Some say that all Science Fiction should be in the form of a Spaghetti Western. I'm not convinced that it's a necessity, but when it's done right it's a sheer joy. The Star Trek franchise was, after all, created by Gene Roddenberry who had written for many Westerns before turning to SF. When he redid the pilot, he was told to make it a Western in space. So, if you're Joseph J Madden, there is probably nothing better that you could emulate. The Starhawk Chronicles is in many ways an emulation, yet it stands on its own.
This is Space Opera done right, with heroes we can admire and villains we can hate. There is no moral ambiguity, no whiny melodrama. Yes, the heroes are given an extermination order when they track down the villains but it's well deserved and they don't waste their time mooning over what is necessary. Of course, it helps that they have a score to settle and that just adds to the fun.
This is the first in what promises to be an excellent series moving forward. Madden has lain the groundwork for an epic adventure. The crew of the Starhawk, led by Jesse Forster, aka Captain Kid, is a group of bounty hunters. They lost one of their own last time out and they're not happy about it. (Un)fortunately, their prey, the dreaded Nexus Gang, has escaped from captivity and slaughtered a bunch of people in the process. Now it's time for another, bigger showdown. Both sides know that neither is going is going to give. Add in a crooked politician (Boss Hogg anyone?) and things get interesting quickly.
Add in the surprise appearance of a freelance bounty-hunter after the team is assigned the case and a big plot twist and things build even further. I hope I'm not spoiling too much, but she's a woman and Forster is a man, and this is a Space Opera... Ok, I'll let you figure it out from there. Say what you will, this is Space Opera and this needed to be there.
When the Nexus Gang returns to the scene of the crime, things get crazy fast. Some of this was a little bit stomach turning as the violence ramps up and gets a bit graphic, but that's to be expected. This is a Space Opera, not a knitting manual. (And let's face it, any knitting manual I bought and tried to follow would probably end in blood as well.) More importantly though, Madden worked my heart strings. By the time things came to a head there was no doubt in my mind who I was rooting for and why. The Nexus Gang was made up of bad people of various species, this is a Space Opera after all, that did terrible things. I wanted to hate them and I did. Our heroes have been wronged, but they're not a bunch of sniveling victims. They're out for payback and they're determined to get it, come Hell or high water.
The hand to hand/blaster to blaster combat is solid. It's Old West style ala Gun Smoke or The Rifleman. Quickdraws, fast escapes and sudden rescues rule the day. And, if we get an old school TV Trope there is a good reason for it. Let's face it; If something becomes a trope it's because it works and it works here. Every good book needs at least one "Oh shit!" moment and this one delivers.
The best part of any Space Opera is the ship to ship combat and it's well done here. Action abounds. There are no unexplained miracles. It's well thought out. Things go boom when they should. An outclassed vessel is legitimately outclassed with no miracle weapon to save it. It's up to the crews brains, guts and luck to see them through.
My only real complaint about this book is that it's a little predictable. Tropes are good. They're like comfort food when you're reading. Sometimes though it can be a little overdone. The love interest angle could not have been telegraphed any better by Western Union. The ending is a typical Western trope also, granted that it's one that I love and that was totally fitting to the ending, it was still exactly what I expected in general even if I wasn't sure exactly how the details were going to work out.
Also I have to wonder why The Starhawk Chronicles is the name of the book and not the series. I really shouldn't say much as I fight with putting a good title together for my own work but I found it a bit confusing. I guess it worked for Star Wars as well, but I couldn't help but get confused. I was looking around for the actual title of the book for the review, not realizing that I already had it.
Having said that much, I really enjoyed this book. It was good to kick back with a Rock-em Sock-em good read and cheer for some people I could really get behind. I'll be looking for more from Mr Madden, starting with his upcoming sequel: The Starhawk Chronicles II: Rest and Wreckreation. That sounds like my kind of carnage. I hope I get to review that one too.
Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 DNA Samplers
The Starhawk Chronicles
Joseph J. Madden
Self Published, 2013
The Starhawk Chronicles is available for purchase here: