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May 14, 2021

The Red Rover Series by C. E. Whitaker III ~ a Review

by MK French

Today I have reviews of a young adult space opera series. I reviewed book 1 back in 2019 and now I'm sharing my thoughts on books 2 - 4. And it's a great time to get started on this series as book 5, Fulmination, just came out last month. The ebooks for this series are all free reads for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Clash of the Celestials by C. E. Whitaker III

Clash of the Celestials
July 2019; Darn Pretty Books; 978-1733862035
ebook, print (304 pages); YA sci-fi
The Red Rover crew escaped the destruction of the Galicia star system and eventually had to make an emergency landing on the planet Araneus to restock supplies. There’s doubt about Marius’s ability to lead, and the others aren’t interested in being his subordinates. The group splinters to explore, and the local populace celebrates them as Celestials. The locals are not what they appear, and there are threats lurking beneath the surface.

While Clash of the Celestials is the second book of the series, following Origins (read my review), the first one isn’t necessary reading. The prologue and first chapter bring back some characters from the first novel, setting up this one, and you only need to know that exploring for the sake of resources was the point, and there were political machinations at work. Then tragedy struck in the form of lost crew members, who had been Andrew’s parents. From there we get into the main story with chapter two, picking up twenty-seven months after the events of the first book. Marius and his cadets have only each other and two androids for company, which makes for tight quarters on the Red Rover at the start. When they run low on supplies and crash, the tensions only get worse.

Keep in mind that the cadets are teenagers. They don’t even know how old they are at the start of the book because Marius didn’t give them any information unless they absolutely needed to know. I have the benefit of being an adult and being a reader knowing that trouble is lurking, whereas the teens don’t. The dangers they face follow a lot of tropes that explorers face in space-faring tales, so it’s easy enough to pick out what will happen next. It’s a question more of how the kids will survive it, if they’ll get back together, and if they’ll learn from the experience. There were some minor typos in the text here and there, but nothing that truly threw me out of the book. I still had to read quickly to learn what happened next, so I can’t even reference where they were. Oops. Some of the back story asides for side characters interrupted the flow of the action. I’m still not terribly fond of June or how she approaches others or the way Gordon is treated as the butt of most jokes. But again, they’re teenagers and this was the first time they were truly on their own. I’m sure in time they’ll all mature and grow.

Buy Clash of the Celestials at Amazon 

Frequency of Distress by C. E. Whitaker III

Frequency of Distress
February 2020; Darn Pretty Books; 978-1733862059
ebook, print (351 pages); YA sci-fi
Marius and the cadets enjoyed freedom, but they’re soon captured by the Draconoires, an intergalactic marauding team that sells them to the dying world Felicity. There, the cadets are expected to work hard to reverse the damage done to the planet, but have to find the strength to survive from within.

After opening with the Draconoires, we see the cadets and Marius on Araneus in the wake of defeating the Araneans. They have a peaceful setup with the Aphotritons, who of course want them to stay. Given their original mission to explore, that isn’t the choice that the cadets make. Once they’re in space, we have two threads of the story: the Draconoires and then the team bonding and learning from each other as equals. Of course this new normal doesn’t last, and their paths crossing is emotionally devastating for the cadets.

The action really picks up at that point, and then the storylines split again when the cadets are separated. We have some interesting worldbuilding with the aliens on different planets, though we have the Star Trek effect: they all speak English, and many have similar anatomy to humans. The Draconoires have animalistic features and commentary is frequently given about their smell and brutish manners, which is meant to be a shorthand for their violent ways. I would’ve preferred a less obvious allegory, more like Coriz. We also have the worst of the bad guys reveling in torture for its’ own sake, attempt to rape June, and jockey for power within their own ranks. Consequences for these actions cascade throughout the ending of the book, which went at a much faster pace than the beginning. There were a few typos that slipped past; I noticed “pallet” instead of “palate,” for example, but they’re minor. We reach a satisfying conclusion, with the hook for book 4 at the end.

Buy Frequency of Distress at Amazon

Contingence by C. E. Whitaker III

February 2021; Darn Pretty Books; 978-1733862073
ebook, print (275 pages); YA sci-fi
Marius and the cadets follow a call they hope is being sent by survivors. They are wary of the signal when they approach it, and the beacon is a very familiar sight. Mysteries still abound, and this is a reunion to remember.

After the events in books two and three, I don’t blame the team at all for being wary of a signal. As much joy as the thought of finding another Rover brought them, the Draconoires had used a beacon signal to find and attack their ship. They’re all traumatized, something hinted at in the prior book but really made obvious in this one.

The language in this book is stilted at times. Some of it is reflecting the aliens and the nature of their communications and thoughts. It’s a neat trick, but still somewhat awkward to read. It’s especially awkward after reading a stretch of chapters with the Red Rover crew, even when there are some typos and grammatical errors. (For example, “Is that what your going to do?”) We have the thread of the Red Rover team in space approaching the beacon then on the planet, the aliens, and then Delly’s story. They all interweave, but it still is a lot to juggle.

I did like seeing how much the kids grew up, and how well they function as a team. They support each other in their times of stress and have grown into strong adults. This novel ends on a cliffhanger, so we don’t know exactly what will happen next on a planet full of internal tensions and hostility.

Buy Contingence at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever. 

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