Fantasy Book Critic

Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Giveaways and more…

"Breakaway" by Joel Shepherd

Posted by cervantor on PM00000010000000031 1, 2008

Official Joel Shepherd Website
Joel Shepherd’s Blog
Buy “Breakaway” via Pyr Books HERE
Read Sample Chapters from “BreakawayHERE

Thanks to yet another blog, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist this time, I was persuaded to read “Crossover” by Aussie writer Joel Shepherd when it was released here in the US last year via Pyr Books. For a debut, I was reasonably impressed and looked forward to its sequel “Breakaway”, but having finished the novel, I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed.

Before expounding on my reasons for not enjoying “Breakaway” as much as I did “Crossover”, let’s have a brief recap. If you read “Crossover”, then you know about protagonist Cassandra Kresnov (Sandy) – a former GI who escaped the League in order to start a new life as a citizen on the planet Callay – the Utopian-like city Tanusha, the CSA, the Federation/League conflict, a thwarted coup, an assassination attempt, and Sandy’s bisexual friend SWAT Lt. Vanessa Rice. Since “Breakaway” picks up the story about a month after “Crossover”, the book mainly deals with the ramifications caused by the events in “Crossover”, including the divided acceptance of Sandy as a citizen/CSA agent/human, the possible corruption of the Federation particularly the Federal Intelligence Agency (FIA), the planet’s flawed security system, a ‘breakaway’ of Callay from the Federation, Ms. Kresnov’s burgeoning friendship with Vanessa, and various other themes & issues.

Personally, I felt the thematic exploration of “Breakaway” to be both the book’s strength and its weakness. An oxymoronic statement yes, but let me explain. From the positive side, “Breakaway” offers a number of viewpoints that I found refreshing in science fiction literature. One is Ms. Kresnov herself, a bio-engineered, ultra-advanced hunter/killer who must not only deal with the prejudices of being a GI as she tries to assimilate citizen life, but also her own moral stances toward killing, biotech, government, sexual preference, and so forth. Additionally, while Sandy may be physically & intellectually superior to her human counterparts – in other words an ‘invincible fighting machine’ – she is not depicted as infallible in the books. If anything, she is more flawed than your average ‘hero’, and I particularly liked how she was held accountable for every decision she made in “Breakaway”, despite being the protagonist. Secondly, I really appreciated the utopian-like setting in Tanusha. Futuristic dystopias have become passé in sci-fi, so it was really interesting to see how a peaceful society such as Tanusha, could have its shortcomings, namely because of bureaucracy and passivity. Thirdly, I loved the ethnic diversity that is portrayed in the books, not just with the characters who included Indians, Africans, Afghans, Jews, Japanese, etc., but also the varying religions and different cultural social ideologies. Lastly, if you crave political machinations, then “Breakaway” should definitely assuage your hunger as agendas from all sides – the CSA, Special Investigatory Bureau (SIB), Callayan Parliament, President Neiland’s party, the League, off-world delegates, religious factions, etc. – bombard the reader with tons of official procedure, which make up the heart of the story, while also possessing some interesting parallels with current events. Unfortunately, this brings me back to my earlier statements…the book’s weak points.

As compelling and refreshing as I found the moral issues and political agendas to be in “Breakaway” I just thought there was too much of it. For a novel that is described as ‘action-packed’, where’s the action? Aside from a tense little introduction, some engaging scenes in the middle of the book, and a somewhat exciting conclusion, the action is far and few between, unless you find verbal sparring and thoughtful contemplation stimulating. In short, I felt that “Breakaway” lacks the balance of its predecessor that made it so fun to read, and in turn was a less enjoyable book for me. However, the dominance of politics/ethics wasn’t the only issue I had with the novel. Apart from the beginning where we get the brief perspective of CSA agent Ari Ruben, “Breakaway” is mainly viewed from the eyes of Ms. Kresnov. Don’t get me wrong, I love the character and find Sandy to be quite fascinating, but I think a little mix-up in the narratives like it was done in “Crossover” would have added a nice dynamic. Plus, I would have enjoyed it if the author had spent time developing the backstory of some of the more interesting secondary characters like Vanessa, Director Ibrahim, or the newcomer Ari, who, along with all of the other supporting players are only peripherally explored when compared to Ms. Kresnov. Finally, with all of the buildup that is established throughout the book, the payoff to “Breakaway” was quite underwhelming. Fortunately, “Breakaway” is merely the second part of a trilogy, and because middle volumes are usually considered the weakest of the three, I’m hoping that there will be a significant improvement with “Killswitch” (Released November 30, 2007), especially since there are so many loose ends to tie up.

Overall, while I personally may not have liked “Breakaway” as much as its predecessor, it doesn’t mean that other readers will share my opinion. Also, even though Joel Shepherd’s writing style can be a bit too exposition-heavy at times for my tastes, I can’t help but be impressed with the confidence, level of detail and unique outlooks that the author brings to the subject material. So, not only am I interested to see how Mr. Shepherd concludes the Cassandra Kresnov trilogy, but I’m also very excited to see what he brings to the table with the fantasy series that he’s currently writing, the first volume of which is tentatively due out this summer in Australia…


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