Review: The Returning by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Title: The Returning

Author: Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Rating: 

Publisher: Diminished Media Group

Format: electronic ARC

Review:

It is a shame that heroic science fiction has fallen out of favor. It seems there is a certain dystopian threshold or grittiness of character that is required in fiction these days, resulting in dark and bleak stories. Reading The Returning is like a splash of cool water, bringing back the nostalgia and feel of a Star Wars-like universe that instills the passion from my childhood. The Returning is original with characters that draw the reader into their world.

Freedom doesn’t come easy for the Vertullians. Even after defeating Xalivar, the High Lord Councilor of the Borali empire, their return to full citizenship is marked with discrimination and treachery. Vertullians across the solar system are being murdered by assassins and everything they have fought for could soon be lost.

Davi Rhii, our hero and a captain in the Borali Alliance, is tasked with finding out who is behind these killings. But he is not alone in this crucial mission. Accompanying him are Farien, an old friend of Davi, who has worked alongside him in the alliance; Dru, a promising cadet who narrowly escapes an attempt on his own life and disobediently proves himself worthy of going on the mission; and Yao Brohma, a professor in charge of the Vertullian assimilation into the academy. Together they visit dangerous planets and Vertullian resistors to try and restore peace.

To complicate matters further, the love of Davi’s life, Tela, is growing impatient with his over-protection. She too has proven herself in battle and doesn’t want to sit around waiting for her boyfriend to be killed. While Davi tries to balance his duty to the alliance and to Tela, the lives of High Lord Councilor Tarkanius, Lord Aron, and even their family are in grave peril.

I must admit that I didn’t read the first book of the series, but there were no issues jumping in with the second novel. I understood The Worker Prince (book 1) to be a loose retelling of the story of Moses in the form of a space opera. I was pleased to find out the series is much more than that. The Saga of Davi Rhii is not really an allegory, but a story in its own right. The Vertullians are a Judeo-Christian people, but instead of entering a period of wandering toward the Promised Land, they are trying to establish peace, integrated with the Boralians. Also, the religious elements of the novel are non-intrusive and help paint a clearer picture of the Vertullian people and history.

The novel has good conflict and action. The characters are real and suffer real emotions and even death. I liked the romantic tension between Davi and Tela; however, it felt too contained. Davi remains too perfect, never letting his emotions make the best of him (unlike Moses, whose anger prevented him from entering the Promised Land). Tela’s emotions, on the other hand, seemed confused. She is a strong-willed woman around Davi, lovey-dovey with her “daddy,” and insecure when she is assigned to lead security detail. On the other hand, perhaps this is what makes her character more real.

The universe is creative, employing humans, insectoid-reptillian Lhamors, and blue-skinned Xanthians and Andorians. I would have liked for the novel to go a little deeper into their culture to help flesh out the solar system.

Overall, I don’t think you can go wrong with this novel. It was an enjoyable read and I had no trouble starting with the second book. Enough details are self-contained and it serves as a standalone novel within the broader story arc. If you are looking for optimistic science fiction with good action and adventure, The Returning is the book for you.

I look forward to the next book in the series.

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6 Comments

  1. Don Nutting

     /  June 4, 2012

    This sounded pretty good to me so I bought “Rivalry On A Sky Course”. If you ask me there isn’t enough space opera / military sci fi out there.

    Reply
    • Peter

       /  June 4, 2012

      Agreed. I am late to the game, so I have a lot of reading to catch up on. Other than that, it seems maybe 5% at best of new speculative fiction is science fiction/military/space opera related.

      Reply
  2. Don, and Peter, thanks. “Rivalry” is the prequel story that tells how Davi, Yao and Farien became rivals with Bordox at the Academy. It gives you a taste of their banter and interactions. That’s greatly expanded in both books. Several reviewers have pointed out some great new space opera coming out like James S.A. Corey with his Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War. There are others as well. I sure enjoy writing it. It’s the kind of stories I grew up on that made me love scifi storytelling in the first place. Glad others are enjoying that as well.

    Reply
    • Peter

       /  June 4, 2012

      Ironically, Leviathan Wakes is next in my reading queue. I saw book #2 was coming out soon, so I knew I had to read book 1 first — plus it was nominated for a Hugo.

      Reply
  3. It’s next in my queue too and the authors are coming on sffwrtcht in two weeks. Maybe we can compare notes.

    Reply
  1. Book Day Two: The Returning Comes To Print!!! | Bryan Thomas Schmidt

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