Book Review: Pariah by W. Michael Gear
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: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 3 of Donovan Trilogy
Publisher: DAW (May 14, 2019)
Length: 496 pages
Author Information: Website
What a fun return to Donovan in this third and final volume of W. Michael Gear’s sci-fi adventure series about the trials and tribulations of settling an untamed new world! That the planet was named for the first person to die on its surface just moments after stepping off the original colonization ship seems apt somehow, for Donovan is home to innumerous species of native flora and fauna that can kill you in more ways than you can imagine. As a result, those who managed to survive quickly developed a healthy respect for the local wildlife and learned not to take anything in life for granted, for you never know what can happen on Donovan. Over time, this also meant that a whole new system of traditions and beliefs have evolved, one that is very different from those in the Solar System, so needless to say, whenever fresh meat arrives on Donovan it’s always interesting to watch.
In the first book, Outpost, we saw what happened with the arrival of the Turalon, the first ship to make it into Donovan’s orbit in more than six years. These newcomers either stayed and adapted, or they chose to brave the risky return trip back home to Earth. The second book Abandoned focused on how those who had decided to stay on Donovan managed to cope as they continued to carve out their own path in this new society and assimilate into the local population, while those who didn’t or couldn’t simply perished. And now in Pariah, a second group has arrived on Donovan, though this time, due to the strange provenance of the new ship, things are a bit more complicated and highly unusual.
In this last book, readers finally get answers to the questions surrounding the missing ships that never made it to Donovan, as well as details about the creepy ghost ship that suddenly appeared in the planet’s orbit carrying nothing but a pile of the original crew’s bones. Part of the explanation lies in the arrival of the Vixen, a Corporation ship that disappeared fifty years ago but has now reappeared at Donovan, its passengers having no idea that so much time has passed. To them, they made the years-long trip to the planet in the blink of an eye. Now they find themselves out of their own time, trapped on a wild and undeveloped alien planet, and surrounded by a population of colonists using technology considered primitive even to those who are half a century out-of-date. Didn’t I tell you this was going to be fun?
Again, as with the previous books, the character list was what made Pariah so irresistible and compelling. Two main POVs were added from the Vixen, one being Dortmund Weisbacher, a scientist whose belief in his own theories of conservation practically borders on zealotry, but of course, he also has no idea that all his methods have been discredited and proven failures in years he’s been gone. Not that knowing would have changed his mind anyway. Donovan was supposed to be his planet to study and conserve, and arriving fifty years too late to find it already teeming with colonists and industry is enough to send him into a raging fit. And then there’s Tamarland Benteen, also known as the scorpion—a nickname he earned while serving as the consort and personal assassin for one of the most powerful politicians in the Solar System. And being out of his own time and on a strange planet bothers him not one bit. To Benteen, all people are the same—they can be manipulated, controlled, and threatened…all you need to know is what buttons to push. Whether it’s their safety, livelihoods, or their families, everyone has a weakness. He may have left the Solar System an exile, but Benteen is determined to be in power again, and he’s not above imprisoning and killing the local Donovanians to do it. Hard to believe there could be a slimier, more dastardly character than Dan Wirth, but hey, there you go.
And speaking of Dan Wirth, a whole bunch of familiar characters also make their return. Wirth himself has established himself as the local kingpin, running the lucrative casino and gaining more money and power by keeping everyone in his pocket. My favorite character, Corporation supervisor Kalico Aguila, has also become a beloved figure on Donovan, a far cry from the early days when she first marched into town thinking she could bend the colonists to her will. Then of course there are the locals, including Talina Perez, who is essentially the most vital figure in the entire series. However, in Pariah, Tal is a bit of a mess. Her personal war with the quetzals continues to rage on in the field as well as inside her own body, as her very DNA is threatened by alien genetic code trying to take over.
In the end, I just loved how all these character threads came together to fall under a unifying theme, which also lead to an all-important lesson—that those who want to mess with Donovan do so at their own peril. From Dortmund’s attempts to “save” Donovan and Benteen’s desire to take over Port Authority, we got to see in a most satisfying way how the planet and its people will always fight back. Those like Aguila have already been cowed and humbled. And when it comes to Talina’s problems, the book keeps us wondering just who will eventually prevail in this battle of wills, for not even those who have embraced Donovan are spared.
Perhaps my only criticism of this novel is that it felt somewhat scattered and disjointed, weakening the overall story. For instance, I felt the plot spent way too long on Talina’s internal struggle, represented by her time in some strange Mayan dreamscape. I confess that I skimmed most of these chapters. Pariah was also the first time I didn’t feel as connected to Tal’s sections, preferring to read about the other characters instead. As a result, the pacing suffered, since some parts dragged while others felt rushed.
That said, Pariah was a rewarding end to a fantastic trilogy, even if I felt this was the weakest of the three books. Simply put, too many different things going on probably hurt the overall story’s pacing and cohesiveness, though ultimately we got some stunning answers into the mystery surrounding the missing ships as well as some fascinating details into the science of Donovan. I still would not hesitate to recommend this trilogy to anyone who loves sci-fi action and adventure, especially if you enjoy stories related to space travel and colonization. I’m very excited at the possibility of more books set in this universe.