by John Graham
Amazon Digital Services LLC

"'But who decides how that power is supposed to be exerted and to what end? That’s above and beyond either of our paygrades.'"

Gabriel Thorn has been unofficially off-duty for just over a year. A special operative with the Directorate of Naval Intelligence with a codename of Voidstalker, Gabriel has been biologically enhanced beyond human limits and called upon to tackle dangerous missions throughout the galaxy. Since the last mission which ended poorly due to his being accompanied by a team instead of going solo, Gabriel’s been at home with his wife and five children, anxiously awaiting new orders, while his family wishes that he’d be home for good. Meanwhile, a derelict freight vessel warps in and nearly crashes into a space station known as the Nexus. A rescue party goes aboard and is able to save the last of the crew, one of whom is only able to say one word about the incident: “Voidstalker.”

After the rightful owners of the vessel are taken into care on the Nexus, the spaceship is thoroughly looted, and, among its cargo, a mysterious, jet-black orb covered in glyphs is discovered. The smugglers are able to secret it off of the ship and don’t have to wait long before a secretive buyer approaches with interest and ample remuneration. Meanwhile, Gabriel receives a mysterious message from the DNI, and after a long wait, he is redeployed on a mission into deep space to investigate the ship that nearly collided with the Nexus, discovering a link to the previous mission that still haunts his dreams. Gabriel must contend with the guilt of the past, the mystery of the present mission, and the dangers of future machinations to survive the next mission and see his family again.

In this book, Graham manages to hit a sweet spot that very few science-fiction authors seem capable of doing, and that is spending the perfect amount of time worldbuilding. The reader rarely feels lost or out of step from the rest of the story unless that is the author’s intention, and rather than spending chapter after chapter explaining alien races, architecture, and futuristic technology, these things are addressed as needed, in their own time, and sometimes left obfuscated to build tension or mystery until those details are needed. That application of tension is felt throughout the story, and through combining an otherworldly alien race and a military conspiracy, this book succeeds at attaining a fairly constant level of suspense and conflict that keeps things humming at a brisk but controlled pace.

There is a pretty profound human conflict happening beyond all of the genetic editing, high-tech gadgets, and spacecraft, as well. Readers will immediately notice the constantly fluctuating highs and lows between Gabriel and his wife Aster, as the contrast between Gabriel’s comfort in combat but unease as a civilian drive the arguments and create awkward moments between the two. Capturing human situations and then juxtaposing them with super soldiers and parasitic alien lifeforms bent on power is what creates powerful science fiction, a dose of the realistic among the imaginative and far-fetched. Those science fiction elements are also strong, though, and Graham’s creative twists and turns will excite readers and leave them on the edge of their seat, waiting for the next unexpected shoe to drop in Gabriel’s increasingly complicated life.

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