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Stormblood (SF) - Jeremy Szal ****

Practically all the action-based SF books I've read in the last few years have had female protagonists, so it seemed almost odd to find Stormblood taking us into the world of Vakov Fukasawa, a male former soldier, bio-enhanced using 'stormtech', an addictive substance that gives the user added strength, self-healing and courage in return for becoming more aggressive - sometimes uncontrollably so. However, it didn't take long to get swept up in Jeremy Szal's fast-moving story.

Part of the development in the story is finding out more about what stormtech actually is (a revelation that sets us up nicely for a sequel - it's not really a spoiler to say it's alien DNA, as it's on the book's cover), but a lot simply involves Fukasawa taking on his demons, fighting to stay alive in the face of an increasingly imposing set of enemies, and trying to extricate his brother from a drug-smuggling ring that proves to be far more than it first seems. Initially, Fukasawa is bitter and anti-establishment, but comes round to a grudging respect for the forces of law and order, notably in the form of the love interest, Katherine Kowalski, the officer put in charge of him.

Szal handles well the complexities of stormtech and produces a rich, layered world in the form of a three-dimensional city state that occupies a hollowed-out asteroid. There are a number of alien races, though mostly Star Trek-like in being little more than variants on exaggerated human types. The adventure was engaging and page turning, though it did suffer from approach that Alistair Maclean so loved of putting the hero through extensive physical abuse that no one would survive, only to have them come out stronger in the end.

If we're being picky, it's overlong - there a several backstory chapters that could simply be dropped without making any difference to the storyline. There's a rather unbelievable 'super hacker' friend of Fukasawa's who seems to be able to single-handedly break any IT security in seconds -  it doesn't say much for the antivirus companies of this future world. Oh, and Fukasawa's internal monologues go on far to long as he agonises over his addictive state and the effect that stormtech is having on him. However, these small moans don't take away from the very effective action, some interesting technology ideas and a strong, sweeping storyline that promises more to come.

An effective debut from Jeremy Szal.

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Review by Brian Clegg


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