Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review: Hive & Heist by Janine A. Southard

Hive & Heist by Janine A. Southard
Published: Martian Cantina, 2014
Series: Book 2 of the Hive Queen Saga

The Book:

Is it really stealing when you take back what's yours? Exhausted and broke, Rhiannon's Hive limps into John Wayne Station on the Ceridwen's Cauldron. Safe at last, this stop-over is looking bright until the authorities steal their ship's engine. The only solution: steal it back! Between stage-handing a play (at the local brothel) and avoiding their law-enforcement roommate (a sentient robot), they grow into a real team. A real Dyfed-style Hive.

The law enforcement robot, meanwhile, is busy detecting a series of thefts and murders. She's determined to use all her skills-programmed both before and after she clawed her way to sentience-to protect anyone else from getting hurt. Agents from a rival law enforcement group, however, bump into her investigation and create problems that she could really do without. She has a job to do, even if they're determined to get in her way.”

This is the second book of the Hive Queen Saga, which the author has kindly given to me for review consideration.  This is the sort of series that really needs to be read in order, so I would recommend new readers to start with Queen & Commander. Southard has also written a short story about the origins of the sentient robot in Hive & Heist, titled ‘The Robot Who Stole Herself”, and she is currently working on a new comedic fantasy novel unrelated to the Hive Queen Saga (her website is here).

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed Queen & Commander (hereafter referred to as Q&C) and the story seems to be only getting better with Hive & Heist (H&H).  The first novel introduced the ensemble of characters and the general setup of the universe, and H&H further develops both of these areas. H&H uses the same approach to world-building as Q&C, where new information is provided only when it comes up naturally in the story. Rhiannon’s group is now traveling in foreign (American) space, though, so their culture shock means that the reader gets more information about the local way of life and of the relationships between different spacefaring human cultures. I feel like I now have a better sense of the wideness and diversity of the universe now, and it will be fun to see more societies in future novels. A continuation of a subplot from near the end of Q&C also gives a bit more information on the Hive-Queen bond, and it looks like I was pretty far off in parts of my understanding from the previous book.  This sideplot hasn’t quite connected back in to the main Ceridwen’s Cauldron storyline just yet, but I’m interested to see where it will go from here.

In terms of the characters, H&H picked up the arcs of the different hive members right where the previous book left them, and I especially enjoyed seeing how the hive grew and changed this time around.  Even without the external problem of their stolen experimental drive, there’s plenty of conflict within the hive.  By the end of Q&C, Rhiannon still hadn’t really learned how to be a good leader, but their time on John Wayne station gives her plenty of time to puzzle out where she’s been going wrong.  While she’s figuring herself out, though, Luciano is becoming even more disillusioned with her as a queen, Victor is struggling to find his role in the group, and her best friend, Gwyn/Lois, is slowly growing into a new assertiveness about herself and her needs.  I enjoyed watching them try to learn how to function as a team, and seeing Rhiannon struggle towards understanding what they needed from her as a leader.

Aside from the hive members, a main new addition to the story is the sentient robot Melissa.  Sentient robots are not an especially common sight in American space, so Melissa has had a hard time carving out a life that suits her. At the moment, she’s basically a Texas Ranger of space!  Given the vast space territory covered by humans and the difficulties of communication, I think it makes sense that this style of law enforcement would be welcomed.  I enjoyed a lot of the details of Melissa's life, such as how she has carefully learned mannerisms that translate well into human nonverbal cues.  Melissa is as much an outsider on the station as the Welsh teens, so it made sense how their stories converged.

On top of the new world information and character development, H&H also provides a fun story about a heist, a criminal investigation, and a theatre production at a brothel. None of these plotlines are especially complicated on their own, but they come together well for the climactic ending.  It feels like these first two novels complete the first adventure of Ceridwen’s Cauldron, and it seems clear that there will be many more adventures in the future, both in foreign space and in their Welsh home. I will look forward to reading the next book in the series!

My Rating: 3.5/5

Hive & Heist continues where Queen & Commander left off, with Rhiannon’s hive stuck on John Wayne station and their ship’s experimental engine stolen by the local authorities.  I enjoyed seeing another society in what seems to be a diverse collection of spacefaring human civilizations, as well as seeing how the character arcs that began in the first novel played out in this second part. An interesting new major character is also introduced, a sentient robot Ranger named Melissa, who is tracking a thief and murderer.  With Melissa’s investigation, the hive’s planned heist, and even a theatre production, there’s plenty of action to propel the story along to an entertaining conclusion. I’m excited to see what adventures Rhiannon and her friends will encounter next! 

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