The Emperor’s Fist, A Blackhawk Novel by Jay Allan
Published by Harper Voyager on August 20, 2019. Oversized paperback of 328 pages at $15.99.
Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.
The cover: The author’s name is at the top, the first name in red and the last in white. Just under it to the left is the subtitle A Blackhawk Novel in white. An illustration of protagonist Arkarin “Ark” Blackhawk is shown in a tight black tee, allowing his muscular arms to bulge. He has a rifle over his right shoulder and holds a pistol down in his left hand. His hair is blonde and spiked and he has a few days of growth on his face. Around his waist is a belt that has several clips of ammo and/or some grenades. Behind him are some steps that look to be leading to a ship’s storage bay or it could just be a docking bay, it’s hard to tell. It looks like a futuristic location. In large letters on the bottom left is the title, with The and Fist in red and Emperor’s in white. In very tiny print at the bottom is Far Stars Book Four. This is a solid cover that clearly shows the hero to the reader. Overall grade: A
The premise: From the back cover, “When the Far Stars came under imperial attack, Astra Lucerne — the daughter and successor of the Far Stars’ greatest conqueror, Marshal Augustin Lucerne — rallied her father’s confederation forces to defend their worlds. They were joined in the fight by former imperial general Arkarin Blackhawk, a warrior whose skills and brutality made him infamous, and who has, for decades, sought the redemption he knows is unreachable. Now, with the imperial foothold in the sector eliminated, the Far Stars is free and almost united. While Astra’s forces continue to depose local tyrants and warlords, Ark and his crew have slipped back into the shadows. Though his heart belongs to Astra, Ark cannot get too close. His imperial conditioning remains under control, but it is still volatile, and the temptation of power threatens to unleash the dark compulsions that made him the most merciless of the emperor’s servants. He cannot risk allowing Astra to see the darkness inside him. But while the battle has been won, the war may not be over. A petty smuggler makes a discovery that can enable the emperor to strike back and crush the resistance — unless Ark and Astra join forces again to stop him.” This sounds like the lead character is going to go Hulk at some point at this time, so that could be interesting. The rest of this is character background, rather than story. I’m glad the story’s not spoiled by this, but I would like a little more of what this book is about. Overall grade: C+
The characters: Arkarin “Ark” Blackhawk is a big, buff hero, but something is not quite right about him. He knows he’s been genetically modified to be better than other humans, he has an AI in his head that gives him assistance when he needs it, and he’s unsure of his past. He knows he’s not a fan of the Emperor and his soldiers, but he’s got a nagging feeling about something in his past. He’s in love with Astra Lucerne, but knows he cannot be with her because she’s too busy helping unite the Far Stars. Astra is in this book and deals with the political aspect of the imperial attacks. She was okay, but her segments in the book were the least interesting.The six members of Ark’s crew aboard the Wolf’s Claw are Shira, Samantha Sparks, Lucas Lancaster, Ace Graythorn, Sarge, Katarina Venture. The latter is the most engaging character because she’s a member of the assassin’s guild and her killings are art. Alion Belakov is picked up after the group’s first caper and he reveals he’s a computer expert who was forced to help a baddie. He’s invited to join the crew by Ark and wants to prove himself worthy of joining them. The Emperor is the chief antagonist of the book for he is the one who sets the generals and their ten imperial battleships to the Far Stars to bring them back under his thumb. He bookends the novel and wields absolute power. General Idilus, due to his inability to bring a world back into the fold, is charged with leading the attack on the Far Stars and commands the fleet that journey there. He’s not pleased with this task and is even more displeased by General Ignes Inferni accompanying him. Inferni is on a secret mission for the Emperor, superceding Idilus’s authority if he needs resources. This creates some great friction between the generals. What Inferni reveals late in the book is a game changer for this series. I enjoyed these characters. Overall grade: A
The settings: I couldn’t recall, nor find while later skimming, the names of any of the worlds of the Far Stars. All of the planets visited could support life and resembled the settings of any past or present science fiction television shows. There’s an incredibly important setting on an imperial battleship. It is a massive vessel and I did like how Allan described it. After this locale is left, the worlds become generic. Nothing bad, but nothing great. I do like how the location of the Far Stars to the rest of the empire is a plot point. I’ve never read this before in a science fiction novel and liked it. The settings aren’t memorable because they’re not important to the action or the plot which is the priority of this book. Overall grade: C
The action: The book excels immensely in this element. When the crew of the Wolf’s Claw goes into action it’s riveting reading. I really liked the first action sequence as the group takes down a gangster at his compound crawling with guards. This was an excellent way to show the abilities of each crew member in a fight and how each reacts to a foe. The battle between the battleships and the Far Stars ships is brutal and overwhelming. The battle to take a battleship and what it does afterwards is incredibly exciting. I like how the battle wasn’t only in space, but within one character’s mind. Very cool! The final conflict of the book is cinematic and had me yearning for more from these characters. The action is the selling point of this book. Overall grade: A+
The conclusion: Something is revealed during the climax that changes one character’s direction and moves this saga into a new direction. There is a conclusion to the battleships’ attack, but the threat of another looms on the horizon and will obviously be the subject of the next book. This was a satisfying ending. Overall grade: A
The final line: I had not read the previous three books in the Far Stars series but easily understood what was going on without the author creating an information dump for the reader. I enjoyed all the characters and would definitely like to read more of their adventures. Action is the star of this book, with a character learning something life changing. Overall grade: B+
To learn more about the author and his books visit his website: http://jayallanbooks.com/
To see the cover visit my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse