Review: “Killbox,” Ann Aguirre

Pros: The world keeps evolving and changing
Cons: A couple of small details
Rating: 5 out of 5

The world is going to hell in a handbasket. Sirantha Jax and her friends destroyed the Farwan Corporation, which was hugely corrupt, but it was also the only thing keeping the spacelanes safe. Now the criminal Syndicate, Farwan loyalists, raiders, and the horrific aliens the Morgut are carving up the universe. In Ann Aguirre’s fourth installment, Killbox (Sirantha Jax), Jax quits her job as ambassador and the crew retires to Emry Station, where they once defeated a nest of Morgut. The politician who appointed Jax as ambassador now has a proposal for March: the Conglomerate needs an Armada to protect its people. March gets appointed as Commander, is given a budget, and plans to hire a bunch of raiders to perform, essentially, state-sponsored raiding. The good guys figure out that the Morgut are doing something truly frightening: they’re performing jumps without needing to start and end at a beacon, allowing them to emerge from and enter into grimspace from wherever they like! Our heroes need to find a way to do the same, which is going to be terribly dangerous for Jax.

Constance has taken over Emry Station’s AI, so we don’t see a lot of her in this, but she’s still present around the edges and still evolving. I like that for her taking over a station is actually an upgrade from having a humanoid body–Aguirre avoids the trope where all an AI wants is to be human. Jax finally starts training Argus as a jump navigator, and also gets another upgrade or two to her own abilities–she’s starting to fill up with experimental tech, and it’s making her feel a little less than human. One particular experiment places her in great danger.

March refuses to have a relationship with Jax while they’re in the same military command structure. Sure, there’s good reason for this, but they’ve been forcing themselves apart for a while now. I felt like they could have achieved the same thing while still allowing themselves to be together in their strictly off-hours while on station and that way they’d go a little less insane. Saying they’ll wait until after the war is impractical, since there’s no telling how long it’ll go on.

There are interim bits where we get to see communications between Tarn and a mysterious man named Edun Leviter who has incredible resources and manages to obtain all sorts of information. Apparently he has a very brutal reputation, but Tarn almost seems to idolize him. I’m not really sure what the deal is with this, except that it does serve to fill in some of the blanks regarding how the war effort is going behind-the-scenes.

Hon returns in this–the raider who almost turned Jax over to the Corp before it went down. One of the things that was a problem at the time is that Hon turned out to have a bunch of comatose pregnant women on his base who were being used for a eugenics program. Here we seem to dismiss that by hand-waving that it was really his pet mad scientist who did all of that. I wasn’t convinced, and I felt like that should have been addressed.

There’s also a plot point where it turns out the Morgut tried to take a human scientist alive for her research. However, so far we’re made to believe that the Morgut don’t even acknowledge humans as anything other than prey. They don’t seem to think of humans as sentient, from what I can tell, and no one at all seems to know how to speak to them. So how on earth would they find out that they needed this human, much less where she is, and how would they plan to interact with her??

A few other plot threads pop up that introduce interesting complications. We finally find out what Fitzwilliam’s fatal faux pas was that started a war so long ago, and it’s hilarious. This episode does end in a cliffhanger, which is not my favorite thing, but it’s still a wonderful book and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

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