Although I've been shouting it from the rooftops for the last couple of years, it appears that Joel Shepherd's Cassandra Kresnov book sequence remains what could well be science fiction best-kept secret. Every single installment is an intelligent and action-packed read and this series should definitely be on everyone's reading list. If I say it enough, perhaps more and more SFF fans will finally give this series a shot. . .

If 23 Years on Fire was meant to bridge the gap between the first trilogy and what came after, Operation Shield pushed the envelope even further and set the stage for what was meant to be a terrific finale in Originator. Needless to say, Shepherd doesn't disappoint and he brings this second trilogy to a satisfying end. With poise and aplomb, this is an author in complete control of his story, tying up loose ends in surprising and sometimes shocking fashion and opening the door for a lot more to come.

Few science fiction writers can come up with such politically charged yet balls-to-the-walls works that also tackle social and moral issues. And given the quality and the depth of these novels, I feel that Joel Shepherd never got the credit he deserves from critics or his peers. These books are all awesome and Originator is a worthy addition to what is doubtless a superior SFF series.

Here's the blurb:

A quarter of a million people die in the destruction of the moon Cresta. The League civil war is accelerating out of control, but projections indicate that as their technologically induced sociological dysfunction continues, all of humanity may face a similar fate. In the aftermath of Cresta's destruction, Sandy Kresnov discovers the alien Talee operative Cai in Tanusha, there to learn just how far the technologically-induced insanity has gone. The Talee have seen this before, and they are terrified of anything threatening a recurrence.

Meanwhile, Sandy's old nemesis Renaldo Takewashi, the self-proclaimed “father” of synthetic intelligence, comes to the Federation seeking asylum. Takewashi may even have a cure—previously unknown Talee technology implanted into a human child subject—Sandy's little boy, Kiril. But it is exactly this technology that the Talee fear, and they will exterminate anyone caught using it.

Now, Sandy must fight to save her family from a terrible new threat, but doing so may plunge humanity into another destructive war between humans, or worse, against the massively-advanced Talee. And what final secret are the Talee protecting about the origins of synthetic humans like Sandy that could either liberate Sandy’s fellow synthetics from bondage or spell disaster for all humanity?

As always, Shepherd came up with another intricate and well-crafted plot that reads like an excellent blend of political thriller and fast-paced science fiction. And yet, though political intrigue plays a big role in this book, what with the conflict between the Federation and the League, but also within the Federation itself, as there are numerous power struggles between the FSA, the CSA, the Fleet, and FedInt. Originator is probably more space opera than all of his predecessors. Indeed, a lot of revelations regarding synthetic intelligence, the GIs, and especially the mysterious Talee and their origins are unveiled, answering questions readers have been asking themselves for years. Hence, the worldbuilding plays a massive role in making this one a compelling and thrilling conclusion to this series.

Cassandra's moral awakening continues to be a fascinating facet to follow, as Shepherd raises even more philosophical issues through her character. How she copes with her developing "motherhood," now that she is the legal guardian of Danya, Svetlana, and Kiril, definitely continues to make for some interesting character growth. The emancipation of sentient androids remains a central theme and those "human rights" issues play a key role throughout this new installment. The interaction between GIs is also evolving and they ponder about their identity and what they want out of life. Familiar POVs return, but it's also nice to get the perspective of newer faces like Danya and Raylee.

The last two volumes suffered from inconsistent pacing issues from time to time, but Originator is paced quite adroitly. Sure, the rhythm picks up exponentially when the author goes all out with his crazy action sequences. But for the most part, the pace remains relatively even and there is not a dull moment from start to finish. Shepherd found a way to create just the right type of balance between political intrigue, character development, worldbuilding, and action-packed battle scenes.

And even though Originator appears to bring this second trilogy to an end, the book opens the door for countless new and unexplored possibilities. I have a feeling that we'll see Sandy, Ari, Vanessa, Rhian, Ibrahim, and the rest of the gang again before long.

Meanwhile, do yourself a favor and pick up Crossover, the very first volume in the saga. You'll thank me later and berate yourself for not listening to me and having waited for so long to start reading this fun, smart, and entertaining series!

Highly recommended!

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

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