2020’s Prime Deceptions is the second volume in Valerie Valdes’ Chilling Effect series.
In the previous volume Captain Eva Innocente escaped the clutches of a criminal empire known as the Fridge, giving it a black eye in the process of regaining her ship La Sirena Negra. Prudence would suggest adopting a low profile. Eva is terrible at being prudent, as suggested by the fact that when the book opens, someone is shooting at her.
Eva at least knows better than to accept job offers from her duplicitous sister Mari. As it turns out, “knows better” is different from “does not.” In Eva’s defence, the task seemed so straightforward.
Mari works for the anti-Fridge organization Forge . The Forge is quite keen to retrieve an involuntary Fridge employee, believing he has key insight about Proarkhe technology. (The Proarkhe were technologically advanced aliens who have mysteriously vanished long ago.) By a plot-enhancing coincidence, the man they want is Joshua Zafone, whose sister Sue crews on La Sirena Negra .
Josh has managed to escape the Fridge all on his own, which comes as a great surprise to Sue — she had been blackmailed into paying the Fridge to keep him alive. He has also eluded the Forge, for reasons that are unclear. He might listen to his sister where strangers failed to persuade. Thus, the job offer for La Sirena Negra .
Before they vanished, the Proarkhe scattered interstellar gates across several galaxies. There are therefore quite a lot of worlds where Josh could have gone to ground, more than can be searched in many lifetimes, let alone before the Forge’s deadline. Sue’s insight into her brother will be the key to the search.
Finding Josh turns out to be the easy part. Retrieving Josh from the increasingly dystopian world into whose resistance he has embedded himself will be much more difficult.
Usually when I read galaxy-spanning adventures, I get distracted by scale and other issues. This is prompted by the sad fact a lot of authors are just borrowing ill-thought-out settings from earlier works. While reading this book I was sometimes distracted by stuff the author got right. For example there’s a dying star system which on closer examination turns out to be DOOOOOMED on an astronomicallytimescale that makes its immanent demise completely irrelevant to the plot .
This is a comic adventure, which means zany hijinks interspersed with terrified screaming. While the crew of La Sirena Negra are currently in a pretty good place (aside from their willingness to accept jobs that involve intergalactic conspiracies and people shooting at them) but all of them seem to have tragic backstories. The characteristic mental health issue on the ship is very likely post-traumatic stress disorder.
As it happens, I wasn’t in the mood for a comic adventure story, but if you are looking for a Becky-Chambers-style found-family thriller but with far fewer egregious scientific oopsies, then this is the book you are seeking.
1: The similarity of “Fridge” and “Forge” does come up for discussion. The Forge may be full of steely-eyed adventurers, but they are terrible at marketing.
2: Reviewer has traumatic flashback to the recent SF work in which the plot hinged on a star slowly turning off in the manner of 1930s SF. Have fun guessing which one I mean!