry showed a different vision of this future with the Kingdom of Pentagar, Harrison’s World Protectorate, and the Rebel Empire. They were a fun look into what the other possibilities were in this world. I loved the tidbits thrown into the lore about pre-fall Terra. It added to the tapestry of this overarching universe, illustrating what the possibilities were for a post-Earth culture could be. There was never anything he described that I couldn’t envision, or that felt like it wasn’t “real.” We get to see the weaponry and technology has evolved (or devolved) since the fall of the Terran Empire and feel inspired by what the characters have we gained access to. This was especially noticeable on Harrison’s World, where humanity hadn’t been sent back to the stone age. I could picture every setting described, easily envisioning myself living there. It was so believable that I’ve even entertained myself telling side stories set in this larger universe. When describing the world, Terry was light on the details… but not so much that I was lost or experienced the floating head syndrome. I could always picture the scene in my head, watching it in the movie theater of my mind. Despite being a bubblegum space opera, Terry has upped the bar of excellence, adding more sensory input to the mix; sights, sounds, smells, and feelings.  He didn’t reinvent the wheel, building on the existing tropes of space opera. Instead, he made brought it into the 21st Century! 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 Terry Mixon created. Like most 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 give the world building 5 out of 5 Grenades.

 

 

Description: 

I have to give it to this author, this novel was chock-full of visualization, and you could definitely imagine yourself in this world. He described things across the sensory spectrum; sights, sounds, smells, and even how the world felt. While I could visualize all of the characters, I would still love it if Terry could describe the characters physical traits in more details. Terry went light on the details, with just enough specifics to allow you to visualize it for yourself. Maybe not the same as Terry pictures them, but enough to form a mental image in your mind. I wanted more, but I’m told I’m an outlier on this front. The modern trend is for less description, which I detest. I loved that Terry kept his language simple, reminding me of what I liked about Tom Clancy’s style of writing. Their genres aren’t the same, but their style of language is similar, and I like that. He balanced the explanation of this new world, Harrison’s World, against the need to move the story along. There wasn’t a single place where I couldn’t picture the scenery and equipment, which added to the world that felt tangible, and I enjoyed it. The author’s description of his universe was evocative, and enough to please your average readers. Again, I always prefer more descriptions over less, but Terry did enough to get the job done.

In summary, I didn’t find any issues with the descriptions and was impressed by the literary skills of Terry. I wish he were more descriptive, but he gave you enough to form your own visual image. If you want a pulp era space opera, then this is the book for you! I give him 4 out of 5 grenades in this category. If he gave me more details, it would be a 5, but the normies would hate it!

 

 

Narration:

After becoming a fan of audiobooks, I’ve listened to over a hundred hours of stories read to me by awesome narrators like RC Bray, Luke Daniels, Mark Boyett and now Veronica Giguere. I’m confident in what I enjoy and what I dislike. 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. There were a few places where the sound popped and spiked, but that could’ve been the interface with my Bluetooth hearing aids since they happened while I was on my morning walks. I have noticed that this issue has gotten progressively better with each book. I’m not sure what that means, but there is. Overall, her audiobooks are professional quality, and unless you’re going to write a review, you probably won’t notice anything. Seriously, the narrator, Veronica Giguere, did a fantastic job narrating this novel. Obviously, I would listen to more books by her, since this is the fourth one now! And with Amazon’s recent audiobook price increase, that is saying something. Seriously, I’ve purchased all of the books by Terry Mixon that she’s produced. I’ve even bought books outside my preferred genre because I enjoy the quality of what she puts out there. She didn’t bore you, or make you zone out because of her monotone or vocal fry. Did that make me sound smart? Because I have no clue about vocal fry, but I do know that Veronica puts together a fine narration. Her 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 Veronica Giguere, it felt like a friend was sitting with me reading an amazing story that she couldn’t put down. Only she made kind of cool voices, with believable accents that didn’t yank you out of the story. Like the last book in this series, I listened to this novel with my wife, who also loved her presentation. Seriously, Veronica has her hooked on the series too… winning! Said Bossy Wife told me I should write more female characters, so I had an excuse to hire her myself! Overall, I give her 5 out of 5 grenades for her performance.

