I have been a big fan of Joel Shepherd's Cassandra Kresnov sequence ever since it was first released a few years back. Indeed, Crossover (Canada, USA, Europe), Breakaway (Canada, USA, Europe), and Killswitch (Canada, USA, Europe) were all intelligent and action-packed reads! And to this day, in my opinion these titles remain what could well be the best-kept secret in the science fiction genre.
I had absolutely no idea that the author was planning on writing a number of sequels and Pyr sure didn't make any noise in that regard. So you can imagine my surprise/delight when the unexpected ARC showed up in my mailbox! Even better, Shepherd elevated his game to a new level and took Sandy and the rest of the cast to new heights in 23 Years on Fire. This book is no mere sequel to please fans of the original trilogy. It opens up the door for countless possibilities and adds a lot more depth to an already multilayered overall story arc. I'm quite happy to report that this novel is everything the original series was and then some!
Here's the blurb:
Cassandra Kresnov-a highly advanced hunter-killer android-returns to face down a rogue government's plot to eliminate free will. Commander Cassandra Kresnov has her hands full. She must lead an assault against the Federation world of Pyeongwha, where a terrible sociological phenomenon has unleashed hell against the civilian population. Then she faces the threat from a portion of League space known as New Torah, in which a ruthless regime of surviving corporations are building new synthetic soldiers but taking the technology in alarming directions. On the Torahn world of Pantala, Sandy encounters betrayal, crisis, and conspiracy on a scale previously unimaginable. Most challenging of all, she also meets three young street kids who stir emotions in her she didn't think she was capable of. Can the Federation's most lethal killer afford unexpected sentiment? What will be the cost if she is forced to choose between them and her mission, not only to her cause, but to her soul?
The worldbuilding plays a much bigger role in 23 Years on Fire than in its predecessors. Although Shepherd is sometimes forced to rely on occasional info-dumps, it's obvious that this fourth installment resounds with even more depth as it builds up on existing plotlines from the first trilogy. Both the totalitarian League and the liberal Federation are further fleshed out, which made for some interesting reading. Political intrigue has always been at the heart of these books, and it's no different in this one. And with such intrigue serving as the backdrop for this tale, Joel Shepherd serves up yet another intricate and well-crafted plot that reads like a blend of political thriller and fast-paced science fiction adventure. Revelations about the origins of the GI technology have important repercussions on the plot and make you want to beg for more. It appears that 23 Years on Fire will serve as a bridge between the first trilogy and what comes after. And based on the secrets revealed in this one, we have a lot to look forward to.
Cassandra Kresnov takes center stage once again, but fans will be pleased to know that Ari and Vanessa are also POV characters. Several protagonists from the first three volumes make an appearance and it was nice to see a number of familiar faces. Cassandra's moral awakening has been a fascinating facet to follow thus far, and once more I enjoyed how the author raises a number of philosophical issues through her character. The emancipation of sentient androids continues to be a theme the author seems fond of exploring and it appears that such "human rights" issues will play a key role as this new book sequence unfolds.
The rhythm was never an issue for me from start to finish. Still, 23 Years on Fire does suffers from uneven pacing from time to time. I figure it has to do with the great disparity between the thrilling action-packed battle scenes and the "slower" sequences focusing more on worldbuilding or political intrigue or character development. I mean, few authors can write balls-to-the-wall fight scenes the way Shepherd can. So those readers bent on action might feel that some portions of the novel are plagued by inconsistent pacing. Truth to tell, these "slower" scenes add so many layers to the storylines that I feel 23 Years on Fire would have been a much weaker work without them.
All in all, as was the case with its predecessors, this newest Cassandra Kresnov title is another gripping read! Intelligent, widely entertaining, with rousing battle sequences; 23 Years on Fire is definitely one of the science fiction books to read this year!