A couple months ago I wrote about Michael Moreci’s novel Black Star Renegades, and, as chance had it, the author himself took note—he sent me an ARC of the sequel, We Are Mayhem, for me to review. Here is that review:
We Are Mayhem is a worthy follow-up to Black Star Renegades. It excels in the same areas as the first book, building further upon them, but it also shares the same flaws. And where Black Star Renegades continues the tradition of A New Hope, here we have the equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back. The plot is very similar: the empire, Praxis, stands resurgent even after the destruction of its superweapon, and goes on the offensive against an increasingly unsteady rebellion, while the hero ventures into deep space and trains with a mentor to hone his mysterious abilities. It seems familiar from a bird’s-eye view, but there are enough complications and twists that one is reading a very different story down on the ground.
That’s where We Are Mayhem succeeds best. Michael Moreci knows exactly where to stick to classic sci-fi tropes and where to play with them. It all feels familiar without being overly predictable, and while reading there was no point where I thought to myself “Cade Sura is Luke with the serial numbers filed off,” or “the mentor Percival is just like Yoda.” The characters have their own attributes, and their own conflicts to overcome. One of the best parts of this book, in fact, is the simultaneous development of Cade and Kira—both of them struggle with defining their identities, Cade as the “Chosen One”(deconstructed here), and Kira as a bitter scion of Praxis nobility.
Moreci also gives us a broader look at the Black Star Renegades universe. The characters spend plenty of time in two interesting setpieces: Monaskis, a kingdom within the core of a devastated planet, and Praxis itself, where an uprising against Ga Halle lends some welcome depth to this setting’s resident evil empire. Rounding out the worldbuilding here are new species, new tech, and the beginnings of a distinct mythology (the ancient warlord Wu-Xia gets his time in the spotlight).
The novel falters when it comes to describing this setting, unfortunately. Moreci is very sparse in places, relying on simple descriptions of size and shape and color instead of the pointed details or sweeping vistas that really paint a picture. It made some places hard to visualize, and most of the action sequences hard to follow. Furthermore, the dialogue is supposed to come off as light, casual, and humorous, and it usually succeeds, but on occasion it’s a little melodramatic, perhaps childish.
We Are Mayhem also has a problem with telling. There’s not a lot of ambiguity around Cade’s character arc or Kira’s troubled relationship with her parents, with everything pretty much laid out for the reader. At times I skimmed, when ideas were reinforced at length even though the context made them clear enough. Nevertheless, it’s a lot better here than it was in Black Star Renegades—Michael Moreci is clearly developing as an author.
On the whole, We Are Mayhem is an improvement over the first book. The writing style has advanced somewhat, and the setting and characters are developed tremendously, deconstructing the classic sci-fi tropes that have fueled the series so far. Would I recommend it? If you liked the first installment in the series, of course! Look out for this one on April 9, 2019.
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