2 out of 4 stars
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Set in the distant future, Andrew Utsogn’s Steele Chronicles: Colony Crisis Series: Gathering Forces attempts to weave together three different plot lines across great distances in space. Humans left Earth to colonize other planets centuries before the novel begins, bringing with them many of the same political issues we see today. Diving into Utosgn’s world, readers first meet Carl Wolf, a “xeno-wrangler.” Wolf travels to outer worlds and helps clients safely navigate the dangers in unexplored environments. When things go wrong on one of his jobs, he finds himself suddenly sent to Oceanus Station, one of his least favorite places in the universe. As a skilled doctor, Tatyana plans to leave home and join a humanitarian mission on Oceanus Station. Two days before her planned departure, her estranged father asks her to come visit one last time. After a difficult visit, Tatyana suddenly finds herself the prime suspect in her father’s murder as she seeks to escape the ruling mafia organization. On an unknown planet, a race of lizard-people struggle to survive against an invading horde.
Clearly, Utsogn devoted significant time and effort to developing his characters and his universe. His characters have complex back-stories, and a prologue shows how well he designed the political lines in the novel. Characters and events play their parts well in creating an engaging story. Lamentably, Utsogn knows his characters so well that he forgets to share some pertinent details with the reader. Several times, those details truly felt lacking due to personal familiarity instead of an attempt to increase suspense. Gathering Forces could benefit from allowing the reader just a little more insight into the characters and plot points.
I applaud Utsogn’s ambitious goals in choosing to incorporate three plotlines. When such disparate plotlines weave together seamlessly, it creates an amazing experience. Unfortunately, Utosgn misses the mark. While reading, I kept waiting for all of the plotlines to converge into that brilliant moment where the whole picture becomes clear. That moment never really occurred in Gathering Forces. Two of the plotlines intersect briefly and then diverge again. A third plotline feels like it gets left hanging out in space, waiting for some sort of resolution that never happens. I understand this book will be part of a series, but each book in a series should provide some sense of resolution. Gathering Forces simply ends without any true resolution for any of the plots.
On top of the character and plot issues I noted, there are some additional technical flaws in the book. Gathering Forces could benefit from a solid edit of the grammar. Most of the flaws I found involve a missing word or misplaced punctuation. While these do not have a major impact on the readability of the novel, they do accumulate enough to cause me to deduct a star from my final rating.
Utsogn’s novel earns 2 out of 4 stars. His book has an interesting premise, but the way it stops short of connecting all three storylines detracts from the overall story. With some additional professional editing, this book could soar into the 3- or 4-star range. Readers that love detailed universes and epic science fiction stories may find a new favorite author in Utsogn. If you crave a sense of fulfillment when finished with a book, however, I suggest skipping this one.
Steele Chronicles: Colony Crisis Series: Gathering Forces
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