Saturday, 21 December 2013

Review: The Scent of Metal

The Scent of Metal
The Scent of Metal by Sabrina Chase

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book I've read by Sabrina Chase, and from this admittedly small sample it seems that she likes to do fresh things with genre. I'm all in favour of that.

Her book [b:The Last Mage Guardian|13123884|The Last Mage Guardian|Sabrina Chase||18299611] wasn't your typical fantasy, or even your typical steampunk fantasy, either in its trappings or in its storyline. It had a strong (in the sense of competent and talented, not violent) female protagonist, and a romance subplot which was an extra layer, not an intrusion on the main plot. Substitute "space opera" for "fantasy" and "hard-ish" for "steampunk" in what I've just said, and you have a good description of The Scent of Metal.

I call it a hard-ish space opera because it has some of the themes more typical of hard SF (like first contact and AI), but it doesn't make you drink from the science hose. The setting is a background for the characters' struggles, rather than the characters being there to explain the setting to each other and wonder at its cleverness. In fact, the key speculative element - the protagonist's ability to communicate with the alien machines - is never explained at all. The ending sets us up for sequels, so this may well be remedied. Myself, I didn't mind that it wasn't all wrapped up with a bow around it at the end.

The book opens with a clear problem: Researchers on an alien spaceship (disguised as Pluto) somehow activate the ship and it takes them out of the solar system. They have limited supplies, so they have to find a way to make it take them home again quickly. This is a strong story problem, and it sustains a mystery-style plot in which the protagonist and her competent sidekicks face credible obstacles and progressively overcome them, largely through intelligence. I am very happy with this kind of plot, though the never-explained power of the protagonist did seem a touch convenient once or twice.

The characters have flaws and baggage from the past, and it's relevant to how they behave. I liked them and wanted them to win. Can't ask much more than that.

The language does a competent job of getting us from place to place, and I found only one significant error (which is outstanding, especially for an indie book): a missing apostrophe from the phrase "arm's reach".

I reserve five stars for books that blow me away completely with their depth and literary quality, and this didn't quite reach that level. It's a very strong four stars, though, a good piece of entertainment excellently done.

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