3 out of 4 stars
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I rarely pick up fantasy or sci-fi novels over 200 pages long. Fantasy and sci-fi are my favorite genres, but so many people write them so badly that I'm often stuck reading something I hate for days just to get closure. That makes good books in these genres even more special, including Masters and Bastards by Christopher J. Penington.
Masters and Bastards blends both fantasy and sci-fi by taking place in another galaxy after the Earth was destroyed. There, two planets are at war with one another while an alien invasion is on its way. Andreas Marset, the hero of the novel, is a military man in the Iberian army. Unfortunately, not only is he a bastard, he's an Arpathian: a race that's considered beneath the Iberians who rule the planet of Poltervalt. All of these people are human, but their racial differences cause a massive divide: Arpathians aren't allowed access to the same level of technology, aren't allowed to vote, can't access higher ranks of the military no matter how heroic they are, and can be beaten to death by angry groups of Iberians merely for talking to an Iberian woman.
Despite Andreas' race, there's something majorly different about him: he's a psionipath. He also has no idea how strong his powers are, nor does he know why he's a pawn in a growing number of plans and conspiracies. As the number of mysteries, conflicts, and enemies increases around him, Andreas must learn who he can trust and how to defeat seemingly indomitable foes while dealing with his place in the world.
Masters and Bastards is exceptional from the first page. The tension picks up immediately followed by a freefall into a well-crafted universe. There are layers to every plot, the characters are all deep, there's solid, realistic character growth, and I felt like I was right there with Andreas all along. There are depths to the politics, the settings, the relationships, and the technology used. There are twists and turns throughout, and the twists and turns often had twists and turns of their own! Andreas deals with enemy humans, aliens, and even dinosaurs, all while feeling the weight of every decision and action he carries out.
One of my favorite parts of the book, though, was actually a tactic the author carried out. There are numerous "big moments" throughout the book, moments that are heavily discussed and planned out in advance. Typically in a book or movie, the only way to keep these scenes interesting is if the action that follows the planning is somehow entirely different from what was planned. If not, you're essentially seeing exactly what you'd heard in the planning beforehand. Christopher avoids this by recapping these big moments instead of playing them out. Don't get me wrong, the planning is intense and I never once felt robbed of any action, especially since these big moments are followed up by other moments that are just as action-packed and tense. The battles are huge, and while each one could potentially be the end of Andreas, they could also easily be the end of life as everyone knows it. Each fight is also very different, not only because of the enemies and assets involved but because of Andreas' level of experience. At first, he's a lowly grunt who has never seen action, but as the book goes on he becomes a battle-hardened master of war.
The moments outside of war and planning are often just as tense. Andreas rarely knows who to trust, and any wrong move could be his last. In a world with numerous enemies, psionipaths who can read minds and change their faces, and alliances as sturdy as amateur card houses, Andreas finds himself walking dangerous paths everywhere he goes. The fact that no one ever wants to give him a straight answer about anything doesn't help either; Andreas doesn't know who his parents are or why so many people are so interested in him.
The only negative thing about Masters and Bastards is the number of errors I came across. I found a total of 26 grammatical errors. While this isn't too shabby considering the book is over 400 pages long, it's too many to allow me to give the book a perfect rating. With that said, it's easy for me to give Masters and Bastards 3 out of 4 stars. I never wanted to put it down, and I was pleased to discover that this is a complete book. While Christopher mentioned that he wants to set additional stories around the worlds he's created in this book, this book has a solid beginning, middle, and end. There are no unresolved plots left for another book, and there was no final chapter that opens up an entirely new story for "next time." Adults and older teenagers who enjoy deep sci-fi stories without being confusing should love Masters and Bastards. While the book has profanity and some semi-explicit sex scenes, none of it is gratuitous.
Masters and Bastards
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