My muscles were fine, my skills still sharp, but my mind… my mind belonged to Phantom.
It was on that planet that Tommy Cade took part in a military operation that went horribly wrong and culminated in a terrifying otherworldly encounter.
Despite later becoming a war hero and a renowned golem hunter, Tommy has long struggled with traumatic flashbacks of the event—eventually forcing him to seek out a more peaceful existence. However, any hope of a quiet life is shattered by the sudden arrival of a strange and menacing man named Ward.
Threatening the lives of Tommy’s friends and loved ones, Ward coerces Tommy into one last golem hunt. Worse still, the hunt’s location is in a region of the Milky Way defined by its lawlessness and racism—making it a perilous place for a biracial man like him. Yet if he survives, Tommy might finally learn the truth about what he encountered on Phantom all those years ago… and why it refuses to let him go.
Cade is reunited with his friends from his hunting days as they drink the bar away, slay evil forces (including “a treasonous bunch of racists”) and golems alike, and even manage to create an earthquake. The journey comes with trials and tribulations, plus a devastating body count, as Ward conjures intense, inventive action that moves quickly. Unknown to the others is Thomas’s pivotal battle with the most dangerous demon—an entity in his head that takes over his mind at the slightest hint of Phantom, the planet that changed Cade forever. The only way towards redemption is accepting and coming clean about the reality of what happened on Phantom.
Narrated in brisk, hard-edged first-person, the story immerses readers in its action and the complex psyche of its protagonist, complete with moments of horror. Ward's skillful storytelling is evident in his ability to craft distinctive backstories for each of his vast range of characters, while treating seriously issues of racism, PTSD, wealth, and power. With thoughtful world-building, Ward will inspire military SF readers to turn the pages frantically to get to the truth of what went down on Phantom. The gut-wrenching climax raises enough questions unanswered to whet appetites for a sequel.
Takeaway: Gripping SF monster-hunt with tantalizing mysteries.
Comparable Titles: Ross Buzzell’s Legacy Earth, J.N. Chaney and Scott Moon’s Galactic Shield.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
In Ward’s SF novel, a war veteran in the racially fraught far-future is coerced into a mission to exterminate monstrous creatures.
In the late 30th century, humanity has not outgrown racism; Earth’s domineering Imperial Authority fought and won a decade-long galactic civil war against the so-called “Freedom Federation,” avowed white male supremacists who sought the enslavement of all people of color and women. Of mixed-race parentage, Imperial Authority soldier Tommy Cade emerged from the conflict with a fearsome reputation. But his guilt and recurring violent flashbacks drive him to self-exile, even from his lover, Kat. He is blackmailed by Ward, a sinister Authority figure, into joining a team of “masons” in what has become a fallback occupation for many military vets: exterminating “golems,” infectious, parasitic, mineral-based life forms with an appetite for humans—something like brain-eating zombies crossed with small volcanos. On a planet in Federation-sympathetic territory, Tommy reunites with Kat and some three-dozen masons to try to kill the nastiest golem yet. But there is much that Ward is not telling—and Tommy struggles to contain a terrifying secret of his own. The author can deliver a gangbusters battle scene (“The miniaturized mag-rail inside my Triple-R engaged, a stream of razors erupting from the barrel. The rounds ripped through the demo, his body twisting unnaturally as the razors pierced his body armor, arms, and head”), and the action-packed material maintains an elemental hold on readers even when the gravitas lightens. The clashes, with the heroes outfitted in powered armor, recall melees from superhero comics and James Cameron’s Aliens. The potent idea of American-style racism persisting 10,000 years into the future to taint galactic culture tends to fade in and out of the action-oriented scenes. Still, it is clear that this backwater star system is meant to resemble the Jim Crow South or even the worst elements attributed to contemporary Red State USA culture.
Rapid-fire human-on-space-monster action, brought down to earth by racial injustice.
“The author can deliver a gangbusters battle scene… and the action-packed material maintains an elemental hold on readers…. The clashes, with the heroes outfitted in powered armor, recall melees from superhero comics and James Cameron’s Aliens.” - Kirkus Reviews