Review: THERE BEFORE THE CHAOS by K.B. Wagers

Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 451
Release Date: October 9th, 2018
Series: THE FARIAN WAR, Book 1
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It

WARNING: Light spoilers ahead for the previous trilogy, THE INDRANAN WAR, which features the same main characters.

36343160._sy475_One year ago, Hail Bristol was dragged home by her bodyguards, forced to resume her duties as a princess of the Indranan Empire after a series of assassinations left her next in line to the throne. Having run away from home at 18, Hail spent 20 years in the black as a gunrunner, experience that served her well when an attempted coup left her fighting to reclaim her throne.  It’s been six months since peace was finally restored, and Hail has been settling into her role as Empress. But just as she’s about to embark on a royal victory tour, rumors start pouring in that the long-simmering conflict between the neighboring alien races, the Farian and the Shen, is about to come to a head and potentially spill into human space.  Knowing that her empire has just barely gotten back on its feet, Hail tries to avoid involvement, but when a Farian ally reaches out, she finds herself increasingly entangled in galactic politics.  See, a few of the Farians have the ability to see the future, and they’ve determined that Hail is the lynchpin in the conflict to come. And that means everyone involved is desperate to control her, no matter what collateral damage gets in their way.

Long live the Gunrunner Empress!  Hail Bristol is back, and just as good as ever.  But this is a slightly different Hail than we’ve seen before, one a bit more cautious and a lot more troubled beneath the surface.  Towards the end of the last war, Hail was captured and drowned on live video in an attempt to crush the will of her people. Although she obviously survived, the experience left Hail with an intense case of PTSD.  You’ll still find her full of smart mouth quips and a low tolerance for those who threaten her friends, but she’s also a bit more vulnerable and prone to occasional panic attacks. It’s a welcome reminder that just because the hero wins, they don’t always come out unscathed.

THERE BEFORE THE CHAOS is an engrossing read, but a bit of a change of pace from the previous installments.  As the title partially indicates, this book is the prelude to a big storm.  The galaxy’s on edge, and Hail is doing her best to STOP the fighting before it begins.  That means this go-round, there’s a lot more diving into the history of the Farian and the Shen, less shooting and more attempts at diplomacy and negotiations.  Given how this book ends, I expect we’ll get a return to the fighting in the upcoming sequel, DOWN AMONG THE DEAD.

The one weakness of this book is a weakness that continues from the previous books, and that is a bit of fuzziness when it comes to the other alien races.  It’s almost a quarter of the way into the story before we get a physical description to confirm that these races are mostly humanoid in appearance, despite their ability to heal or kill with a touch.  We also find out the two races are… cousins? The result of a religious schism?  The mythology behind the two is fairly unclear, only that the Shen used to be Farians but were sent into space and came back and killed the Farian’s gods.  But how recently this happened is unclear, as are many of the details about the relations between these two groups. Some of this vagueness is because both races are fairly secretive and Hail herself is getting conflicting answers from her spies and the Farians themselves. Hopefully we will get more clarity as the series continues, but for now it’s a bit frustrating.

THERE BEFORE THE CHAOS kicks off another high-stakes adventure, broadening the story to look beyond Hail’s corner of the galaxy and into politics on a much larger scale. Although most of the fighting this time happens around conference tables, it’s very clear that Hail will be back to kicking ass and taking names in the sequel.  I’m very much looking forward to what lies ahead for the Gunrunner Empress, and I suspect the Farians and the Shen are going to regret getting her involved in their affairs.

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