I really love the Maverick Heart cycle. It’s everything I look for in speculative fiction: different worlds, camaraderie, action scenes, banter, action scenes, deep characters, action scenes, and interesting situations. Did I mention action scenes? Because there are a lot of them here–chases, tight squeezes, and impossible feats of derring-do–but King draws it all together into a fast-paced whole and makes it real.
Ghost Light Burn picks up where the last book, A Congress of Ships, left off. Spacer Keene’s life partner, Ember, has healed nicely from the injuries he incurred, leaving him with lots of technologically advanced prosthetics, and his work partner, dazzling Lexa-Blue, is also along for the ride as they travel the Galactum with Vrick, both a ship and a sentient life form. Ember gets a distress call from his old partner-in-crime, Malika, who has retired from their scams and gone back to her previous profession–acting. Now a member of a traveling theatre group, Malika has been alerted by her girlfriend to a problem on the mining planet of Fury, where said girlfriend works. Fury is being broken apart and mined for resources, but someone on its smaller administrative planet, Sound, is siphoning off the miners’ bonuses. Malika’s girlfriend’s efforts to investigate have been futile, but Malika knows her friends Keene, Ember, Lexa-Blue, and Vrick can find out who’s behind it and put a stop to the theft.
If this sounds complicated, it’s not. Just start at the beginning as King gets you on the coaster and it pulls out of the station. What follows is a wild ride filled with indelible supporting characters, inventive-as-hell technology, and a heartfelt depiction of the symbiosis between man and machine. And it’s tough to tell where one of those leaves off and another begins. King invests the spaceship Vrick with more personality than some writers give their human characters.
Although King shines in both building character and creating exciting action scenes, his melding of the two is pure magic. And just when a tech explanation starts to get too detailed, he reins it in by either having Vrick come up with an easily understood metaphor or by dropping in some fast characterization like the banter between Keene and Lexa-Blue. In this respect, his pacing is masterful.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favorite scenes, which has Ember in front of the mirror ruminating over not only his state of the art prosthetic devices but freely admitting the PTSD they’ve brought about. His vulnerability here is a marked contrast to the face he shows not only Keene but the rest of the world. It’s a singular, deeply moving scene that brings Ember alive and puts his humorous asides and exchanges with his comrades in a totally different light.
Although Ghost Light Burn (a ghost light, for those not familiar with the theatre, is the safety light that shines on stage when everyone is gone) is the latest in the Maverick Heart series, it definitely works as a standalone. However, you’ll be doing yourself a favor buying all of them at some point. Yes, they’re that good. Highly recommended.
© 2022 Jerry L. Wheeler