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J.P. Springett
Warden of the Valley

Adult; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror; (Publish)

It is the year 3025. A thousand years of progress have been made on Earth since the chaos of the Twenty-First Century ended, and the Shenandoah Valley has been returned to its ancient, verdant glory. The Valley’s inhabitants have now achieved a balance between high technology and an anachronistic lifestyle that is intended to provide fulfilling lives and protect the renewed rural nature of their home. Warden Matthew Stone travels across the Kingdom of the Shenandoah Valley and keeps the peace. When an ambassador from the Inner Rings arrives with an urgent message for the King, Stone discovers that decades of pastoral tranquility have come to an end.
This ambitious, genre-blending series starter from Springett (author of The Lions from Kiev) centers, a millennia now, on something like an idealized vision of the pastoral past: Matthew Stone, often on horseback, safeguards a Shenandoah Valley that, through dedicated reforestation, now looks like it must have when “man first discovered it many thousands of years earlier.” There, Matthew, a warden, ensures the security of the kingdom ruled by his brother, the Alliance leader Michael Stone. But Springett’s unique tale unfolds not on a fallen Earth but one where humanity has expanded into the solar system, with colonies on Mars, several moons, and multiple stations orbiting the other planets—and humanity, as is its wont, is divided into factions with competing interests. While the Stones maintain their kingdom and an antiquated lifestyle subtly supported by modern technology, a rogue AI and others will soon embroil the Valley in conflict.

Springett immerses readers in Shenandoah Valley's everyday life as Matthew returns to his brother’s castle on his horse for his niece's “name day,” but also in engaging political intrigue rooted in the flaws and future of humanity itself. The narrative gains momentum when assailants wielding banned Outer Rings weaponry target Matthew’s brother-in-law, exposing a conspiracy involving Earth’s Ambassador, the AI Statera, and a mysterious group called the Destiny Project. Forced to journey to the Alliance's capital, Copernicus, on the Moon. Stone survives attacks on the embassy and its Diplomatic Dome, where ambassadors from across humanity soon convene to face the danger. There Stone unearths a grand conspiracy.

Matthew encounters a host of interesting characters, establishing the richness of this future. The thoughtful story of diplomacy and secret machinations often leans on conversations rather than action, an approach that Springett executes with suspense. This vision of humanity’s future is smart and surprising, but always plausible and even revealing of who we’ve always been—and likely always will be. The conclusion this all builds to is a touch less exciting than the hints at what’s to come in the next installment.

Takeaway: Smart space opera pitting the warden of the Shenandoah Valley vs. a system-spanning conspiracy.

Comparable Titles: S.B. Divya’s Machinehood, James S.A. Corey

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A