 

 

Book Cover:

Since I’ve been mentioning the covers in every single review, I decided to make that a part of the format going forward. As usual, a disclaimer that I’m colorblind so your mileage may vary. The first thing that jumped out at me was the typography used. The font and the color of the text jumped out as consistent with the rest of the series. The stylistic lettering told you it was a Terry Mixon book, fulfilling its mission. The coloring used for the font also nicely contrasted with the space image background. The spaceship on this cover was the main one from books one and two, and it was set dead center. There was also a space station orbiting above a tannish planet, which looked cool. It showcased an action scene; the station was captured in the middle of a fight with the surface. There is a pink laser coming from the planet, destroying the space platform. I know that the image is a composite of several pieces put together in Photoshop, but when I looked for where the various parts lined up, I couldn’t find them. The cover designer created a seamless image out of the many parts. I honestly couldn’t tell that this wasn’t custom art. One part of the image that I didn’t like in the last cover was the writing on the top right corner near a sunspot. In this cover, the issue was fixed, and I could read what was there. And bonus, this cover looks great across all mediums! It’s equally impressive on your Kindle, Audible App or other smaller devices, though it really shines when you look at the full-sized cover on the Amazon site! Finally, I really loved the background images. They always pick gorgeous space backdrops for their covers, they really speak to the inner nerd in me! That sense of the vastness of space shown through. Overall, I give the cover 5 out of 5 grenades for sheer awesomeness.

 

 

Overall:

I really loved this book, it was a lot of fun to read. It is worth mentioning again, I’ve read these novels multiple times and never once felt like it was a waste of time. They brought back the era of pulp science fiction that started the genre we know and love. This novel harkened back to what I loved about space opera and followed the first novel in this series. The vibe of this story was amazing, and I loved seeing where the adventurers would end up. I wanted to know what happened to the Terran Empire, and how they lost so quickly to the rebels that broke an intergalactic empire in several weeks. There were no deep messages, or political themes, just good clean fun.

 

Like the other novels in this universe, the first thing that caught my eye was the cover. Okay, covers are the first thing that grabs us about any universe, but I digress. The spaceship on the cover is growing on me, and they’re well branded as a part of the same universe. I still prefer the ship from book three, Command Decisions, but this one is growing on me too. Overall, the covers on this series are a better fit for the space opera market, but this one also managed to hit the military science fiction genre as well. More specifically, the space fleet subgenre of military science fiction. This isn’t a flaw of the series since the books fit into both genres, just an observation. Keep in mind, I’m colorblind, so your mileage may vary. Check them out, share your thoughts in the comments.

 

Now onto the book itself! The military culture shown was spot on, just what I’d expect from an Army veteran. He created a compelling interstellar naval force, but again… the author spent some time working for NASA, and it shows. The place where this novel really shined was the characterizations, nobody felt like cookie cutter clichés or parodies. The way Terry Mixon portrayed how his characters handled the developments of this book was superbly done; from the “pale ones,” to the political intrigue on the various planets we get to visit with the main characters. There was never a moment where I thought… “that’s not how I would act.” I believe that the characters responded as expected to the situation they found themselves in. This proved especially true in this novel when things were strained by the actions of rogue military officers and lives were wasted on both sides. Men and women were lost responding to the actions of Captain Breckenridge, cleaning up the mess he left in the last book.

 

One issue I had was how the characters handled the massive destruction on Harrison’s World. When the terrorist conservative party kill large numbers of their own citizens because they’re still loyal to their AI overlord, I felt like their reactions were too understated. I wish I could be more specific, but I can’t give you any spoilers! But when that event happened, it felt like the characters treated it like it wasn’t a big deal. Death should always be a big deal, though I imagine you could become numb. It bugged me, though my wife didn’t seem bothered by it. Other than that issue, the character reactions made sense, which I liked. And in all fairness, those acts weren’t major plot points of this novel. If they address this in the follow-on novels, I’d be satisfied.

 

One of my complaints from the first book was how sterile the combat felt. It was well within the boundaries for the space opera subgenre but missed the mark from a military science fiction perspective. In the second novel, those issues were partially resolved, and it was more fully realized in the third novel. The combat began to feel more real, the action more intense, and the setting was grittier. It was a nice balance between the two subgenres that this book is positioned in. In this novel, Terry leaned back on the space opera side with the combat more sit-com appropriate and less military sci-fi. The action wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t the gritty military science fiction I love. Again, this novel was exactly what you would expect from the best space opera. I won’t downgrade the book for this because I believe this is just my preference for military sci-fi bleeding through. I only mention it so that the readers of my Mil SF reviews know what they’re getting with this book series. In summary of this, the action was less CQB (close quarters battle) and more existential.

