Reviewed by KJ Van Houten
Another Sectors book! Have to admit, anytime I see ‘Sectors’ and ‘Veronica Scott’ in the same line, I get super excited – this is one of my very favourite series. (No, I’m not doing another series review, going to actually stick to one book for this review…)
Trapped on Talonque starts out with Special Forces soldier Nate Reilly and his buddies – fellow soldier Thom Curran and and cadet pilot Haranda – in an interesting predicament; crashed on an unknown, somewhat primitive planet that is not within the Sectors’ boundaries, captured and chained, along with a group of native prisoners, and force-marching to who knows where. And to make it more fun, none of their Sectors’ training or implants can translate the native language.
After days of marching, and some adventure along the way, our crew finds themselves in their captors’ capitol city. They are brought before the king and queen co-rulers of a society very much run on lines of fate, superstition, and ceremony. The king takes the three offworlders and one of the native prisoners – a man named Atletl who bears an interesting tattoo – to an underground chamber that can only be opened by a special talent known to only one woman who is treated as both a special attendant to this chamber and a slave. When the door is opened the men are shocked to find that the chamber is full of highly advanced technology, beyond even what the Sectors is capable of. In the center is a sleeping woman. Nate has a blinding, painful reaction when the king pushes some buttons which also awakens the woman temporarily, and hears her voice in his mind before the woman sleeps again and the men are taken away, back to a prison in the more primitive, ‘normal’ section of the palace.
While chained, the three offworlder men discuss what they’ve seen. They are thinking that they’ve possibly seen an Ancient One, a member of a progenitor race that lived so far in the past that only a few ruins of their civilization remain scattered throughout the galaxy. If this is true, how is this woman alive after thousands of years? What is the technology they saw? And why is Nate the only one that heard her voice in his head? Falling asleep, Nate dreams of the woman, a strange dream that isn’t a dream, where they talk and she tells him how the king thinks she is a sleeping goddess which they rouse at times for prophecy. The king further thinks the offworld men have come from her father-god to rescue her, but the king won’t allow that as he has his own plans for her and the future. He wants her power and thinks that he can gain it for himself, and will use the men as tools to get it from her. Before the dream fades, she tells him her name is Bithia.
The next day, the men are taken to an amphitheater where they watch a strange game played. The description makes me think of basketball ball with holes in the wall instead of baskets, combined with soccer, and gladiatorial fighting. The players of each team are comprised of prisoners. Anything goes on the field and violence is encouraged. The winners are hailed champions in a way that makes me think of gladiators while the losers are chained and taken away. Later it is discovered that the losers are sacrificed to the dread god Huitlani by being thrown into a pit of hungry savage creatures.
Okay, that sets up the background of the story! Of course Nate and his friends find themselves forced to train for the game, which they learn is called sapice. Their goal is obvious: learn to play and win the game so they are not put to death while finding a way to get back to their crashed ship and get off this primitive planet, and somehow rescue Bithia and take her with them. Sounds easy, right?
As months pass, the men learn sapice, avoid angering the king, queen, and priestesses, and learn to speak the native language from their teammate, the native Atletl who has the cool tattoo (which they discover is a symbol sacred to the religion that has grown up around the legend of the sleeping goddess). They learn that Atletl’s from an opposing group of people who want to get rid of the king and queen, whose ancestors had invaded and taken over this land and forced their cult of the death god on the people. They learn that the woman attendant who had opened the hidden chamber is named Celixia and she is secretly working against the king and queen also. (And growing a strong attraction to Atlet.) Nate continues to have dreams which are not dreams where he meets with Bithia and they exchange information about themselves, their pasts, and the situation they each find themselves trapped within. This strange connection brings Nate and Bithia close, and when events occur that give them a chance to escape, he cannot leave her behind.
The rescue of Bithia and the escape from the city is quite dramatic and there are so many spoilers that I can’t bring myself to say here! Just know that at this point I was quite satisfied with the resolution of the story. Looked down at my ereader and realized I was only at 50% through the book! More?! This is like getting TWO Sectors novels in one! I cannot describe the joy is knowing that the book wasn’t ending so soon!
The second half of the book features the adventures of the offworlders, Atletl, and Bithia, joined by Celixia, to find their way back to the crashed ship, and further to a secret mountain hideaway full of high technology, eventually finding a way off the planet and back to the Sectors. Some highlights include more secret chambers, massive explosions, death sacrifices, a lot of running, some horse-like creatures called kemat, men in kilts, a beach, a mountain, and a lot of interesting technology! And alright, maybe some sex, too…
I can’t recommend this book enough. I’d say it is one of the best Sectors novels, but I love each book in this series so much that I think I just love whichever one I am reading, just finished reading, or about to reread! I love that there is so much that happens in this book that I feel like I can to stay in this ‘world’ longer! I can easily see where the author could have ended the story much sooner and still have had a great story, but I’m so very glad she didn’t!
If you haven’t read any of the other Sectors books, know that most of the series can indeed be read as standalone, although in some books (not so much this one), there is some crossover references that might give spoilers, so I do suggest reading the series in order. Each book is pretty unique, with its own theme and setting, providing quite an interesting variety, yet tied together by the Sectors Special Forces men and women that we encounter. Speaking of…Trapped on Talonque sets up for a potentially very interesting follow-on novel that I sure hope is twirling around in the author’s head right now!
Add on note: Interesting, this is the third book I’ve read recently that featured a sport as a major component of the story. I like this trend and would like to read more ‘space sports’ books! Any recommendations? Anyone writing on this theme?
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