Killbox, the fourth book in the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre, was released on August 31. The other books in this space opera series are Grimspace, Wanderlust and Doubleblind, in that order. There will be six books total in the series with Aftermath scheduled for September 2011 and Endgame for September 2012.
Please note that since this is the fourth book in a series, there will be spoilers for the first three books. This is a series that I would definitely recommend reading in order beginning with Grimspace (review).
After leaving Ithiss-Tor, Jax sends a message that she is quitting her job as a diplomat the first chance she gets. It’s not that she doesn’t want to do her part to save humanity (and any other species that refrains from hostile actions such as devouring the flesh of anyone it feels like eating) – but diplomacy has never really been her strength. Instead, she takes an apprentice jumper and begins teaching him how to traverse grimspace.
Daily life is not as safe as it used to be, and for some peculiar reason the Morgut appear to be targeting scientists. As more and more people are attacked by the deadly Morgut, Jax and her friends realize that there are serious consequences to destroying the corrupt Farwan, which at least had a large number of patrols dedicated to aiding those in trouble. The Conglomerate comes to the same realization and offers March a position as commander of a new armada – with free reign to be “creative” due to limited funding and the urgency of defending the universe. Although it is a lot of responsibility, it’s also impossible to refuse, and the crew begins gathering a force of mercenaries of ill repute as the last hope against the Morgut threat.
After the political diplomacy in Doubleblind, this book packs in a lot more action. In spite of (or perhaps because of) this, it actually took a little longer for me to get emotionally involved in Killbox than the previous three novels, although I was very much emotionally involved by the time it ended. The beginning is not at all slow, quite the opposite – I was just being impatient about wanting to see certain threads from the last book picked up. The previous installment dealt a lot with Vel, my favorite character in the series, and I was hoping to see some of the parts about him from it followed up on some more. Although it took a little while to get to them, there were definitely some great scenes with Vel that I’m now hoping to see continued in the next novel.
There’s lots of danger, excitement and battles, and Aguirre continues to maintain an excellent balance between moving the plot forward and developing the characters. At first it did seem as though there was more adventure and less of the character moments, but there were some – they were just mainly with March. Ever since the second book, I’ve much preferred reading about the friendships Jax has developed to the romance, especially her relationships with the alien Vel and the ship’s mechanic Dina, an exiled princess. By the time it reached the big cliffhanger ending, not only had there been some fantastic conversations with both Vel and Dina, but it had definitely also taken me on an emotionally harrowing journey. The last 50 – 60 pages made me cry not just once but twice (which rarely happens at all).
Another major highlight is the return of some characters we haven’t seen since the very first book, but the most rewarding part is the development of Jax herself. She continues to grow as a character and has changed so much since the first book. Even better, just how much she has grown is shown through her actions – we’re not just told she’s not the same Jax but we’re shown time and again that she has come a long way since the first book. It did get on my nerves a little that we were told she wasn’t the same so many times instead of just letting her deeds speak for themselves, but considering the story is told from Jax’s perspective, I don’t think it’s unrealistic. Someone who has undergone as much of a metamorphosis as she has over the course of this series is probably going to be continually amazed by the contrast between how she reacts now and how she would have reacted just a short time ago.
The writing itself has also improved since the first novel. While is still mainly straightforward and sometimes fractured prose as it’s told from Jax’s perspective in present tense, there were a couple of phrases and observations that struck me as lovely. The turmoil at the end especially was very moving.
It was somewhat annoying that March and Jax were apart yet again in this book. Although the reason behind it was logical, the fact that it keeps happening over and over again is making it feel contrived to me. It’s starting to seem like every book needs to have a new dilemma for keeping some tension in the romance so it doesn’t get stale before the final book.
Overall, this is a strong addition to the Sirantha Jax series. It has plenty of action and adventure, the characters continue to grow, and the writing has matured since the first book. One final word of advice: do have a box of tissues handy and be prepared to curse the book for ending where it does.
My Rating: 8/10
Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.
Reviews of other books in this series: