3 out of 4 stars
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Masters and Bastards is a beautiful sci-fi novel by Christopher J. Penington. It raises awareness of the value of humanity beyond race and the disaster that scorning and despising races would bring.
We are in the future, in a society dominated by Iberians, the masters, who use a subdued nation, the Arpathians, as servants, soldiers or for whatever jobs they do not care to perform themselves. While a pure race is praised and a reason for pride with the Iberians, the practice of making bastards in the "inferior" race is common, going as high as Emperor Constantine, a bastard himself. We meet there the main character, Andreas Marset, a seventeen-year-old Arpathian orphan, a top graduate of his class and a private in the Iberian army. After a mysterious woman interviewer has tested his telepathic and other mind fighting qualities, he is manipulated into impregnating the emperor’s daughter and then sent on a death mission to a far-away two-planet solar system.
Andreas’ valor in combat, as well as his tactical and strategic thinking, bring him promotion after promotion, to the dismay of rival Vincenti, current husband of the mother of Andreas’ twins. Conspiracy and treason bring aliens, the Vulgari, in the picture. Andreas convinces the previous enemies, Iberians, Arpathians but also Scythes and Bolschewicks (!!) to join their forces under his command to fight the invaders.
The book displays rich and decadent adornments coming from various domains, such as various gadgets and weapons belonging to science and fiction and parapsychology, but also astronomy, which gives the reader suns and planets with their specific behaviors. These new worlds harbor exotic wildlife and vegetation. The most intriguing, yet, is the history of various races and civilizations, analogies of what had happened on Earth since the beginning of its recorded history. Special attention receives the history of the Romanian people: the Arpathian race name misses just one letter, ”C”, from "the Carpathians", the name of their main mountain chain. Scythes have also lived on Romania’s territory, and the Iberian ruling system copies that of the Roman Empire, whose soldiers and rule had a contribution in the genesis of the people now living in that territory.
The author’s talent in describing wars and fighting both in the field and in the previous stages of planning and devising strategies is to be appreciated. This is surely due to Penington’s studies in criminal justice and his passion for the history of wars. For example, a strategy brings Andreas victory, that Wallachians (what Romanians at the south of the Carpathians called themselves) used in fights waged against the Ottoman empire
Penington's style is very entertaining, and he keeps secrets to the very end, throwing tiny hints to keep the reader’s curiosity aroused. Women, present in various situations and stances, are not to be trusted. Beautiful, clever and conniving, two of them cheat Andreas into fathering their children, another one fails to kill him only by little.
The way women characters are dealt with is an aspect that could be improved, along with the allegedly incestuous relationships – Isabella – Andreas’ first woman and wife - is supposedly his mother or aunt at best. Is the author hinting at Oedipus’ tragedy too?
Sci-fi fans of all denominations will like this book, especially if they also know and care about history and military arts. There are erotic scenes (about three) and not in much detail, so younger sci-fi readers are not in danger while reading this book.
Because of all that, I would love to see what other adventures await Andreas, should the writer decide to write a sequel. Unfortunately, the editing is less than perfect: I stopped counting errors and typos at the eleventh but would estimate them to be up to twenty throughout the book. Therefore, I can only give Masters and Bastards three out of four stars, hoping that its second edition of it will be better proofread.
Masters and Bastards
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