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Donovan #4
by W. Michael Gear
DAW, $27.00, 496pp
Published: May 2020

Wikipedia is wrong, folks. 'Alpha Enigma' is not the new 'Donovan' book, as it currently suggests it might be. It's a standalone novel unrelated to this series. The new 'Donovan' book is 'Unreconciled', which is the fourth in the series and it'll only be three months old by the time you read this review. Sure, the man is prolific, and these aren't thin books either, but he's not writing this series faster than I can read it, dammit.

I've enjoyed the 'Donovan' books from the very outset, whether that be from the standpoint of plots, which mix action, science fiction and horror; the standpoint of characters, who continue to grow and be capably added to; or the standpoint of exploration, because we're still learning more about this frontier planet and we don't remotely think we're close to figuring out all that we need to.

There's lots going on in this one, with a twisted primary plot that expands our exploration of the planet in new and fascinating ways, and an excellent side plot that proves surprisingly effective given its lack of action.

The new ship in the skies of Donovan this time out is the Ashanti, which is another one that's been overdue for a while. It was designed for a four-year trip but it took ten, the last seven of them in regular space, which is much slower. Basic mathematics tell us that there's no way that the population of a ship like the Ashanti is going to make it intact, even on half rations. It went as well as you might expect, given that they do arrive and many of the transportees are still alive.

I mean, sure, they've gradually turned into religious nutjobs worshipping a trio of near catatonic prophets while eating each other, since Capt. Miguel Galluzzi took the tough decision to seal them into Deck Three, but it could have been worse, right? Galuzzi delivers them and the locals decide to give them the abandoned Tyson Station, a remote facility whose previous occupants had been killed by the planet long ago. It's a good solution, but Batuhan, a charismatic and very imposing leader, seems dead-set on making it a bad one.

If the transportees suffered and transformed within Deck Three, the crew of the Ashanti survived and transformed outside of it. Galluzzi, being the one responsible for making such an unenviable decision, is riddled with guilt, even though that decision allowed so many to survive an otherwise inevitable demise. It's Derek Taglioni who changes the most though.

A nobleman from the family that mentored Supervisor Kalico Aguila, he's only on the Ashanti because of a fit of pique and he was clearly a very entitled waste of space until the experience of the last ten years. Now he's matured into a very capable human being, which is exactly what Donovan needs, humble or not and he's a lot more humble than he used to be. Perhaps because he'd spent ten years in the confined space of a ship in space, he finds that he's drawn to the wilds of Donovan, which, as we know, are insanely dangerous.

For a hundred pages, this is patient stuff without much menace, though we're well-aware that it's going arrive at some point. Into the second hundred, we still view things with a scholarly interest because it isn't visceral yet. A planet like Donovan is fascinating just-because, but the relatively frequent arrivals of ships over the last few books, following so long without any of them, has brought a constant shift in balances within the local population, and that's been fascinating too.

With Kalico lost in the jungle around Tyson Station, Talina Perez, the local sheriff, goes to the rescue, taking with her a greater understanding of the quetzal molecules in her blood; Kylee Simonov, a half-feral girl with a pet (ha) quetzal called Flute; and Taglioni for good measure. I've loved how the series has evolved the interaction between humans and quetzals. From mortal enemies, the locals have gradually learned more of what quetzals are and how they function as societies. It's glorious to see humans and quetzals working together (or not) as both sides figure out what's to their advantage.

That goes double; given that fact that quetzals are territorial societies and Flute isn't anywhere near home territory during this rescue mission. As the back cover blurb points out: "Lurking in the forest outside Tyson Station is an old and previously unknown terror that even quetzals fear. And it has already begun to hunt." That's a pretty fair summary and Gear's xenobiology is as good as it's ever been.

Back in Port Authority, our favourite psychopathic crime lord, Dan Wirth, is up against a fresh new threat to his dominance, but it's presented in a very different way to that of the prior book in the series, 'Pariah'. There, his opponent was a corporate assassin, who was faster, tougher and more brutal, but he understood how to fight that fight. Derek Taglioni takes a different approach entirely, one that works much better and opens the door to a whole new balance of power in Port Authority.

There's so much here to think about, even though the book rattles along at a rate of knots, because Gear's prose is always both easy and confident. This may actually be my favourite book in the series thus far and I'm as eager as ever to read the next one, even if it isn't 'Alpha Enigma', because that's a science fiction mystery in a new series called 'Team PSI', whose leads are a military psychiatrist, an archaelogist and a forensic anthropologist, if I'm reading the blurb right.

As always, after reading a W. Michael Gear novel, I wonder where his books have been all my life. As always, the answer is on someone else's shelves, but I'm catching up. ~~ Hal C F Astell

For other titles in this series click here
For more titles by W Michael Gear click here

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