The Enceladus Crisis by Michael J. Martinez (Book Review)
Michael J. Martinez debuted last year with his novel The Daedalus Incident. The book had a bit of a rough time around its release since the publisher Night Shade Books went under and was eventually bought up by Skyhorse Publishing and Start Publishing. The release was delayed and when it finally arrived, it quickly became a hit, as far as I’m concerned. I’d read the book much earlier and I had enjoyed it quite a bit, so I followed all the news with an interest. A shame that the book was delayed so, but the end result was positive, so that’s the silver lining. Michael wrote a really fantastical novel that merged the fantasies of alchemy and the Age of Sail with space opera and the sequel was something that I looked forward to a great deal.
The Enceladus Crisis is the second novel in Michael The Daedalus series and if anything, it is a better novel than The Daedalus Incident. Michael continues the story of Lt. Cmdr. Shaila Jain as she is finally given her dream job of commanding a ship of exploration to the Saturn system and at the same time we also touch base with Captain Thomas Weatherby who is now a much respected captain of His Majesty’s Royal Navy. But in a twist, while only two years have passed for Shaila Jain and her friends in the near-future, in the alternate reality of Thomas Weatherby almost two decades have passed, and the worlds of these two explorers and heroes are set to collide once again for a very dramatic showdown in the end.
Everything that was great about The Daedalus Incident makes a comeback in this novel and it is all better than before. Much better than before. Shaila Jain and Thomas Weatherby are much more interesting characters this time around, due in part to the familiarity I have with these characters and The Enceladus Crisis proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable read, for several reasons. When a sequel to a novel I have enjoyed so much is this good, then that is especially pleasing. The betterment speaks to a refinement in the author’s craft, in the ability to learn from both the good and the bad to turn out an even better product the second time around so that it resonates more with the readers, which was the case for me.
The novel starts off with a prologue in which we see a flashback to the Mars of 4137 BC, in which the villainous Warlord from The Daedalus Incident makes a chilling comeback, as does his aide Rathemas. The prologue pretty much sets the tone of the novel and from here on out the novel is “adventure on the high seas of space” and non-stop high-octane action in a way that only a melding of alchemical magic and space exploration can be. And that’s fun right? It certainly is for me, because it makes this entire setting so much more unique than anything else out there. I could be wrong, and Michael may have built up on something that is already out there, but I haven’t heard about it personally, certainly not outside the Disney movie Treasure Planet, which was a typical movie from the studio but also quite heartwarming and fun.
Once we move past the novel, we are in the “present” territory from the perspectives of both our primary characters, Thomas and Shaila. For the former, his story starts off with him helping repulse a French fleet at the Nile, only to end up chasing a runaway French ship all the way to Saturn and getting embroiled in a deep conspiracy that builds on the events of the previous novel and casts the French as the villains of the story. At the same time, we also get a really good look into the culture and society of the Xan, the alien species that has claimed the Saturnine system as its own and which in The Daedalus Incident was portrayed as quite a reserved species that wanted very, very little to do with Humans. That seems to have changed now and I thought it was rather neat that Michael decided to explore their culture and society so much in the new novel. Given the fantasy that the series is built on, this also feels like a natural outgrowth of ideas, especially given how the Warlord and his aide Rathemas are deeply involved in everything that is happening here.
With Shaila, we see her as she commands an exploratory mission to Enceladus, one of the moons of Saturn. As an outgrowth of all that happened on Mars two years ago, there is now a dedicated team of people, Project Daedalus that Shaila is now a part of and which is run by her former commanding officer on Mars, Major General Maria Diaz. Between the two of them we see how the conspiracies of the French with the Warlord in Thomas Weatherby’s reality are reflected in Shaila’s reality with another major superpower involved this time. Truth be told, as much as I enjoyed the downright fantastical and mythological in Thomas’ story, I was far more enamoured of Shaila’s story as it unfolded in its full glory, in scenes that could have been pulled right out from Arthur C. Clarke’s phenomenal 2001: A Space Odyssey. I mean, the tension of the exploratory mission’s various mysteries, and everything that happens there, it has a strong thematic feel to the second half of Clarke’s ground-breaking novel.
In the midst of all of this, it is also important to remember that while Thomas and Shaila might be our primary protagonists, much of the supporting cast of the previous novel makes a return in The Enceladus Crisis. In his first novel, Michael provided some great examples of well-written female characters, and he builds on those solid foundations in this novel. Anne Baker and Maria Diaz are stellar examples of that in the new novel, and between all these leading ladies, we have something really great here, something that you would be hard-pressed to find in this genre. It is very uncommon and there are a whole bunch of tropes that go along with that, so… not really encouraging.
Most of all, Michael’s plot is excellent. You go in knowing what to expect, if you’ve read The Daedalus Incident, but still it all comes as a surprise. And that’s due in part to the fact that Shaila and Thomas’ stories start out as completely different to each other, but then start to merge again, just as they did last time, and that’s when the novel really kicks into overdrive. That’s when the pace notches up, that’s when things start to fall in place and so on. There aren’t a whole bunch of writers I’d trust to pull something like this off, but Michael J. Martinez is certainly that kind of a writer, and I feel rather lucky that I’m reading this novel at this point in my “reading career”. There are tons and tons of things that he gets right and very little in the way of what he doesn’t get right. Sure, some of the subplots can come off as rather filler and thus not important to the overall story, but Michael moves on confidently, secure in the knowledge that what he’s written is directly relevant. There’s that bit of dissonance there, but it is kind of a welcome dissonance too. Not easy to explain.
What I wanted out of this novel, all of it was fulfilled by the end. I wanted a rock-solid story and I got it. I wanted some awesome characters, whether heroes or villains and I got that. I wanted to see an exploration of both the realities and their particular quirks that have developed and I got that. The list just goes on and on really, and there’s no stopping it.
As far as I’m concerned, The Enceladus Crisis is definitely a superior novel to The Daedalus Incident and that deserves note. Michael has clearly improved his craft going from his debut to his first sequel, and it is a change that I approve of wholeheartedly, both as a reader and a blogger. And that’s the whole point really, because a writer should improve with each successive book. Thankfully, Michael J. Martinez passes that test with flying colours, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
More Michael J. Martinez: The Daedalus Incident.
Posted on May 30, 2014, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged Alchemy, Aliens, Book, Book Review, Enceladus, Interstellar Travel, Mars, Michael J. Martinez, Military Fantasy, Military SF, Napoleon Bonaparte, Night Shade Books, novel, Novel Review, Pirates, Review, Review Central, Saturn, Saturnine System, science fantasy, Science Fiction, Shaila Jain, Skyhorse Publishing, Space Exploration, Space Explorers, Space Fantasy, Space Opera, Start Publishing, The Daedalus, The Daedalus Incident, The Enceladus Crisis, The Red Planet, Thomas Weatherby, Titan, Women in SFF. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.