KNIGHTS OF THE BLACK EARTHA novel by Margaret Weis and Don Perrin
(1995, ROC Science Fiction)
Mag Force 7, book 1
Xris goes after revenge from the man supposedly responsible for his cyborg half, and comes across a plot to kill the king.
-- First reading (paperback)
It has been a long while since I read a book that kept me in such suspense that I couldn't help but read well into the next chapter. Unfortunately, a slow beginning and a weak and confusing final chapter brought this one down from four stars to three.
After the first couple of chapters, I thought I had a two star book on my hands. I really couldn't get into the story. But then we flashed back to Xris' past, and to the cause behind his cyborg nature. That was totally engrossing. For most of the rest of the book, I was sure that I was going to be giving four stars.
Xris was really a favorite of mine from the Star of the Guardians series. I never liked King Dion, whining Maigrey, or insecure Tusk. But I liked Dixter, confident Warlord Sagan, and, in his minor parts, Xris. His team made a great professional job out of what they were doing, and it was all for money. Nothing else mattered.
Here, revenge mattered. His former companion, Rowan, whom he thought betrayed him into a trap, so that he lost much of his body, has been found. He is now a she, and is working on a secret Navy outpost. Xris hires his team to get him inside, so that he can kill her.
The plan goes awry when Raoul doesn't show up. They board the station, posing as a flea control team, and Xris gets into Rowan's office. But Rowan tells him she didn't betray him, and Xris takes too long to decide he should trust her -at least to hear her side of the story. The Navy descends on them. Rowan takes his side, however, and fakes sensors into thinking they are under attack. They are able to escape, taking Rowan with them.
Returning to their base of operations, they discover that they are all over the news, and that the Navy has implemented Operation MacBeth, which prohibits communications between all military ships, because of a potential military revolution and coup. Rowan happens to be their top code-maker! And they think she has defected.
Xris wants to explain that he isn't planning to take over the monarchy, but can't turn himself in, because Raoul is missing.
Raoul must be the most fun to write. He is an Adonian, a race who is obsessed with themselves and how they look. He is always touching up his lipstick, checking his hose, and mourning his scuffed up shoes when Xris makes him walk through the mud. Of course, he is the best assassin. He usually uses poisoned cosmetics to get the job done. He uses the Little One, a small empath of unknown species, to check the moods of his targets.
Unfortunately, he was the unknown test subject of his former employer, who injected micromachines into his blood, similar to the ones in the King's blood. And he developed a weapon that could destroy those machines, while harming nothing and nobody else at all.
The Knights of the Black Earth obtain the designs for this device, and the knowledge that Raoul is the best test subject, so they kidnap him, and use him to test the working device. Fortunately, Raoul has a unique relationship with Little One, and is able to transmit the name of the starship he is on across deep space. I found this to be a little incredulous.
Xris finds the ship, attacks it, and rescues Raoul. But they come across heavy resistance. Rowan breaks into their computer, and discovers the device they have built.
Of course, the Navy can't hear each other, never mind listen to Xris' team. Even if they turn themselves in, they can't guarantee anyone will take them seriously. So they find out where the king will be when the attack is supposed to come, and steal a Navy drop ship, which can deposit them on the ground very quickly. The chapters where the steal the ship are very well written. I think the choice of doing the acrobatics from Xris' perspective, instead of the pilot's, or the ship's, was a great one.
They sweep down on the king's position, and find the device, but they can't reach it. They try a ground assault, but with the Navy after them, and nobody else knowing about the device, they have a hard time about it. Eventually, through fist fights and laser fights, they get through, and Xris destroys the device by dropping his metal leg over the top of it.
A second device is detected, but Raoul and Little One are able to destroy it just in time.
Oh, and the reason the Knights are out to kill the King? He is about to dedicate his new son to his wife's religion, which did not originate on Earth, and is not the "true religion".
The tension and excitement up until they landed kept me turning pages until I had to force myself to stop. All the way through the professional job of finding Rowan and infiltrating the Navy space station, through Raoul's ordeal, and his rescue, and up to the drop ship's theft, were expertly handled.
Once they got on the ground, the text became chunky. The style changed completely, and it became disjointed. After Xris and his team are rescued, they decide not to turn themselves in for stealing the ship and boarding the Navy station, and it ends that way. But I desperately wanted to know what happened to Raoul and Little One, who were last seen on the King's ship. Xris wouldn't just abandon them.
So now they are fugitives. And I don't know what the next book can do for them in that case. Rowan seems willing to join the Mag Force 7 team, making them eight, perhaps? And it looks like Rowan has accepted his/ her gay nature, and is happy in the woman's body. Is Xris going to fall in love with her? Harry, their pilot, already has.
Aside from the last couple of disjointed chapters, this book kept me interested from just after the beginning to just before the end. There were a few points where I had to scratch my head and wonder, but they are mostly forgettable. I just loved it. As I said for the last Star of the Guardians book, Ghost Legion, I love it when everybody does their job perfectly, but things just don't go the way they planned. Somebody else is just better. So somebody wins, and somebody else loses. And that's the way this book went. Fantastic. I just wish the "bookends" could have lived up with the middle.
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