One place where this book shines for me was where we get to see the space marines in action. The ship’s onboard Marine complement take charge when necessary, much like you expect if that situation happened in today’s modern military. They’re not cardboard cutouts, living tropes or cartoonish in any way. They’re real men and women, despite being mostly secondary characters who only exist on the periphery. Even when these people being largely faceless, you felt for them when they fought against impossible odds to protect the country they swore to protect. Maybe I’m projecting… being a combat veteran too, but Terry made you care about these warriors.

 

Since I’m mentioning more negative issues before I start gushing, I also noticed an issue with the story’s continuity. It didn’t fit anywhere else, so I’ll discuss it here. When the action took off, there was one section where it felt like Sergeant Talbot was in two places at once. I listened to this novel in audio, so if this issue was addressed in follow-on editions, it wouldn’t show up in this review. Keep that in mind if you’re reading the latest eBook of this amazing novel.

 

Speaking of gritty realism, one of the things that enjoyed about Terry’s novel was that logistics were considered. The characters did seem to run out of supplies, and this was a central plot point. He doesn’t dwell on it, but several casual mentions that they’d packed for a journey of several years was enough. Further, he has the sailors worried when they’re low on consumable military tech; missiles and bullets, etc. Then they end up with a lack of personnel for the vessels captured in combat. No detail was forgotten or taken for granted. It cemented that little attention to detail, making me love this series even more.

 

Another place where this novel shined was with the pacing. The political maneuverings were intense and believable. The characters responded as you’d expect in those circumstances. Terry kept the story moving along, constantly introducing new complications just when they’d come to some sort of resolution to the old one. In this novel, Terry kept the story moving along, illustrating the political chaos with combat going on in the background. This worked for me, and it felt right after the combat in book three. I read these back-to-back, which could be coloring my reviews.

 

This novel also did a great job describing the location. Terry did a great job creating Harrison’s World, I was satisfied with the amount of description here. I could envision myself here, seeing the empire as it might have been had it not for the rogue AIs that brought down the empire itself. The novel provided the level of detail I want in a book, at least as it concerned this location. Other places left out descriptions, but here he nailed it for me! Seriously, it was a lot of fun to see what might have been in this universe.

 

When it comes to creating believable civilizations, Terry stood heads and tails above his peers. He created four believable political polities and made the differences between them facilitate the reader’s ability to easily distinguished one from the another. I liked that he messed with the language of the Pentagarans. It felt just alien enough to be different from how we would normally speak, while still being accessible to modern readers. I detected a slight medieval vibe to some of the word choices, which he managed to pull off without sounding overly cheesy. With the Rebel Empire, since I’m not sure what to call them, the mannerisms and culture were slightly different than the other polities. It was more about their attitudes than their speech patterns, but different enough to add a unique vibe to this empire. Don’t feel bad about the confusion on what to call them, even the author couldn’t decide. I could definitely envision myself walking among these people, interacting with them, and that’s all you could ask for from an author.

 

Finally, I didn’t really find any grammatical or technical issues with this book. In fairness, I listened to this one on this round. But I’ve read the book three times and listened to the audiobook twice now and never noticed any serious issues. Seriously, I realize I’ve gone full fanboy, but the authors have definitely raised the bar for space opera. He’s one of the shining stars of science fiction authors everywhere, you should check it out. This book, Ghosts of Empire, was leaps and bounds above most of what’s out there! I was hooked from the first page because he wove the action in such a compelling way that you wanted to jump into the page and join the party. Some of that was because I’m already invested in this world, but if you’ve been following me, you already know that. Basically, this novel 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 novel!  But hey, it’s easy to spend someone else’s money!  I give this novel a 5 out of 5 grenades!

 

If this book sounds like it’s right up your alley, check it out, you won’t regret it!  Well, unless you decide to join Commander Jared Mertz as he jumps through the flip points into the unknown. And you after you enlist or take a commission, get kitted up, you realize that the god of your world is a dick. He’s an evil jerk that likes to send men with guns after you. In a rush to stand a fighting chance, you decide to try some old empire implants. But you clicked the wrong button and add a computer virus inside your brain. What could possibly go wrong? Well yeah, I guess this could be bad for you.  Or maybe you’ll be okay?  I mean, you could be the first sailor to make it out of Terry’s insane world alive?  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!

brown_bess

JR

 

–> As usual, all images came from Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are used on the Fair Use Doctrine.

 

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