Review: “Retribution,” Joshua James

Pros: Excellent follow-on to the Lucky’s Marines series!
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

Lucky’s back! The “Lucky’s Marines” series may have ended with book nine [review], but Lucky himself carries on in Joshua James’s Retribution: Lucky’s Mercs | Book 1 Lucky, Jiang, and Malby joined up with a crew of mercenaries–Otto, Knives, Spider, and Merlin–when the Empire and the Emperor went full-on psycho and pretty much wrecked themselves. It’s been three months, and the crew finally has a job offer. There’s clearly something fishy going on–no one should be offering them that much money for a babysitting job–but they’re running out of money. If they want to stay operational, they need the cash. They’re supposed to watch over a shipment on a train on an alien world, protecting it from the aliens who want the cargo. Meanwhile, the Empire is ditching the planet and leaving in a hurry. The aliens turn out to be very afraid of something called Blight, which is a networked mind operating super-soldier bodies, with the ability to siphon information directly from a person’s brain (ouch–it isn’t pleasant). Knives is bound and determined to do the job and get out, but Lucky, as usual, has to save the world. If Blight and his army of one gets off-planet, it could do an awful lot of damage.

It’s interesting watching the new team jostle and jockey for position and understanding. Spider’s willing to follow Jiang’s lead, more or less, because Jiang seems to have her head on straight. Merlin goes where Spider goes, and Knives needs the rest of them in order to get his money. Lucky will always be a reluctant hero, even if he is the hyper-violent kind (violence alert!). The book notes up front that this second series is meant to be able to stand alone, so you don’t need to have read Lucky’s Marines. Since I have read that series I can’t say for sure, but I believe it actually does stand up well on its own. Even the complicated things like the Hate are fairly well summed up just by explaining they were the products of Empire skunkworks (special projects), which works surprisingly well.

The characters are fun. They’re just beginning to be sketched out as we start the new series, but there’s already some character growth and interesting relationships forming. In her own way, Jiang is pretty much the one holding the party together with her quiet strength and sheer competence; without her Lucky would be screwed. Spider is an interesting character who clearly has a fascinating background, and it looks like we’ll be poking into that quite soon. Malby is his old, crazy, foolish self, and Merlin is a depressed cyborg who’s having a sexual relationship with an AI. It’s all just plain fun! And if you have read and enjoyed Lucky’s Marines, you’ll find more of what you’re looking for in here, but minus Emperor April’s occasionally too-twisted crazy plans. I think it’s the perfect setup.

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