2 out of 4 stars
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First contact with alien life is one of the most potentially scary and amazing things that could happen to us as a species. Aliens could be kind and share wonderous technology, thrusting us centures or even millenia into the future technologically, or they could be conquerors merely looking for resources. In the case of Revenant by Raymond Bayly, there's a bit of both. The Empire is out there, somewhere, taking over planets and either eradicating people before they can pose a threat or enslaving them. One man - Captain Vasimer, an ex-Empire soldier who actually helped enslave numerous planets himself - and a futuristic (even compared to the Empire) AI box are trying to stop them, but Vasimer is dying and believes humanity to be the next best hope for their mission.
The AI, which later calls itself Morgan, assembles a motley crew of three human specialists: Captain Shira Yael is a pilot in the Israeli Defense Force who relied on nurses and her mother for everything after sacrificing her plane and almost herself to take an enemy plane out, and Davi is a brilliant engineer who has... some mental challenges. For instance, when he worked at MIT he blew up his lab, purposely, to kill the gremlins that were there. Davi and Shira were both approached and offered the choice to accept the mission or not, and when Shira was told she'd be able to pilot the ship and Davi was shown highly advanced technological schematics they were easily won over. Blake, however, was almost entirely forced into his predicament: he came across Vasimer's pod when it landed near his neck of the woods and was sedated and brought on board.
These three humans are tasked with the protection of Earth; see, the Nismel (the ship that Morgan is embedded in) has a tracking device on it, and if the Empire gets their hands on it not only will they become far more powerful by obtaining Morgan, they'll get the data off of the tracking device, including the coordinates to Earth. Unfortunately, finding the Nismel is also a matter of life and death for one of the most powerful families in the Empire, so a ridiculously huge bounty has been put out on it, and they can't block the tracking device forever. Even with the incredible advances from Morgan, can three humans that have never even been off the planet suddenly navigate unknown space to protect the Earth and strike back against the Empire?
Revenant is the first book in a trilogy, but it certainly stands on its own as well. While the book has a serious plot, it felt very inspired by other media, such as Blake, the leader of the human group, coming across a dead alien's body and being thrust into adventure like the Green Lantern movie. Also, while the plot was serious, there were many humorous parts as well, and the camaraderie on the ship (especially once aliens start becoming members of the crew) felt like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. In fact, I found myself reading lots of Blake's lines in Chris Pratt's voice, and one of the aliens felt a lot like Drax mixed with Rocket's love of bombs. This likely wasn't intentional, as the story is nothing like any Guardians of the Galaxy story I've ever seen, but it made it more fun for sure.
Speaking of Guardians of the Galaxy, one of my favorite things about Revenant is that the characters are all unique. The entire crew of the Nismel is interesting, and I found some really fun moments between them. There were times I wished one character or another would get more time, but otherwise Raymond did a great job with them. The story also jumps around a bit, including to Craylor's - the villain - point of view. Craylor isn't an insane, entirely-evil monster, and he isn't even a supervillain. Instead, he's born into a family where pride is all that matters, and even potentially damaging the family name is worthy of death. He's pulled into this against his own free will after the theft of his ship - the Nismel itself! - and I found that refreshing. In fact, as far as character personality is concerned, even hours after finishing the book I'm still laughing about Blake and the Drax-like alien discussing the variety of uses of the F-word, and the villains who were forced to watch Three Stooges and were arguing over which of the stooges was in charge.
The book is barely over 150 pages, and quite a bit happens in such a short book, but I found that I was almost never fully drawn into it. I found myself easily distracted while reading, and while I was easily able to pick it up and remember what was happening (something I can rarely say for any fiction novel, especially when it's sci-fi or fantasy), I just never really found myself so curious about what would happen that I had to read it. That's a shame, because with a few editing runs I feel like it would easily be a 4 star book! The action is good, the dialogue is fine and sometimes even exceptional, and the characters have a lot of potential. There are even great themes touched on - for example, the first interaction the human crew have with alien life is battle, and they all deal with that in their own way. Sadly, it's brought down by over-explaining things and a great deal of errors. It felt like someone read the book and asked how certain things would happen, so the author added explanations of how everything could potentially happen the way it did instead of building the rules of the book and the science of it in earlier. Also, as mentioned, there are countless errors in the book; for example, Raymond frequently uses “suite” instead of “suit” and “there” instead of “their”. There are also numerous punctuation errors (mostly missing commas and periods, although also some words are possessive when they shouldn’t be and others aren’t when they should be). This made me have to double back and re-read at least once or twice every other page and killed my immersion.
I want so badly to rate this book 2.5 stars. I want to so badly that I want to get Morgan to hack her way into the Online Book Club servers and turn on half-star ratings. Giving it 2 feels like punishing it too much, but it definitely isn't worthy of 3 in its current state. Since I can't count on the assistance of a massively-futuristic AI, I guess I'll have to give Revenant 2 out of 4 stars. With that said, after over 250 book reviews, this is probably my favorite 2 star book. It really is just three or four edits away from a perfect 4 star rating, and I really hope the second book in the series, Jamestown, gets the love it deserves. If so, this is a sci-fi trilogy I'll go out of my way to recommend to everyone! If you like sci-fi, don't mind rough editing and want some good humor, it's still very much worth reading. There's no sex whatsoever (thank you!), but there is a lot of cussing.
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