Book Review: Forsaken Skies – by D. Nolan Clark

The Silence #1

Science Fiction

Orbit Books; September 6, 2016

570 pages

4 / 5 ✪

Aleister Lanoe is a living legend. A pilot without equal, a warrior without peers, the survivor of countless battles, etcetera. Through body enhancement and advanced neuroscience, the man has lived for centuries. Centuries which he has spent surviving suicide missions, winning winless wars, and generally being a total badass. Forsaken Skies finds him as the escort pilot for some planetary governor. Or, rather—former escort.

A series of chaotic events find him on the Hexus—a stellar Centrocor (a mega-corp that becomes important later on) shipping hub—confronted by its Chief Technician, Tannis Valk. Formerly known as the Blue Devil, the man is possibly the most famous pilot in history (excluding Lanoe himself), and once Lanoe’s greatest enemy. And yet things have changed.

Auster Maggs is interested in neither, up unto the point where both men have their weapons trained upon him. He’s the son of a respected admiral, a pretty face, a smooth operator, not to mention a petty cheat and con-man. When Lanoe and Valk crash his meeting with a pair of petitioners from the planet Niraya, it appears to be just another unfortunate event in a lifetime of them for Maggs, one that will finally lead to his head set on a platter—until something unexpected happens.

The petitioners—Elder McRay and her pupil, Roan—hail from a planet on the edge of known space. A world that is being overrun by something unknown. Something alien.

For all of its exploration and expansion across the galaxy, humanity has never once encountered aliens. And so the common explanations states: “well, if it hasn’t happened by now…”. But these beings, whoever they are have invaded Niraya, so the people have been sent to seek help. And they have found Lanoe.

And for reasons of his own, Lanoe is ready and more than willing to provide it.

He assembles a team of his best and brightest, calling in all the favors he has accrued over his long years, every man and woman he trusts, everyone from the Navy’s legendary 94th. Well, this amounts to two: Lieutenant Bettina Zhang—Lanoe’s former lover—and Caroline Ehta, a marine. The rest, dead or unwilling to come. Thus, Lanoe is forced to recruit a few more heads to fill out his team, a cast which includes Valk, Maggs, and Thom—son of the governor for which Lanoe used to work. Until the son killed his father.

They embark on a trip to the edge of known space, to a battle where they entertain mathematically insignificant odds to win, to meet a foe the likes of which humanity may have never seen before. Each man and woman carries a terrible secret, which naturally come out over the course of the text. But what they discover at Niraya may be more surprising than any of their secrets combined.

While the cast of characters is fairly solid, and their dialogue is okay, character development is sub-par. Not that the characters themselves are super deep and relatable. Lanoe was clearly meant to be the main focus of the book—a living legend who’s seen it all, up against something no one’s ever seen before. And yet he can’t pull it off. He’s… not dull exactly, but. Too big? Too much to be believed. Lanoe always seems a little to much legend, but a little too little human. His depth of character is soup can deep, however. The cast of characters around him is decent enough, yet none can ever interact with him in any unexpected way. Lanoe is too much a legend to ever act human—at least in Forsaken Skies itself—and his dialogue with any of the rest of them always feels… forced? Stilted. Annoying. Dull. This is something he works on in the subsequent Silence entries, though with limited success.

While the interactions between Zhang and Ehta and Maggs and Valk are so much better than any where Lanoe is involved, it’s the arc between Thom and Roan that carried the story for me. Well, them and the dogfights. The interaction between the two of them was more than enough to keep me reading at first, combined with the adventure and thrill of the unknown. Once the space skirmishes start in the second half of the book, I had no problem getting into it.

The action and adventure is the real reason to pick up Forsaken Skies. The premise is a rather lame—the Seven Samurai vibe being well and truly played out nowadays where every over book seems to run out its own ragtag band of misfits—but the execution effective, and it’s the dogfights and skirmishes that really steal the show. The writing of these is more than entertaining enough to make up for any lack of character development, a cliché plot or a few less than steamy romances.

All said, Forsaken Skies was actually a pretty good read. The story and development, while a bit of a slow build, was entirely worth it when we get into the thick of things, somewhere around the halfway point. Before this point, the setting and characters were interesting enough to keep me going. After—there were enough twists and thrills that it never got boring.

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