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Review by Riley

For part of this week, we will have a theme.  I call it I’ve Got You Under My Skin.  If you are familiar with the old jazz song, perhaps you will think about the verse as you read these posts.

Today, we have a review of Christina Westcott’s Cypher.  Tomorrow Viola Carr will be here to talk about her fascinating character from The Dastardly Miss Lizzie.  Then I hope you will return on Thursday for a very special guest post from Christina Westcott.


About Cypher

A murderous computer program has attacked her cyborg partner’s body and mind, turning him into a super assassin who is driven to destroy everything she’s vowed to protect.

In a high-stakes game of cat and gerbat, Kimber FitzWarren faces her deadliest challenge yet, an assassin with all the skills and knowledge of her partner Wolf Youngblood, but controlled by the mind of a killer. Fitz must find a way to protect her Emperor while keeping her adversary alive until she can free her partner from the program’s influence.

A prisoner in the dark labyrinth of his own mind, Wolf struggles to regain control of his body, concocting a plan to use the killer as a Trojan Horse to lead him to his attacker. In the meantime, he can only watch as a helpless passenger as the assassin plots to kill all the people he loves.


Review of Cypher

“Oh shit, we are so screwed.”

Said Jumper.  Jumper is a cat. Well, he is a bit more advanced than the typical house cats many of us serve in our own homes. But, you know, still a cat. Cats are easy going. Seemingly lazy. Sleep a lot. And assume we humans will take care of them. So when Jumper is concerned, there is likely to be a crisis brewing.

He is not wrong. Did you read the book blurb? I did, and still, when Wolf-who-is-not-Wolf makes his first appearance, “Oh shit”, was exactly my reaction. Me and a telepathic cat think alike.

Before the story gets to that point, there is a little setup. First of all, the Dragon Emperor has a new face. One that Kimber is willing to follow. As Ari Ranashov’s chief of security, Kimber FitzWarren has her job cut out for her. Constant vigilance is required. That is where her cyber-enhancements come in handy.  And the alien symbiont that heals pretty much any injury is good to have too. Both features have become vital tools in her risky occupation.  Kimber is one cool security chief.

You get a sense that the threat of trouble is ever present. Wolf Youngblood, as the emperor’s military Triumvir is also concerned with security. Between Kimber and Wolf, all threats must be dealt with.

But this time, the threat is Wolf himself. And the nasty bit of bad guy that messed with Wolf. Janos Tritico, who first appeared in A Hero for The Empire, is back and is pulling more strings, causing more problems and just generally, making a huge nuisance of himself. And where Tritico goes, so do the Tzraka, the nasty giant bugs. The bugs are still a bit of a mystery, but every little bit one learns about them causes a shiver. I don’t think they are good for humanity.

The best part of Cypher is the character of Wolf-who-is-not-Wolf. Wolf is a complex character before the addition of what is basically an AI in his body. I find the relationship between the two intelligences to be fascinating. Wolf’s struggle with his body hijacker consumes a large part of the plot and is at the same time an engrossing study of two characters.

The relationship between Kimber and Wolf is intense. If you’ve read A Hero for the Empire, you are aware of everything these two went through to get to the point they are now. Very much in love, each devoted to the other. So when Wolf-who-is-not-Wolf showed up it was a real heartbreaker for Kimber. I truly felt the difficulty that Kimber experienced doing her job, tracking down her love, while all the time, there is a possibility she will have to hurt him or worse. This bit made my eyes water:

“Fitz slid down the slippery tiles into a tight ball of misery. The warm water running down her face disguised her tears. In the short time she’d known Wolf, she’d cried more than the rest of her life combined, because now she had something precious to lose.”

Oh shit, we are so screwed.” I know, I already quoted Jumper, but I get such a kick out of that line, because it is coming from a cat.  I love Jumper and his ability to state the obvious. His observations and telepathic comments (hence the italics) are always entertaining.

“….when the Emperor says she’s bringing her cat, all a ship’s captain can say about it is ‘What kind of food does she like?’ You’re along to accompany Faydra.” “Guess that makes me the Emperor’s cat’s consort, huh?” He stood and stretched. “I could get used to being a kept cat.” ”

Jumper is not really a kept cat. He really earns his keep. He is Kimber’s eyes, ears, and intuition in dicey situations. His ability to communicate telepathically is ever so handy.  Jumper is one cool cat, hence his affiliation with a cool security chief.

There was a lot of tea with cream and sugar in this book. It happens to be favorite morning beverage, so I am very pleased to know that tea, cream and sugar are easily obtained in the futuristic world of the Late Scyran Empire. There are just enough earthisms in the story to make it accessible but not too many.  The futuristic homeworld of the empire is majestic and gritty – the perfect backdrop for this story.

Like A Hero for the Empire, Cypher begins with a Late Scyran Empire definition:

“Cypher. (Late Scyran Empire— 532 to 893 ER) (1) n. A secret way of writing; a code (2) n. A person of no importance, especially one who does the bidding of another and seems to have no will of their own. (3) v. Military. To erase all records of an individual, rendering them nonexistent.”

These definitions are stage-setters and should not be passed over.  Which definition applies in his book? Hmm.  That is for you to determine.

I think Cypher is even better than A Hero for the Empire, which I loved (review here). The characters are complex and the plot is rich with galactic possibilities. There is non-stop scifi action, gut-wrenching emotion and plenty of twists and turns in the plot. While it is a continuation of book 1 in The Dragon’s Bidding series, Cypher is a stand-alone story. Cypher is a new book for my favorites shelf. I. Love. This. Series!



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I’ve Got You Under My Skin

I’ve got you under my skin.
I’ve got you deep in the heart of me.
So deep in my heart that you’re really a part of me.
I’ve got you under my skin.
I’d tried so not to give in.
I said to myself: this affair never will go so well.
But why should I try to resist when, baby, I know so well
I’ve got you under my skin?