23 Years on Fire - Joel Shepherd 3.5 stars. From the BiblioSanctum: http://bibliosanctum.blogspot.com/2013/09/book-review-23-years-on-fire-by-joel.html

23 Years On Fire was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Not really knowing what to expect when the book arrived from the publisher for review, I didn't exactly plan on reading this right away, seeing as it is described as the fourth Cassandra Kresnov novel and I generally prefer not to start reading in the middle of a series if I can help it.

However, my curiosity became too hard to ignore. Plus, the sleek, elegant cover image was part of the attraction, appearing to show an armored female black ops-type soldier in the midst of performing a military free fall jump. I flipped it open to read the first line, with the intention of just checking out the first few pages...only to get pulled in by the explosive opening scene of a covert assault on an enemy base. I ended up finishing the whole book in a matter of days.

As it turned out, not having read the first three books that came before did not hinder me too much, and I was able to follow this one just fine. It can definitely be read by itself, and the main character Cassandra "Sandy" Kresnov's backstory is easy enough to unravel just based on what unfolds in this book alone. An artificial person or an android called a "GI", Sandy was created by the League but defected to the Federation to join their security forces on the world of Callay.

That decision had a lot to do with the one thing Sandy would not stand for, which is the mistreatment of her fellow GIs. Just because they are synthetic doesn't mean that they do not possess humanity, and when it is brought to light that New Torah is involved in ruthless experimentation with artificial soldiers, Sandy leads a mission there to investigate. What she finds on New Torah, however, is a lot more than she bargained for.

Before this, I never would have thought military sci-fi would be my kind of thing (actually, I hadn't even read enough of it to determine whether it's my "thing" or not) but this turned out to be highly entertaining. It rather reads like a summer Hollywood sci-fi flick, and as such I thought the sex was a little overplayed and the book is heavily indulgent on the action, gun fighting and explosions, but it is a high-tech in-your-face roller coaster ride as it should be.

Sandy herself is somewhat of an enigma, even though I think she's a great character. She's certainly a different and unique kind of protagonist, being a synthetic human. Because she is a more advanced designation, this also gives her higher intellect, thus leading to her ability to have a wider range of emotions, to question her circumstances and form her own moral code.

As a result, she has a developed personality but also a childlike attitude towards certain topics, sometimes caring too much about something and at other times caring too little, and often her approach is very direct. I think Joel Shepherd did an incredible job giving Sandy an identity that stands out and at the same time making it clear that she is hardwired to be a certain way. I still don't know what to make of her yet, but then again I didn't have the benefit of getting to know her from the beginning of the series.

Ultimately, I went into this book knowing very little about it, but came out glad for the experience. Furthermore, I enjoyed this even though it has a bit of a cyberpunk feel to it, which was surprising but also a credit to the author, given how that has been a subgenre I've had little luck with in the past. A lot of the ideas I encountered were very interesting, and the book proved tough to put down.

Note: I received a review copy of this book compliments of the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinions. My thanks to Pyr Books!