Book Review – Absence of Blade

by Caitlin Demaris McKenna

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 Joni Dee
BookGobbler Admin



Book Review by Joni Dee

Miss this on your own peril: this great Sci-Fi will be a Netflix series someday

When I was in high-school, a long long time ago, I came across Frank Herbert’s Dune. It was probably the first complex ‘whole new universe’ type of political Sci-Fi I had ever encountered in book form, and it rocked my world. I was so into it, that I even faked illness to stay home in order to read it (geeky I know). I have since came across only a handful of other authors who were talented enough to invent a universe, plausible enough for me to get into… Roger Zelanzy’s Nine Princes in Amber for one is an excellent example. And so, I turned to more ‘realistic’ genres, neglecting Sci-Fi and disassociating from fantasy altogether (‘Dragons live forever but not so little boys’ – as the famous song goes).

This long intro is not to say that Ms. McKenna had written the next Dune, but she definitely holds the potential. Absence of Blade paints an elaborated and intriguing universe of humanity’s (“Terrans”) future, and I’d certainly stand in line to read more.

The year is sometime in the very far future, Terrans’ Expansion to other worlds in new and remote star systems is underway in full throttle (hence “The Expansion series”). However, after a few bloody conflicts that ended with the Terrans’ army having the upper hand over alien species, the Osk colony of Za stands its ground. The Osk have been winning some key battles against the Terrans, thanks to their killer Seph assassins. The story mostly gives us the Osk perspective. They are four legged, have grey-dark complexion, with coloured mane and a snout rather than a nose. They are extremely sensitive to smells, oh and they have killer bodily blades embedded in their arms.
The power behind the Terrans’ Expansion is the ‘Universal Church’ who has its own army and agenda, trying to bring-in other species into the holy trinity system of beliefs.
Sounds complex? not really. Sephs Gau Shesharrim, Mose Attarish and scientist Shomoro Lacharoksa, all Osk, have their own story and missions; while the Terrans are preparing for their final blow, led by General Shanazkowitz and her son Jan.

McKenna’s English and writing is superb (save the ‘fight scenes’ which I found a bit disorienting). The plot-line, which is enriched with the history of this new future weaved with more human warfare and conflicts, is fascinating and the book in general is hard to drop. Also, while at first I thought the Osk point of view (which dominates the novel) is weird, it grew on me, and I think it’s a fresh way to tell an inter-specie story.

What knocked the score to 3.5-4 stars are a few plot-line weaknesses which disturbed me, along with the failure to elaborate on the key human figure, Jan Shanazkowitz, who I suspect will have a major role in future books. What made me even more annoyed was the story leaping 15 years forward. I suspect things have happened during these years which are crucial to the understanding of the characters’ development and their agendas/motives. 15 years, that’s a lot to miss! And that raised questions, which remain unanswered.

Finally, what brought the score back to the solid 4 stars ground is the fact that the author managed to paint a plausible universe, for me, and I totally want to hear more about it. As an author I understand the need to keep it simpler in a debut novel; And I personally will welcome a revised longer version someday, which may include omitted chapters (I suspect there are quite a few). Dune is 604 pages long, and that was just setting the scene! Alas, that’s the main problem when fabricating a whole new world.

Great debut Sci-Fi. If you’re into these kind of books, Space Operas, or anything clever and out-of-the-box, you should definitely read it. Miss this on your own peril: when this is made into a Netflix series, don’t come crying to me – instead have the bragging rights to say you were there first!