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Renegades
Singularity Channel viewers may recognize Hollywood actress Shiloh Rush as Ensign Tara Guard from the sci-fi TV series Bulwark, but nobody knows Shiloh is leading a double life. Haunted by the mysterious disappearance of her beloved older brother, Shiloh hopes to track him down by following in his footsteps as a secret agent for the Zygan Federation, an intergalactic empire still hidden from Earth. During this quest, Shiloh and her British co-star Spud, also a Zygan agent, fly into space--for real--to stop terrorists and invaders who could destroy the Federation and kill millions throughout the universe. Sent back in time to Earth's Ancient Middle East to save the life of a young prophet and prevent Earth's destruction, Shiloh and Spud stumble on a diabolical conspiracy and barely escape with their lives. Their assignment sabotaged, Shiloh and Spud discover the villains' real mission, face powerful enemy fighters from warrior planets and traitors from their own ranks, and race against time to save Earth.
Plot/Idea: 7 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 7 out of 10
Character/Execution: 7 out of 10
Overall: 7.25 out of 10

Assessment:

Plot: Y.S. Pascal's busily plotted science fiction/time-travel thriller zips right along from the set of a Hollywood science fiction TV show to a secret base at the Earth's center and then to the planet Zyga, ancient Phoenica, Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, and a quest to find the Golden Fleece of the Argonautica. The story is fast, wild, inventive, and somewhat episodic, as Pascal introduces many intriguing concepts, such as "Level 3," the mysterious place that the aliens called Zygans choose to go to at the end of their thousands of years of life or the neural discipline of Tlyp’ath, and a series of betrayals and moles in the Zygan empire that has recruited protagonist Shiloh Rush and the brother, now missing-in-action, who she's spent years searching for. "Renegades" kicks off a trilogy and has lots of story to set up, but the density of twists and wonders comes at the expense of character and narrative clarity. So much happens so fast that events' emotional impact and narrative significance aren't always clear. The opening chapter's abrupt leaps in time and litany of proper nouns can prove an uninviting way to start the book and will likely deter readers.

Prose/Style: Pascal keeps the story moving, and the prose is often crisply exciting in moments of action or as the author reveals each of the surprising new concepts. Some satirical moments, especially concerning Hollywood TV shows, are notably funny, and the author is shrewd enough a stylist to spring amusing traps on readers, such as the revelation that one exciting space battle is actually happening on a TV set, or, later, that what sounds like a TV space battle is actually the cast escaping the paparazzi. One of the book's strengths is the down-to-Earth dialogue, but many of the characters' wisecracks feel curiously dated, as they joke about the old Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game or the long-gone TV show "Rescue 911" or resort to "No duh."

Originality: Like the "Bulwark" TV series that made Shiloh a star, Pascal's novel borrows liberally from many popular science fiction narratives. But the author is daring and innovative in mashing together ideas from different genres, and they imbue the material with fresh excitement.

Character Development: Shiloh's quest to find her lost brother is introduced with power and clarity in early chapters, but for much of the rest of the book she's fighting on behalf of an intergalactic federation that whose specific principles seem vague -- it's not clear what values motivated her brother or her to sign up with the Zygans, especially when the Federation's Omega Archon is quick to torture its adherents, including Shiloh. Still, Shiloh and her pal Spud are engaging and exciting heroes, capable of surprising action and hard choices. Some of their bantering humor might be dated, but the camaraderie here is winning enough to power a series.

Date Submitted: July 16, 2020

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