James Swallow - Shastrix Books

James Swallow

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Exile

Exile

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

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

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

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

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

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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Synthesis

Synthesis

25th November 2009

Synthesis is an interesting Star Trek novel in several ways. It's main topic is very Trek, focussing on the definition of life itself, and complicated ethical questions surrounding the answer. However the story gets too caught up in the mystery and the action and seems to lose focus on the part of the storyline that should have been explored.

The central ideas are nothing new: a race of sentient machines; a war whose cause nobody remembers; political disagreement and the emergence of sentience in a starship computer. When I first realised the last of these points my thought was along the lines of 'oh no not again,' despite my love of Swallow's previous trek novel in the Terok Nor trilogy. This idea has been done to death, most recently in the New Frontier series, which explores many of the same gags and conundrums. If this book had explored some more of the ethics, made this part of the plot deeper, then it would have been an interesting read in the true spirit of science fiction. Instead though it is glossed over in favour of the war storyline, and tiny glimpses into the personal lives of the other characters.

This seems to be much more of an ensemble piece than recent Titan novels, which focussed on developing particular characters and I felt that detracted from the experience and ended up with too much focus on the aliens.

Overall, yes I was a little disappointed. While it does work as a story it doesn't seem to move the characters on at all, just dropping them back into the toy box at the end of the day. I had expected something more based on Swallow's previous work, but would still not dismiss this as un-entertaining.

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Other reviewed books

Day of the Vipers

Unreviewed books

Cast No Shadow
Peacemaker
The Sky's The Limit

Top books

  1. The Poisoned Chalice
  2. Sight Unseen
  3. Fear Itself
  4. Nomad
  5. Exile
  6. Synthesis
  7. The Stuff of Dreams