[Book Review] Find the exiled commando ninjas, save the universe.

Blackcollar by Timothy Zahn (Blackcollar #1)

After a lackluster first encounter with a backcopy of Timothy Zahn’s writing, I hesitated before picking up Blackcollar. The back blurb (which combines all those keywords I just can’t resist) hooked up with my curiosity and convinced me to give it a go. And man, I take back all the disgruntled things I said about Timothy Zahn’s writing.

Spies! Elite, genetically-enhanced guerrilla commandos! An alien occupation and one special agent sent out on a suicide mission to contact a resistance cell on another planet –

It was love at first premise.

The human worlds have been under occupation for nearly thirty years now. Allen Caine has spent his entire life preparing for an infiltration mission: impersonate a government official, get off Earth, travel to a former colony planet, and rally the resistance movement there…assuming there even is one there, anymore. Because in his head, Caine has information that, for the first time in decades, could mean a fighting chance against the alien occupation.

A wrench is thrown in Allen’s plans within the first six pages, and the story is off. Even when Allen makes contact with Earth’s once-elite guerilla commandos, in a world where anyone could be a collaborator and anyone could be a spy, betrayal is just one trap away.

It’s wonderful. And fun. And there are nunchucks, and shuriken, and covert operations, and concepts like loyalty conditioning. Blackcollar, with its well thought-out fighting sequences and political intrigue, hits my space adventure sweet tooth. The Blackcollar military units and their culture are believably crafted, and though the protagonists’ personalities do blur together at times, the main antagonist is nicely fleshed out. The overall story tension is only slightly softened by my own confidence in the universal and undeniable fact that no matter how bad things get, my favorite ninja protagonist will have anticipated everything and have a super-clever plot to turn it to his advantage. Yet Zahn even manages to upend that near the end with an unexpected confrontation and betrayal (among several).

Blackcollar delivers some solid, clever world-building and is told from multiple points of view, including a pretty big switch from Caine to Lathe as main narrator a little into the novel – a good thing, really, because Caine begins to get a little (albeit understandably) petulant at having his life hijacked. Beyond my overall delight with the fun, popcorn-munching action and suspense, there are definitely some nitpicks (Where are all the female Blackcollars?  Isn’t 30 years is a long time to wait at attention?), but not enough to detract from the story during the read.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick-paced, suspense/scifi/spy action book with a dash of intrigue and characters facing impressive odds. And, of course, black ops commandos who can take anything that’s thrown at them.


Complimentary copy courtesy of Open Road Media.


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