Mars needs mercenaries with a heart of gold

Cover artwork for Invisible Sun Cover art for Black Hole SunTitle: Black Hole Sun, Invisible Sun, Shadow on the Sun

(Surprise, it’s the trilogy!)

Author: David Macinns Gill

Publisher & Release Date: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2010-2013

The Hook:  For me, the hook was Book Riot post on Tin Star readalikes, saying series was like Firefly. Two things I love? Sign me up!

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Mars stinks.

“The air reeks of burning fuel; the rivers and lakes seethe with sulfur. In the shadows, evil men plot terror and beasts hunt the innocent. Out on the barren crags of the terraformed planet, there is nowhere to hide. No one to heed a call for help.

“No one except Durango.”

Overall Impressions: Telling me something is like Firefly is like waving chocolate in my face, and when I checked the catalog and saw the first book was on the shelf at the library branch where I was working… Let’s just say I devoured the first book that night and immediately wanted the next book. And at 9:30 p.m. in a town that pretty much shuts down at 8 on weeknights, that meant ebooks – yay library ebooks!

I agree wholeheartedly that the series has a Firefly flavor – the feel of the society, former military protagonists who were on the losing side of a great war, the importance of made family, snappy banter and snarky commentary, living on the fringes. Also crazed cannibals. (Who have a diabolical queen.) But it’s not a slavish imitation. And it’s flat-out awesome. The first book opens with Durango, a 16-year-old disgraced soldier turned mercenary, high above Mars, preparing for a space jump to rescue two kidnapped children, and the action really never lets up. He and his partner Vienne assemble a crew to save a settlement of miners from cannibals, catch on to a bigger conspiracy, and spend the next two books getting in ever deeper. I think every time he’d try to catch a little sleep, someone would interrupt because they were under attack or they’d gotten some new bad news.

I just want to infodump his background:

Durango, once known as Jacob Stringfellow, the son of one of Mars’ wealthiest and most powerful men, carefully educated and trained to be a “prince of Mars.” But his dad’s push to take over the planet fails, and Durango (not in on that plan) has to survive in the aftermath. And a soft heart, as much as he tries to hide and/or ignore it. Good thing he’s quick-witted and has the advantage of Mimi, an AI flash-cloned in his brain, and the amazing Vienne.

Vienne, Durango’s second in command / partner, is thoroughly fantastic. Her strength of character, her all-around massive competence, her no-holds-barred driving, her disinclination to suffer fools… she’s just impressive. Loyal, but not blindly so.

And yes, Durango and Vienne do have some sizzling chemistry, which has no time to go anywhere in the first book. But Durango’s also got a giant streak of self-sacrifice and self-denial, and Vienne has her own angstly backstory. She just also has family who loves her.

Mimi, cloned from his former commander (also awesome, but dead, boo), helps run the augmented parts of his body and senses, and is extremely snarky. She’s his secret ace-in-the-hole, and utterly vital in the third book. I love her.

The story expands in scope in books two and three. Vienne bears the brunt of horrible things happening to her in the second, Durango in the third. Wonderful new characters do not all make it.

The Highs: Honestly, the whole trilogy was a rush. One I raced through in about two days. I loved pretty much every moment of it.

Buzzkills: The one thing I really would have liked from this book was opportunities for Vienne – Mimi interactions. Mimi was Vienne’s original crew chief as well, and Gill does an excellent job of showing how much she meant to both Durango and Vienne, and I wish there was a way for Vienne to have that connection with Mimi again. But since Mimi’s living inside Durango’s head….

I spent a fair amount of time trying to decide if this book passes the Bechdel Test, which the first one does in a minor way, but mostly off-stage. However, I attribute that to the narrative style rather than a lack of wonderful female characters. Durango is the primary narrator of the first book with occasional sections from the diabolical queen of the cannibals – who is gleefully, strategically advancing her plans. In the second book, it’s Durango and a new deranged villain. So we don’t really see a conversation without him present. In the third book, we finally get Vienne POV, and it definitely passes the Bechdel test.

I’m not that crazy about the cover art. I’ve included the original hardback cover art for the first book and the second book in the current style.

The Source: Public libraries.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor an awesome AI was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

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