First off let me apologize for this being late. They have been doing "upgrades" to the phone/internet lines in my neighborhood for the past month and as a result I have had several extended periods with no phone or internet access.
Now, enough apologizing on to raving about this book.
I have been a fan of Wen Spencer since I read Alien Taste back in 2001. She's a good story teller who creates truly unique characters and situations. She tells stories where the relationships her characters have are as important as the events they live through. If you like SF or F with a hint of Romance Wen Spencer should be one of the writers on your watch list.
The series starting with Alien Taste deals with Ukiah Oregon, a feral child apparently raised by wolves and named for the city nearest to where he was found. Now an adult Ukiah is a professional tracker known for his uncanny abilities. He has also realizing that he's not exactly human. This series is fast paced tight urban SF. The second book in the series Tainted Trail has a horrid cover that looks like a cross between and ad for a first person shooter video game and an SUV commercial. More on that later.
Spencer has also written Urban Fantasy with Tinker and Wolf Who Rules which are about the adventures of a teenage mechanical and quantum physics genius and the return of Faerie magic to the real world. Tinker also had a sort or wretched cover.
Now with Endless Blue Spencer is trying her hand at Space Opera. Again the book has a cover that makes me wonder if anyone involved with the artwork had read the book. There are horned Minotaur like characters in the book, but at no time do they go flying though the air like the on the cover. I can guess who the other two characters are supposed to be, but they only faintly resemble anyone in the book.
Captain Mikhail Volkov is a clone of the clone of the Czar of the Novaya Rus Empire. He's not in line to rule at the moment due to governmental changes in the Empire. He's politically inconvenient, but too important to be disappeared. He made some mistakes in his youth, and has been given the chance to make up for that by joining the military. Through hard work he has become captain of the starship Svoboda. Turk is in charge of the unit of Red genetically modified human fighters on the Svoboda. He, is Mikhail's body guard/confidant. Unlike most Reds, who are creche raised Turk was raised as Mikhail's foster brother.
Reds are stronger and hardier than standard humans. They can grow fur and claws when stressed. Originally the Reds were designed to help humans colonize partly terraformed planets. Unfortunalty for them humanity has been attacked by aliens knows as Nefrim and the Reds have gone from potential colonists to soldiers. They are force grown in batches and raised with little socialization. They are encouraged to constantly compete with each other for dominance to make them tougher fighters. Rumor has it they have animal genes are imprinted with animal behavior to make them better fighters, Most humans regard them as animals, except for the few known as "cat fanciers" who treat them as dangerous sex toys.
When the engine of the long missing Starship Fenrir shows up in United Colonies space without the rest of the ship but attached to a sailboat with the body of an unregistered Red on board Mikhail is called to a meeting with United Colonies authorities. The Fenrir's engines seem to be the clue to where ships go when they make a certain kind of mistake in their FTL jump math. The unregistered Red makes the authorities worry that someone may be breeding their own private army. For political reasons dealing with the war UC can't send a ship to investigate. Novaya Rus has agrees to loan the Svoboda which has both FTL and atmospheric abilities, and her crew and captain to backtrack Fenrir's flightpath by making the same jump math errors and find out what is going on.
Loaded up with all the intelligence available about the Fenrir and an extra group of Red soldiers, Svoboda makes the jump and ends up in an inside out pocket universe with floating asteroid sky islands and an endless ocean dotted with small island archipelagos. Instants after entering this universe the Svoboda sideswipes on of the floating islands. The ship is damaged but still able to fly. Unknown to Mikhail as they made their jump the new Reds mutiny and throw Turk out the airlock.
Mikhail thinks Turk has been killed by the collision. He fights his own depression caused by the loss of his brother, as he tries to find out were exactly they are and how they can get home. While assessing the damage to his ship Mikhail begins having vivid hallucinations, more like waking dreams, where he relives the worst moments of his life. Each hallucination is associated with the sighting of mysterious glowing shadow beings who seem to be watching he Svoboda.They find an island settlement built around the remains of the Fenrir, that has been destroyed by what ever caused the ship's engines to jump back to real space. Mikhail finds a single survivor of the disaster, a woman Eraphie Bailey who looks like a Red but who's genes don't match any Red line in the Svoboda's data files.
Turk is not dead. After being pushed out of the airlock he fell into the ocean form a height that would have killed an unmodified human, and is rescued by a Paige Bailey. Paige is captain of a small trading ship crewed by herself and her cousins. She has no idea who Turk is when she fished him out of the water, other than a very good looking young man. She seems oblivious to him being a Red. Her ship is having serious engine and radio issues and has also been damaged from falling debris created when the Svoboda's licollision with the flying island. Paige and her family treat Turk as an equal. They offer him a place on their crew even though they know he is a Red. Thinking the Svoboda has been destroyed Turk accepts and agrees to help them investigate the strange goings on that have caused members of their family to disabear when the the settlement at Fenrir's rock exploded. Over time he realizes he is in love with Paige, and that she loves him, but due to bad experience in the past with "cat fanciers" he does not trust his feelings.
Back on the Svoboda Mikhail learns from Eraphie that there are no Nefrim living in Endless Blue, the native's name for the pocket universe, but there are several different species living in this strange universe including several different camps of humans. One human group lives in a settlement know as Mary's Landing, are mostly dependents of the survivors of he crash of a huge luxury ship, They are ruled buy "pure" humans and treat all genetically modified humans, including clones like Mikhail as property. Another, the oldest most prosperous group are desendantes of the colony ship Yamagychi and her military escort Yamoto. Eraphie is a member of a third group who live scattered throughout the whole of Endless Blue. They are mostly traders and live in small settlements and on their ships. Her people are a mix of standard and modified humans, both the hardy Reds and the more specialized and far rarer Blues. Blues are now illegal in the UC. They were designed to be perfect companions, and often but not always sex partners. Blues are beautify, and empathetic almost to the point of seeming to be able to read other people's minds. with Eraphie's help, but unaware of the Red mutiny on his ship, and still haunted by his hallucination Mikhail makes contacts with the various human groups and starts to unravel the mystery of what happened to the Fenrir.
Both the plot and the characters in this book are complex and multi-layered. On one level it's a fast paced Space Opera, on another it is about a romance that heals two people who have been badly damaged by past relationships, on another it is a story about what it means to be human and what humanities duty is to its creations. Overall it is a fun read and just the thing to take you away from the stress of the upcoming holiday season.
I enjoyed Endless Blue a great deal, wretched cover aside. It is one of the best books I've read this year. I'm willing to send my copy to the first person who drops me an e-mail promising to read it.