(2017) Ian Whates, NewCon Press, hrdbk, £24.99, 237pp, ISBN 978-1-910-93537-8
This is the second volume of the 'Dark Angels' trilogy, which opened with Pelquin’s Comet. As with the first volume, it is a worthy example of the space opera genre; nicely written, good characters, an interesting storyline with inventive ideas, and again the pages turned very well. Indeed, putting down either book proved difficult.
Pelquin’s Comet introduced us to a future when mankind is spread across the galaxy and, courtesy of RzSpace, can travel innumerable light years in a matter of hours or days. The only race mankind has discovered, the Xters, is entirely unlike us and prefers very different planets so there is no conflict; indeed, little interaction at all. However, mankind is aware of a past race they refer to simply as the Elders, a race that disappeared countless thousands of years ago and left no trace of itself other than caches of their technology. The Elder technology is amazing; far, far in advance of anything Man has created. The caches are well hidden and, what is more, very well protected by guardian entities. Treasure hunting for Elder caches is more than just risky, many never even return, but the rewards for success can be great and so there are always those willing to take that risk. Pelquin’s Comet told the tale of one such venture, successful though at a cost, and came complete with treachery and double dealing.
To finance the venture, Thomas Pelquin borrowed a large amount of money from the First Solar Bank of New Sparta and, to safeguard their investment and keep an eye on things, they sent along Corbin Thadeus Drake, their best field representative. We learnt, though, that Drake was not always a bank employee; in a very secret past life he was once Captain Francis Hilary Cornische, leader of the now disbanded Dark Angels, an almost legendary group of privateers/bootleggers. Of recent years he has always been accompanied by Mudball, a small, moss-green blob of fur which he explains away as his genpet (genetically created pet). Like Drake, Mudball is not what he seems and even Drake is not sure what he is; all he knows is that Mudball saved his life, in return for being shown the universe, when he was trapped in an Elder cache. As they communicate telepathically no one is the wiser.
Set a short time later, The Ion Raider opens somewhere out in the furthermost sticks of a minor planet. An assassin kills his target as she relaxes in her isolated farmhouse, an event carefully designed to look like a tragic explosion caused by a faulty gas cooker. Shortly afterwards, as he collapses dieing at her hands, he belatedly realises that Jen is not so easily killed. Jen was once a Dark Angel but she will always be Shadow; with Elder tech permanently fused into her body she can slip into an alternative state, able to blend almost invisibly with shadows and move very fast whilst also being invulnerable. Realising her quiet ‘retirement’ is over, she heads for the planet’s main spaceport, intending to get off-world as fast as possible. Even as she waits for her departure, three other assassins come after her and she discovers they have a device that will stop her entering shadow - so it is going to be a very tough fight, one she might loose. At the most critical moment the attackers go down, felled by Leesa, the Dark Angel once known as Hel N.
Once in space and safely on their way, Leesa explains that she had just only just arrived on the planet, still passing through the spaceport, when she saw Jen’s situation. She was on a mission to locate Jen and warn her that she has discovered an organisation called Saflik, a bunch of zealots who believe that Elder tech is to be preserved and all who defile it should be punished, in particular the very worst offenders, the Dark Angels. Saflik is searching for the ex-Angels; it has been slow work over several years, but by now several have been located and met with an ‘accident’. Given her recent experiences, it takes little effort to persuade Jen to join Leesa in tracking down the remaining Angels in order to save them.
Meanwhile, at the First Solar Bank, Senior Advisor Terry Reese has sent for her top field representative - Corbin Thadeus Drake. The government of the planet Enduril II has an interesting plan that needs financing; they have found an Elder cache and want to turn it into a tourist attraction. She is suspicious, though, as their governor, Martin Payne, has insisted that the bank send ‘his old friend’ Drake to make the assessment. Drake is more than suspicious; back in his well hidden past the governor used to be known to him as Donal, a Black Angel forced by injuries into retirement. Needless to say, their suspicions are more than justly deserved.
And so the adventure begins. Drake is on a mission to an outlying planet, fraught with danger from all directions including, possibly, its government and population. He is more up against ‘it’ than he imagines. Drake will find out more about the Elders than he dreamed of and he will, at last, find out what Mudball really is and the part he has to play. In their task of saving the rest of the Dark Angels, Jen and Leesa are up against a secret organisation with no idea of where they are based or who their members are; all they have going for them is a little help from Terry Reese - the hidden location of their old ship, the Ion Raider. It is all going to be a race to see which side wins at what, and indeed what exactly the Endurans are up to.
The story is very well written and engrossing, an absolute joy. We follow the characters in their adventures in a way that works very nicely; new characters appear and for good reasons, facts and histories are slowly revealed, and it is all stitched together in a masterful way. It is again clear that the author has had the setting and the plot, as well as the characters and their histories, in mind from the outset and only revealed them as the story requires. You do not need to have read the first book as all you need to know is slipped in as the story goes along, though you will be more familiar with the characters and the background storyline if you have. Whilst Pelquin’s Comet worked well as a stand alone novel with a good ending, as well as being the first part of a longer story, The Ion Raider works well as a novel but ends on a real cliff-hanger (as so often with the second of three parts). The end point, the cliff-hanger, is at a satisfying and logical place in the storyline and leaves one longing to pick up part three and see how the adventure ends.
I have now read four of the author’s books, two novels and two collections of short stories, and have come to regard him as an excellent writer, one whose books are sure to delight. So prove me right Mr. Whates - fingers to the keyboard! I find myself hardly able to wait for the final instalment of the tale - and another jolly good read!
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