Book Review: Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (January 2, 2018)
Length: 352 pages
Known for his work in comics, Michael Moreci makes the transition to novelist in this rollicking debut which was clearly written as a tribute to his love of space-faring action and adventure sagas. Anyone familiar with popular franchises like Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy will no doubt see some of their plot elements and character tropes represented in Black Star Renegades, which borrows liberally from its inspirations.
First, we have a galaxy at war. The Praxis kingdom is our analog to the evil Empire, bent on subjugating all of known space to its will. Enter the “chosen one”, a Paragon whom legend foretold would arrive when the time is right, wielding a legendary weapon that will destroy the Praxis dictatorship and restore peace and balance to the galaxy. While Cade Sura might not be a simple farm boy from a desert planet, he does fit the archetype that seems to have been universally imposed on all reluctant heroes—he comes from humble beginnings, growing up hearing about the resistance and listening to exhilarating tales of their adventures, of how one day the Paragon will be the downfall of the Praxis kingdom. Still, for all the hushed reverence and admiration surrounding the prophesied savior, Cade never once imagined that he himself would be thrust into the role.
When the story begins, we follow Cade and his older brother Tristan as they travel to the mystical caves of Quarry on assignment for the Rai, an order of galactic peacekeepers that both of them belong to. However, their mission ends in disaster, and Cade emerges from the caves beaten, broken, but also in possession of the fabled weapon known as the Rokura—the very weapon that, it is said, can only be freed from its resting place by the Paragon. This was not supposed to be part of the plan, but what choice does Cade have? Either he must accept and master his new role, or Ga Halle, the evil overlord of Praxis, will come down on Cade and his friends with the full force of her military might and seize the Rokura for herself.
Initially, I was a bit torn on how to respond to a book like Black Star Renegades. The part of me that’s a die-hard, dyed-in-the-wool fan of Star Wars wanted to like this one badly, though the more measured and critical part of me knew there had to be more to a story than just repurposed old tropes borrowed from popular films. There’s a fine line between paying homage and blatantly taking someone else’s ideas for your own purpose, and there were times I felt this novel treaded uncomfortably close to the latter side of the equation. That said, I have to give credit where credit’s due; Moreci always seemed to dial back just in the nick of time, avoiding the outright lifting of ideas by applying his own twist or subversion to them. Don’t get me wrong; there’s still a want of originality, and a “I’ve definitely seen this before” feeling will be constantly tickling at the back of your mind, but at least there are a few surprises to keep things interesting.
Needless to say, the book became much more enjoyable once I accepted what it was meant to be and how it intended to get there. The story, told almost in an episodic manner, shuffles readers from one conflict to another in quick rapid-fire succession, so that there’s barely any downtime to absorb everything that’s happened. In a way, it’s actually better not to dwell on the plot too much, lest you start finding the holes in it, or realize how predictable it is. A novel like this is best taken lightly and appreciated on the basis of its spoofy themes. The characters are also quite endearing—that is, if you get over some of their hammier dispositions and dialogue.
All told, Black Star Renegades was an entertaining romp through the galaxy, even though some would argue that this “love letter” to Star Wars actually reads more like a shameless imitation. There’s plenty of charm and energy in this project to make me think there’s potential for the rest of the series, however, and Michael Moreci no doubt has the passion and enthusiasm to pull it off.