Monday, May 26, 2014

Book review: Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

An earth invader becomes the enemy of her own people when she impulsively decides to save the life of a human boy.

Conquest by John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard (Headline)

When I first received a copy of John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard’s Conquest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Books about aliens and alien invasions are certainly no stranger to the science fiction genre, and it certainly seems to be a concept that sells over and over again.

 Of course, many will argue that the idea has reached its saturation point, but I think given the right treatment, any book that employs a commonplace fictional model could be as entertaining to read as the novel that’s being lauded for its distinctiveness.

Connolly and Ridyard are certainly prime examples of that; and while I certainly had my fair share of issues with the book (which is the first in a trilogy, if I’m not mistaken), I have to admit that I was generally very impressed with what the co-authors have offered up.

Beyond the basic concept, Conquest actually proved to be a lot more complex, layered and detailed than I expected to be. 

The book is also not your average us versus them story.

Rather, aside from the rebel joining the resistance forces, it also explores what happens when warring factions extend themselves to infighting; where raging differences in political approaches and diplomatic tactics come to the forefront and threaten to ignite and result in a full-out civil war.

Syl Hellais is a 16-year old Illyri, the first of her kind to have been born on earth. While she’s never seen the place that she’s originally from, Syl can’t help but feel as if she doesn’t belong.

The hostility that she and the rest of her race experience don’t help matters much and only leads to her being forced to remain within the castle grounds where she lives.

Outside of the castle sanctuary, two young brothers, Paul and Steven Kerr form part of a resistance group. Fighting for their freedom and the jurisdiction of their planet, they constantly put themselves at risk knowing that each and every deliberate action could very well result in certain death.

When they inadvertently end up protecting the alien governor’s daughter and friend, they don’t realise how that one action will become their saving grace.

When Syl finds out that the boys who rescued her from the Diplomats (the group of aliens who believe in using violence as a means to subdue humans and who don’t encourage interaction with humans except for the strict purposes of enslaving them), have been caught and sentenced to death, she, along with the help of her psychic friend, Ani and Meia - another character whose identity and alien class classification plays quite a significant role – hatch a plan to help them escape.

Naturally things don’t go as planned, and before she knows it, Syl and Ani are soon on the run from the people she once knew and thought she could trust.

Connolly and Ridyard’s Conquest is, for lack of a better word, complicated. 

While I do think that it’s a good, solid novel, I think it could have been made better if there weren’t so many things being thrown at us in almost all of one go.

To be perfectly honest, I was almost tempted to give up on the book from the get-go, given that it starts out with a rather heavy-handed and dry barrage of information that’s provided in a method that reads more like a science textbook than a descriptive novel.

However, once I got beyond the first few chapters, things started an interesting turn.

When we’re introduced to Syl, an alien girl who’s headstrong and far too curious for her own good, we get the feeling that - given that she’s so protected within the castle walls she resides in - things are a lot more complicated than the humans vs. aliens fight.

And too right we are, because we soon discover that as much as the humans are rebelling against the Illyri forces, the Illyri forces themselves are divided within their own ranks.

The politics within the warring factions are actually very interesting, because not only does it speak of a discontent regarding the methods of governing, but it also unveils a larger plot that’s brewing behind the scenes, one that the corps (the less violent group) are in no way prepared for.

What makes this even more interesting is when the inevitable coup occurs, it reveals an even more sinister force behind the growing resistance, the leader of which is an old and very powerful woman who is constantly on the prowl to recruit more women into the ranks known as The Nairene Sisterhood.

The dynamics between all of them combined, make for situations that are simmering and bubbling over with tension, keeping one on constantly edge because you just never know how they’re going to react in these moments.

When Syl and Paul first meet, their encounter is one that doesn’t allow for any real time to get to know one another, but when situations are reversed, Syl finds herself reluctantly trusting Paul once she’s become an outcast.

Personally I felt like the attraction and culminating of moments leading up to and including them finally getting together, was little too synthetic for me. While the romance is not particularly the worst I’ve come across, I did feel that things developed way too quickly.

And for a pair coming from two entirely different species, the trust that was built up between the two happened way too rapidly to come across as being 100% authentic, even though they did, in turns, save each other.

Other interesting characters include Syl’s best friend Ani, who is one kickass and incredibly gifted alien with psychic powers. I have to applaud the authors here, because generally speaking, the best friend in fiction is often relegated to the background, or only used as a noise filler.

Ani happens to play quite the starring role here; in fact, her powers manifest itself way before Syl’s does, resulting in Ani being quite the awesome sidekick.

The villains in the story are quite creepy. From the leader of the diplomats and his wife (who is part of  the Sisterhood), to Vena and Sedulus, leaders who are on the diplomats side (Sedulus keeps the creepiest buzzkilling creatures as pets), these characters have no qualms about using brute force to achieve their purpose.

The most fascinating part of the novel for me though, was finding out what their purpose is on earth, and just why it is that they’ve left their home planet in the first place.

All I can say is that you should prepare to be thoroughly creeped out – it’s a twist that I didn’t see coming and one that made me forgive most of the issues in the book.

If I can give you one piece of advice though, then that would be to read this book with no breaks in between. I’m someone who reads more than one book at a time, so had to learn this the hard way as I found myself having to revert back in order to remember some of what I’ve read.

But, other than that, I’d say Conquest is a very promising start to a trilogy that shows a good amount of potential.

It’s certainly worth trying out!

Look out for an interview with Jennifer, one half of the author duo, coming up shortly!

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