Edition 31: Book Review: Excalibur by Tim Marquitz
Reviewed by Damien Smith
Tim Marquitz is well known for his wide selection of epic fantasy, horror and urban fantasy including his acclaimed Demon Squad series. My last foray into his work was the absurd mixture of gratuitous violence and medieval slapstick that was War God Rising. When I discovered he’d recently branched into Space Opera, I had to investigate further.
Our setting is a galaxy where the dominant power (at least in this part of it) is The Covenant in their Allied Space, which feels a bit like the Star Trek Federation of Planets, with various humanoid and hybrid species in residence. Manning what is perhaps the only truly alien ship is Captain Marek Albion, disgraced former Covenant officer and general freebooter.
The aliens in question are the Xebedon. An insect-like species that possess the unique technology to “phase” their ships, rendering them effectively undetectable by the Covenant. If not for a fortunate alignment of circumstances which allowed the Covenant to locate and destroy the Xebedon’s home planet, they would have quickly and efficiently wiped the population of Allied Space from the galaxy. Following the destruction of their home planet, the Xebedon fled into phase space and disappeared for years.
While assisting the Covenant with clearing out some scavengers (think space pirates), Albion and his diverse crew of skilled misfits find and pursue hints that the Xebedon may be once again active in Allied Space.
Given his possession of alien technology, Albion finds himself and his crew in a unique position to investigate the mysterious disappearances of ships, crew and entire space stations. From the opening battle, to the hints of plot to the climactic and reasonably horrifying finale on a supposedly abandoned planet, the action is consistently in-your-face without being over the top.
When first looking into this book, I saw lots of parallels being drawn with Star Trek, Battle Star Galactica and Starship Troopers (although, oddly enough, no Star Wars, despite the blatant mention of a Star Destroyer at one point and the use of a laser scalpel) but to me, this felt a lot closer to Firefly, what with the snark and sexual tension between various crew members, and the feeling that they keep getting pulled in over their heads.
Unfortunately, there seemed to be a larger-than-usual number of typos and missing/odd words in the ebook version of this book. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a rare book where there are no errors whatsoever, and occasionally some excellent ones (I have enduring memories of flowers in a purple bowel in an otherwise very solemn funeral scene a while back) and I wouldn’t normally call it out, but there seemed to be a disproportional number in here. Enough to distract me from the action at various points, which is a great shame.
Having said that, story-wise this is excellent. I enjoyed the characters, and there was no laborious world-building. Rather the rules were clearly in place somewhere, and we found out about them as we needed to, which really prevented the story bogging down. It really was a page-turner, and a very quick read to the point where the story occasionally felt it was being pushed along a little quickly. Most notably for me was when we first learn of Albion’s ex-wife and how he gets very melancholy thinking about her and oh look here she is in this particular spot of this huge galaxy.
Despite my various, mostly minor criticisms, I really enjoyed the characters and setting. It felt like a prelude to a larger series, which I would be more than happy to explore should it come to pass. This is an entertaining and action-packed space jaunt without any mind-bending hard science to get your head around. Well worth the price of admission.
Excalibur (Tim Marquitz)
Amazon Digital Services, 2017
Being a writer requires dedication, commitment, devotion, diligence, a skin like an armadillo and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears. By this definition, Damien is most definitely not a writer, although he does occasionally put pen to paper. More accurately, Damien is a lover of the written word in nearly all its forms (you can keep vampire romances) and always feels a little down if he can see over his To Read pile.