3 out of 4 stars
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Staff Sergeant Belinda Watt, by Tom Holzel, thrusts readers into the nightmare of Staff Sergeant Belinda Watt, a military cook and Division Rifle Champion, as she faces court martial and murder charges. Deceived and bewildered, Watt survived an attack by her commanding officer, General Bloodworthy. He lured her under the guise of presenting her with a championship metal, into his hotel room where he proceeded to rape her. In self-defense, Belinda fought back and strangled General Bloodworthy. Found innocent of all charges, Belinda becomes the target of a network of high-ranking military officers, called the Guardian Council, who are angered by the murder of their comrade. To escape what is likely to be her death, Belinda enters the care of Lieutenant Colonial Andrew Jackson Jones, known as Jones or Jonesie. This Galactic Federation intelligence agent decides to spirit Belinda away from Earth with him on a secret mission to the Planet Magnus. The mission hopes to ferret out a conspiracy to take over the planet by those who want to commandeer its natural resource, Lithium oxycarbide which is an extremely valuable fuel needed for space travel.
As Belinda and Jones arrive on Planet Magnus, they embark on a journey of survival and discovery. Each holds secrets that they are reluctant to share with the other, but they join forces and work together to blend into the populace and avoid discovery by the Guardian Council. Jones, familiar with the planet’s inhabitants and languages, decides to open a bar and trading post as a cover while conducting his investigation. Against the odds, Belinda acclimates and takes on the role of Jones’ partner in business and in life and begins to learn about the native Praxtor and Firenzi people. Jones ultimately reveals all to Belinda and she joins the fight to discover who is plotting to take over Magnus. Will they find the answers they seek or will they be too late to save the planet? Will Jones keep Belinda safe or will she end up in the crosshairs?
I enjoyed this read for a variety of reasons. Holzel’s writing style utilizes a sophisticated and rich vocabulary including several new terms I have never encountered before like hermetic, mal-de-mere, and imprimatur. I love a book that makes me think or, better yet, teaches me something new. Holzel’s protagonists, Belinda and Jones, exhibited depth-of-character and personal strength in the face of staggering obstacles. Both individuals overcame challenges to help thwart the plot of the rogue Galactic Federation officers and in the process developed trust in each other and a deep and lasting relationship. Supporting characters of differing culture, language, and belief systems enriched the story and made the adventures of the protagonists more interesting. Holzel’s antagonists, the nefarious Guardian Council led first by General Bloodworthy and later by General Sharpe, were diabolical foes who posed a constant threat to Belinda and to the entire citizenry of Planet Magnus, whether Praxtor, Firenzi, or human.
Furthermore, I found most interesting the otherworld environments and unique technologies presented in the story and in the Magnus society. Planet Magnus lacked electricity and all advanced technologies utilized steam or mechanical energy. For example, one interesting device, a mechanical suit, trained fighters in hand-to- hand combat and Belinda, mastering the combat techniques, became known as the “Blond Bombshell” by locals. Holzel provided detailed descriptions of this technology and Belinda’s training. The discussions of space travel through wormholes at MFTL, much faster than light speed, between Jones and Belinda merged physics with fiction. This type of military, top secret travel was fueled by coveted Lithium oxycarbide, illegally mined and the reason behind the plot to take control of Magnus. This type of “hard” science fiction that includes detailed quantitative science-based technology, world-building, and creativity is one of my favorite aspects of the science fiction/fantasy genre.
Something that I found lacking about the story is that the author introduced Brancella, a magical material and “half-mineral and half-organism” talisman on Magnus, but he did not provide enough detail regarding the material. For her protection, Jones presented Belinda with a Brancella ring and the Praxtor people all reacted very strongly when they saw the ring on her finger. For me, knowing more about the history, folklore, and significance of Brancella to the Praxtor people would have strengthened the story.
Overall, I rate the story 3 out of 4 stars. I found this tale of intrigue enjoyable and I wanted to rate it higher, but there were too many editing errors. If you are a fan of good science fiction and an action-packed read, then Staff Sergeant Belinda Watt is for you. This book would be appropriate for young adults or adults. If space travel, alien planets, and military coups are not your thing, then you might want to skip this one.
Staff Sergeant Belinda Watt
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