James Swallow - Shastrix Books

James Swallow

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Ghost

Ghost

James Swallow

27th October 2019

Ghost is the third Marc Dane novel by James Swallow, and follows the character as he’s settled into his role as an operative working for a private secret agent operation defending the world against various nasties. This slightly more settled opening gives rise to a complex plot that takes his around the world in the style of the classic spy thriller.

The book didn’t quite meet my expectations based on its two predecessors. I felt that the plot was less gripping, less authentic, and the characters the opposed Dane felt like they were lacking slightly in realism. It’s possible that the specific nature of the threat felt a little unrealistic because I work in a tangentially related field, but it failed to absorb me, and so I found it hard to pick up and get into the narrative at the pace I usually like.

I’ve already got the fourth book, so expect I’ll be revisiting this world in a couple of months - I hope it picks up a bit again though as this novel didn’t live up to how much I enjoyed the first two.

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Exile

Exile

James Swallow

15th December 2018

Marc Dane’s second adventure begins with the blacklisted ex-spy-support-staffer working in a European backwater, as an analyst on loan to a grumpy boss who has no interest in following up on any of the interesting leads he finds, despite the world-changing implications.

I really enjoyed Nomad, the first novel in this series, and the same is true of Exile (though perhaps not quite as much). The plot is a well-threaded web of characters whose paths cross in interesting places, the pace is high throughout and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, and the action feels realistic and well-researched without turning into a boringly explosive techno-thriller like some I’ve read.

One of the things I appreciate about this series is that it feels like Swallow has put some effort into his baddies - they aren’t cardboard cut-out terrorist stereotypes - but instead have complex and relatable backstories and motivations, and are from a range of geographical, cultural and social backgrounds, which adds a level of humanity. This contrasts really well with a lot of thriller writers who only really care about the explosions and don’t put effort into painting a wider picture.

Probably the thrillers that I’m most motivated to read at the moment - I look forward to picking up the future books in the series.

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Fear Itself

Fear Itself

James Swallow

31st July 2018

The third novel set in the time of Star Trek: Discovery, the latest television series in the Trek universe. In this story James Swallow writes about Saru during his time serving on the USS Shenzhou patrolling the Tholian border.

It’s a fascinating exploration of Saru’s character that takes what we’ve learned about him in the TV programme and expands upon it - showing a step in his journey towards what the events of the show force him to become.

The plot feels like a fairly standard Star Trek novel, which of it had featured any other series’ characters might have been a little mundane. The addition of the Discovery characters though gives it the extra dimension it needs to tell an engaging story that makes the reader believe in and understand the characters in more depth.

Another enjoyable Disco novel. I hope that there are more on the way, perhaps continuing the trend of exploring a different character each time.

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Nomad

Nomad

James Swallow

26th July 2017

I've read several of James Swallow's tie-in books for Star Trek and Doctor Who before this, and have enjoyed all of them. This is the first stand-alone novel of his that I've read, and again I enjoyed it very much.

The story follows an MI6 computer geek - part of the support group for a small tactical assault group - who accidentally escapes a situation he wasn't meant to, and goes on the run in an attempt to prove his innocence and get revenge.

It's a good thriller, with all the key elements. The characterisation is what you'd expect - there but not too deep, and the plot contains sufficient twists to keep the pages turning.

There were moments where I felt the pacing was off, where my thoughts drifted and I had to jump back and read bits again, but these were mostly in the first half and stopped once I'd got more into it. The only other thing that felt a little off was the way it cut between scenes mid-chapter, which while totally acceptable and normal seemed to give quite abrupt jumps.

Overall, a good thriller, and I'll certainly be picking up the sequel soon.

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Sight Unseen

Sight Unseen

James Swallow

5th October 2015

The latest novel in the Titan series follows the crew of the starship and Admiral Riker as he continues to get used to his new role. Dispatched to a new frontier, the crew receives a distress call from a friendly vessel and heads off to help.

The book starts like many Trek novels and also follows the recent convention of telling sequels to episodes of the TV series. The first half moves along at a reasonable pace but feels like it's lacking something and didn't grip me as much as I had hoped. There were moments where I phased out and had to take a step back a page to catch back up with myself.

The second half though was excellent. The pace ups and we get a strong blend of action, intrigue and a range of characters having interesting moments. I really like how Swallow takes some of the newer characters and gross them through the novel to the point where it feels like you've known them forever - a trick that would be beneficial to some of the other recent Trek tie-in novels.

That said, some of the other characters that we've been exposed to for a while seemed to get much less attention and two of the subplots felt shoehorned awkwardly in to reshuffle things in a way that didn't have much bearing on the plot of this book.

Overall though the second half really impressed and entertained me, and it was definitely worth reading the first half to get there. An excellent adventure and well used characters. I hope for many more books by Swallow in the years to come.

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The Poisoned Chalice

The Poisoned Chalice

James Swallow

12th December 2013

Book four in the 'The Fall' mini-series follows for the most part the USS Titan's crew as they react to the events of recent novels and find their routine altered dramatically by orders from Starfleet. A number of Deep Space Nine characters also show up, and I really enjoyed those appearances from my favourite Trek series.

The story doesn't really fit with the typical Titan formula - it's really more similar to a spy thriller, something that's becoming a frequent genre in the 24th Century Star Trek novels, but no complaints from me as I really enjoy them. The plot is really gripping throughout and Swallow achieved a great mix of action with authentic character moments, taking the familiar faces out of their comfort zones allowing them to grow.

There are some big plot points here too that further the ongoing narrative. It's definitely feeling like things are moving toward the conclusion that we're expecting in book five, but there are plenty of threads still dangling and I suspect a number of red herrings thrown in for good measure. A lot of the plot has some rather obvious parallels to real-world events, something that Trek has always done well, and it's interesting to see Swallow's take on how the characters would deal with these.

A great thriller that works really well in the Trek line. Swallow's certainly shown he can do interesting things with any Trek character and it seems like he was the perfect choice to tell this chapter. I look forward to more from him, as well of course to this mini-series' grand finale next month.

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The Stuff of Dreams

The Stuff of Dreams

James Swallow

31st March 2013

The Stuff of Dreams, while just five chapters long, provides another solid tale in the ongoing drama of the post-Next Generation era of Star Trek. Picard and the Enterprise are sent to rendezvous with the USS Newton which is investigating the Nexus - a spacial anomaly that featured heavily in the mid-nineties movie Generations.

The novella serves as something of a sequel to the film, focussing on Picard, his relationship with the Nexus and how the character has evolved since he encountered it thirteen years' previously. It's a lovely character piece that has. Bit of action and works really well as a short read.

While brief overall, the story didn't feel rushed and each chapter seemed quite chunky. I've very much enjoyed spending a few hours in the TNG universe in this gap between the main novel releases and hope the publishers continue with this format.

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Other reviewed books

Synthesis
Day of the Vipers

Unreviewed books

Cast No Shadow
Peacemaker
Shadow
The Sky's The Limit

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