Monday, 17 March 2008

‘Killswitch’ – Joel Shepherd (Pyr Books)

This year it already feels like I’ve read more sci-fi than I did in the whole of last year and this is mostly down to my having had the good fortune of getting stuck into Joel Shepherd’s ‘Cassandra Kresnov’ books. The bottom line is that I think they’re brilliant and incredibly easy to get sucked into, the most fun I’ve had with sci-fi in a long time. All of this leads me nicely onto the topic of ‘Killswitch’, the final instalment in the trilogy and a book that insomnia led me to finish very early this morning. ‘Crossover’ was brilliant, ‘Breakaway’ was less so but still a cut above the rest. How did ‘Killswitch’ fare? Pretty well…
It’s been two years since the events of ‘Crossover’/’Breakaway’ and the planet of Callay moves towards taking its place as the centre of Federation politics. This does not sit well with the ruling body on Earth who have dispatched a fleet of warships that are threatening a blockade (and worse). The fledging Callayan Defence Force has an advantage in that synthetic human Cassandra Kresnov leads them but Cassandra finds herself at a distinct disadvantage when she discovers that her old masters implanted a ‘killswitch’ in her brainstem. The person holding the codes for the ‘killswitch’ is perhaps the last person that Cassandra wants to meet…
Before I go on I just want to get one thing out of the way. Unless I missed it in ‘Breakaway’, two years have passed and a plot-line looks like it has been forgotten and I don’t think it was ever resolved in the first place. Nothing major but I hate loose ends… That’s the grump out of the way, let’s get on with talking about how great ‘Killswitch’ was (because it is rather good)! Everything that I loved about the last two books was present here and what is really special is how Shepherd manages to ramp up the action and keep it plausible at the same time. The enemy is stronger and more challenging but ‘Killswitch’ never descends into comic book violence. The ‘set piece’ battles just keep getting bigger and bigger and this time we get to see Cassandra take on a battle cruiser by herself. It sounds a little over the top, reading it here, but you’ll be surprised at how easily you accept what Cassandra is able to do. She is a beautifully realised character and I have really enjoyed getting to know her as well as agonising with her over the dilemmas involved in being a synthetic human.
Placing all three books together shows how well the author has done at plotting a story that goes on for longer than one book. There’s a real sense of progression throughout the trilogy and, for the most part, everything is wrapped up neatly in the closing chapters. There’s scope for more adventures here and I’d certainly pick up more ‘Kresnov’ books if they were ever written.
Sure there are loose ends and you may have to go back and read certain passages again (if you blink then you’re bound to miss something!) but ‘Killswitch’ is an intelligent and engaging read that will appeal to anyone who likes their sci-fi thoughtful and action packed at the same time. Highly recommended by me!

Nine out of Ten

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