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Firmament: Machiavellian (Volume 3) Paperback – October 24, 2014
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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I'm really impressed by the way the lessons are woven into the plot. Andi's faith and her struggles aren't a side issue happening alongside the action and danger; they're integral to the plot itself. And the author doesn't shy away or back down from the hard questions--in this book, the emotionally-charged topic of doing wrong to accomplish good.
I found myself a little frustrated with Andi for the first time in the series--not for her struggle with the legitimate-sounding arguments but for how long she stayed blind to certain things that were going on, even after she had been warned. Annoying? Yep. True to life? One hundred percent. And the undercurrent of her love and concern for Elasson and his people definitely helped to smooth the edges off her most stubborn moments.
My favorite part of the book by far was getting to see more of August. (Yes, I admit to a huge character crush. So sue me.) :) I especially love watching the interaction between August and Andi. Their relationship is amazingly strong under its somewhat tentative exterior. No, August doesn't banter with her like Crash does, but he's there for her whenever she needs him, and she turns to him for advice and help without reservation. They're also very protective of each other, which I love.
Not sure what I'm going to do when I finish reading the other two books--unless it's to go back and re-read them all again!
I came in on the middle of the Firmament series, so it took me a bit to get oriented. For example, I actually spent a few pages trying to figure out if Andi was a boy or a girl. But everything was pretty well recapped in the first chapter or two, and I felt satisfied that I wasn't missing any important backstory. So don't worry if you haven't read the other Firmament books, and you want to read this one because it looks most interesting (or because it's on sale for $.99, as the case may be).
The premise of Machiavellian is fairly believable, within the world of Firmament. Artfully, Pennington leaves herself a good bit of situational flexibility to shape the story, with the captain and crew of the Surveyor operating more or less like an autonomous pirate ship. There is a bit of fudgery with the math and physics: Traveling at the speed of light, the Surveyer reaches the center of our galaxy in a few days. According to scientific observation, the radius of the Milky Way is actually at least 50,000 light years. But only critique-geeks like me would ever notice things like that, or waste the time to look them up.
I love the message of Machiavellian. Doing evil for a good end is never justified, and Pennington makes that very clear. I like Andi, and I like the way the other characters play off each other. There is one point when Andi's mentor tells her to accomplish a task pretty much requiring deceit, doesn't specify how she should do it, then later chews her out for lying to get the job done. She feels that he is being unfair, and quite frankly, I agree.
Machiavellian started at walking speed for me, but the pace picked up as it went along. When the end neared, I stopped taking breaks and read straight through to the finish.
The book contains no bad language, and there is very little violence - an accidental murder here, someone banging someone's head against a wall there. (Claustrophobes should also be aware that a couple of people get locked in boxes for a few short pages.) Pennington successfully demonstrates that you don't need blood and gore to make an exciting Christian sci-fi piece.
It appears Firmament is going to be one of those refreshing series in which each successive book only gets better. Machiavellian was wonderful. It had such suspense and twisty plot-lines. I was hanging onto every word and -- just like with the previous books -- I couldn't put it down until I'd finished it within twenty-four hours (What can I say? I'm a fast reader, it's a capital book, and the afternoon was quiet). This story introduced intriguing questions about the universe beyond our knowledge today (what is in the galactic core? I must know!) and it also had possibly one of my favorite elements in any book: tangled moral conflict. The title IS "Machiavellian" after all. Honestly, the characters' struggle with "doing something wrong to do something right" is one of the best aspects of this novel. Pennington wrote that masterfully and with the perfect blend of confusion and torment in Andi's mind. I'll certainly be reading it again soon.
Incidentally, books where the antagonist is difficult to pin down are such fun. The bad guy (once I figured out who he was) was delightfully different. I alternately liked him and very much disliked him. I understood his reasoning, but I wanted to lock him somewhere he could never make mischief with his "good intentions" again. Speaking of which, that scene with Andi and Doctor Pearson? Talk about suspense! It was making me stressed. Oh, and then that gut-wrenching scene that was so unexpected and dreadful it was worthy of a new Goodreads shelf on my account specifically for this book. I was too stunned in that scene to even tear up. And you know those guys who you can't possibly imagine crying.... and the moment when they do? That happened. My emotions were all over the place.
The first books in Firmament were interesting, but I felt they lacked a certain amount of description that left grey patches in my mental view of the places where we spend time in with the story. Machiavellian changed that completely. It was so much better written with all the tiny details that create atmosphere and pull you into a world. It made me very happy.
Content-wise: squeaky clean as always. One cut-off swear word.
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