Kyle Juenger is a former hunter and soldier. However, after being paralyzed six weeks ago by a gunshot to the back, Kyle is now at loose ends. He would love to return to his home planet, but his meager pension won’t cover the trip, nor the cost of quality prosthetics to replace the poor ones he currently uses. Kyle doesn’t really fit anywhere anymore. Going back to his old job is impossible and he is not even totally sure how welcome he would be at home. And the prosthetic legs affect his self image, making him feel like less of the man he was.
When the Commissariat offers Kyle a job retrieving a runaway double agent, he jumps at the chance to earn the money he needs, even though he knows the job will be more complicated than it seems. The man he is chasing is a Glyrinny, an alien shapeshifter who can assume the appearance of anyone, making him very difficult to track. Intelligence indicates he is being smuggled out on a small ship and Kyle manages to get on board, posing as a petty criminal on the run.
Onboard Kyle befriends the mercenaries who populate the ship (including Jay!) and the pilot, Grimm. It turns out Grimm is from Kyle’s home planet, and not only that, but a member of the warrior class. Grimm is very clear about his interest in Kyle, but Kyle is wary, wondering what a man of Grimm’s importance would want with someone like him. But as the men become friends, Kyle begins to let down his guard with Grimm, even as he continues to search for the hidden Glyrinny. Grimm insists that there is more to Kyle than the broken man he believes himself to be, and gives him confidence to expect more from his life. But for all the good Grimm brings, Kyle soon realizes that things may be far more complicated with the man and his mission than they originally seemed.
Oh I really liked this one! Fast paced and exciting, always changing direction and keeping you guessing about what is really happening. Voinov does a great job creating a complex and fascinating world along with two well-developed characters in this novella that belies its length.
I really enjoyed Kyle and watching him come to terms with his new life. We can imagine the frustration and self doubt he feels after finding a place as a hunter and a fighter and to suddenly have that taken away. He is no longer fit for his job, unsure of his welcome at home, and without funds to move forward. His injury makes him feel self-conscious and weak, and he hates the poor prosthetics that make his injury more apparent, as well as mobility more limited. He is drawn to Grimm, even as he can’t imagine why the man would want him, imperfectly functioning body (and sex organs) and all. But part of Kyle responds to Grimm and his warrior caretaker role, feeling safety and familiarity with him. And I love how Grimm helps Kyle to see that there is more to him than the outer shell, that there is still value there, even if Kyle has to look deep insider to see it.
My only slight criticism is that at times I got lost in the world building. Science fiction isn’t always my strong suit, so some of it may have been me. But I did have some trouble now and then following some of the specifics here.
This is a twisty and exciting story, and I can’t give too much more detail without spoiling it for you guys. But it is wonderfully done with well drawn characters, great world building, and a lovely story of a man finding himself amid loss. It was really excellent and I’d highly recommend it.
P.S. Oh, and I was super excited that I inspired the name of one of the mercenaries!
Oh, and great cover!