Good morning, my literary foodies! Today, I have another fresh review served up piping hot from the pantry, this time a dystopian YA space opera, Scion of Conquered Earth by Michael J. Allen. Such a mix of ingredients should lead to a tasty genre fusions as long as everything is baked properly, but it could just as easily turn sour. Does Mr. Allen succeed in the kitchen?
Before we find out, let’s renew our pledge to the Starving Review principles:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible
Well, to figure this mystery out, let’s start with the genre fusion elements themselves. Scion combines a post-alien invasion dystopian Earth that eventually launches (no SPOILERS) into a space opera adventure in the second half of the narrative. The chef whips up each of these two elements with deft skill but I feel there’s a little bit of flavor whiplash when the story transitions between the two. The dystopian front end is unrelentingly hard, nasty, and gritty … which works fantastically for that section … but it makes the shift to high-flying space combat and intergalactic trading feel wrenching. It’s not a deal-breaker but I almost feel as if it would have felt better to have each story be their own books in a series to soften the disconnect.
But let’s focus on positives! The main ingredient of any good literary meal are the characters and the chef does a great job with his small, focused cast. He takes the time to really get into the head of the main protagonists and does a solid job making the alien invaders seem sufficiently alien and several of the other antagonists seem to have believable motivations. Especially in this kind of sci-fi environment, having touchstone characters with understandable motivations helps the reader swallow the more fantastic elements.
The plot and pacing are solid. The story moves continually forward and especially performs a fantastic job weaving exposition naturally into the narrative, something that isn’t always easy to do in genre cooking. The action is sprightly and fast-paced with space battles feeling properly three-dimensional. That last bit especially is appreciated; far too many science-fiction tales involving space combat forget that critical fact. All in all, well done here!
If I have any foible to point out, it’s that the conclusion feels a little unsatisfying. I can’t quite say that there isn’t a fulfilled story arc but at the same time, there are quite a few convenient coincidences for the protagonists that are hinted to be linked somehow and an amazing slew of mysteries behind our amnesiac hero and his history, none of which feel like they’ve had any light shed on them. Scion feels like an introductory chapter, which is likely intentional, but the reader in me wants some small reveal or some bone to be thrown my way at the end and that really isn’t done.
Still, despite the minor flaws, Scion of Conquered Earth is a tasty, multifaceted start of a dystopian space opera that suffers only a little from fusion shock! If you enjoy space opera, alien invasion tales, and series that look to have a long life to them, you should definitely pick this one up! If you’re put off by dark subject matter (slavery, cannibalism, and worldwide disaster are not shied away from at all!) or might be put off by the shock of the genre switch, you might want to give this one a pass.
FINAL VERDICT: **** (A tasty, multifaceted start of a dystopian space opera that is a little off on the genre mix!)