Book review: Morhelion by Dominic Dulley
Morhelion - Dominic Dulley
I had some reservations when I read Shattermoon, the first part of Dominic Dulley's SF adventure series The Long Game. The first book was by no means lacking action and incident, but it became a little repetitive in its chase sequences, racing from one battle, trap and escape to the next one. Despite its off-world setting, it was more like a Bond espionage thriller and rather short on science-fiction background detail. There were however indications that the relatively small-scale personal adventure of Aurelia 'Orry' Kent and her colleagues might open up as the prelude to a huge interplanetary war. We perhaps aren't quite at that stage yet, but Dominic Dully has fleshed out the series considerably with Morhelion, and the future looks even more promising.
I still had some reservations going into Morhelion however and the opening wasn't particularly promising, seeming to open with nothing more than a reprise of the first book. Having narrowly averted a major war, Orry and the small crew of the Dainty Jane are back to their old ways, preparing another elaborate scam to hook a rather gullible banker. Like Shattermoon, it all blows up in their faces and they inadvertently find themselves - again - captured and caught up in the greater political turmoil of the Fountainhead and the on-going war with the Kadiran in the Ascendancy.
It all seems very familiar. Orry has been given a secret important message that she must go to Morhelion to deliver to the Imperator, a message that could mark a turning point in the war. First however they have to get themselves out of the clutches of their nemesis Cordelia Roag, the most wanted criminal in the Ascendancy. Cue lots of flash-bang explosions, shoot-outs and close escapes from out-of-the-frying-pan situations. If the rest of book followed a similar path we'd be in for a rerun of Shattermoon, but fortunately Dulley has considerably more twists and incidents to bring to Morhelion.
What is unexpected and different is that some of Orry's team of adventurers have gone their own way as they might well realistically do and they play no further part in Morhelion, and are not even mentioned (which isn't to say that we might not encounter them again in the future). In their place, Orry picks up a few new characters whose fates become tied to hers, characters who just happen to have the necessary qualities they need to get them through the troubles ahead. They aren't always reliable and you can't be entirely sure of their motives and personal motivations, but that just keeps things fresh and exciting.
As for expansion of information on the nature of the worlds of the Ascendancy and its inhabitants, well, it's a mixed bag. There is certainly a colourful selection of characters, but often it's a case of it being similar to the Bond-in-space character of Shattermoon, with one world consisting of whalers-in-space, backward people-torturing rednecks-in-space (complete with corrupt law-enforcement officers) and space-cowboys getting involved in bar-room brawls. On the other hand, we finally get introduced to the Karidan for real and my goodness are they for-real! As the Kadiran plot develops with worlds being destroyed, we are dropped into the midst of a ferocious battle where Orry's information might be the only chance to save the Ascendancy from alien annihilation.
You might hope for something more original with a little more ambition, but even on the terms of it being just a great space-adventure entertainment, Morhelion has much more variety and imagination on show than Shattermoon. There's genuinely not a slow patch in the book and plenty to keep you reading it right through. I may have had some reservations after the first book in the Long Game series, but I'm very much on-board now for book three!