(I originally reviewed these two books separately. This is a ‘hybrid’ review – it says the same things and compares the two books to each other.)
I’m re-posting this for one simple reason: these books are very good, and certainly worth sharing.
I will always remember Heretic as the book I spent the last two hours of my 32nd birthday finishing. In the review I posted afterwards I complimented the pacing of the novel, with the second half of it reading with a pace of quite literally movie quality. It’s an action driven book, but with enough reflection and character development to satisfy a reader like me who likes sci-fi to have a more ‘literary’ element to it and not just to rely solely on action or futuristic setting to capture me. The second book, Defiance, takes the depth of character and ideas to an even deeper level, stretching out the action a little more in favour of the character development. I felt a connection with Lucas Bale’s characters right from the start of Heretic, which I previously described as one of the strongest openings I’ve seen from a sci-fi novel. I knew from the start of Heretic that I’d found a series that could become seriously good reading.
Taking this opportunity to look at the first two books ‘under one roof,’ what stands out about them is how the second one, on the face of things, seems to have little to do with the first, and hooks the reader into a second story just when they thought things might follow a simple ‘chase’ premise after the end of Heretic. Being a series, it’s no spoiler to say that there are links between the stories, but they come a lot later than the average gratification junkie would probably wish for. The result is a fiendishly addictive second book, which at the same time puts ‘the dark side’ of Bale’s worlds under a fascinating spotlight. The best villains in fiction are always the ones with depth and nuance, and the best fiction often gives rise to the question of who the villains really are. Defiance does this so brilliantly that it earned a five star review after my first read (and I don’t give many.)
Defiance also has Weaver – a character who has earned a place up ther with my favourites. It’s hard to go into the details here without spoilers, so I’ll have to be vague but conclusive: Weaver is not the kind of character you fall in love with, but you will love reading about him, providing you’re the kind of reader who entertains a little sympathy for the devil, then wonders who or what the devil actually is.
The descriptions in both books are first class – from planets to space craft to the horrors of murder and conflict, and there’s plenty of that – fans of the horror genre who either like sci-fi as well or are thinking of trying it would do well with these two books. Defiance in particular makes spectacular use of the ‘what’s behind the door’ and ‘what happened to the ship’ tropes, all done with the kind of finesse that keeps a well used crossover of ideas fresh. So fresh in fact that after putting the book down, you should be left with lingering images from it for quite some time!
What really stands out about the style of these books is the economy of the prose. Lucas Bale is a very skilled writer, but perhaps an even better self-editor in the final draft stages, because everything feels polished and intricately crafted but never overly showy or overworked. In my first review of Heretic I likened the style to the Dick/Simack/Asimov end of the sci-fi spectrum, but with a bit of a supercharger added to the mix by the pace.
I would recommend these books to fans of both hard and soft science fiction – they’re rightly categorised as the latter but has enough space-operatic quality to it to make them lean towards the boundaries of hard science in a pleasing way.