Book Review – Heart Scarab by Anna Butler


Taking Shield #2
Publisher: Glass Hat Press
Pages: 286
Characters: Bennet/Flynn, Bennet/Joss
POV: 3rd
Sub-Genre: Series, SF

Blurb:
Shield Captain Bennet is on Telnos, a unpleasant little planet inhabited by religious fanatics and unregistered miners running illegal solactinium mines. It’s about to be about to be overrun by the Maess. Bennet’s job is to get out as many civilians as he can, but the enemy arrives before the evacuation is complete. Caught in a vicious fire fight, Bennet is left behind, presumed dead.

His family is grieving. Joss, his long-term partner, grieves with them; lost, unhappy, remorseful. First Lieutenant Flynn has no official ‘rights’ here. He isn’t family. He isn’t partner or lover.

All he is, is broken.

Buy Link

Review

Book 2 in the Taking Shield series picks up eighteen months after the events of Gryfalcon.

I love the worldbuilding in this series. It’s very well thought out and researched, and makes me feel as though I’m reading about a world with a long and rich history. I loved the links back to their original homeworld—Earth—and the way Joss, Bennet’s ex-partner thinks about how their ancient rituals replace other even older ones. Joss takes some of the POV in this book, looking back on his and Bennet’s relationship, and giving the reader a different perspective. His grief—and that of other friends and family—felt very real.

I really felt for Flynn, who is not family and therefore has no official rights, but still grieving for someone he truly loves. I don’t think it’s a spoiler, given there are more books in the series, to say I was very relieved to discover that Bennet survives.

As with the first book, the author doesn’t pull any punches about the brutality of war. The world on which Bennet is left is very harsh, and there are consequences for what had happened to him. He is badly injured, and doesn’t just miraculously recover either physically, or psychologically. It takes time and hard work. And that’s the way it should be.

I like that these guys are flawed, and I love Bennet and Flynn together. I think they complement each other well, and their frustration when they take a step forward together and then something else comes up to prevent them being together feels very real. But in saying that, although their romance is a decent sized part of the story, it isn’t what drives it, and I think that is what makes this series so strong.

The war with the Maess is never far away, nor the underlying feeling that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. These aliens are very other, and dangerous, and I like the way we—and Bennet—learn a tiny bit more about them with each new book, but not enough to understand them. That information doesn’t comfort, it terrifies, and I think the author did a fabulous job in keeping me on the edge of my seat, and trying to work out what exactly the Maess’ plan is.

I’ve been a huge SF fan for years, and this series reminds me why. I’d recommend Heart Scarab to readers who enjoy military SF with in-depth world building, complex characters, and a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and wanting more. 5 out of 5.

About Anne Barwell

Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with a cat with “tortitude” who is convinced that the house is run to suit her; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date, it appears as though Kaylee may be winning. In 2008, Anne completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra. She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth. She also hosts and reviews for other authors, and writes monthly blog posts for Love Bytes. She is the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance writers, and a member of RWNZ. Anne’s books have received honorable mentions five times, reached the finals four times—one of which was for best gay book—and been a runner up in the Rainbow Awards. She has also been nominated twice in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—once for Best Fantasy and once for Best Historical. Anne can be found at https://annebarwell.wordpress.com
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