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Kingmaker Paperback – August 13, 2013
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“Books like Kingmaker are hard to find. There is plenty of hard sci-fi but rarely is it grounded in the way Cantrell grounds his story.” —BoingBoing
About the Author
Christian Cantrell is a software developer from Northern Virginia. He writes the technology blog LivingDigitally.net and takes photographs for microkosmic.com. Cantrell is the author of several self-published short stories, including “Brainbox” and “Farmer One.” His first novel, Containment, was published by 47North and he is currently working on the sequel. You can follow Cantrell on Twitter at @cantrell.
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Top customer reviews
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The main character Alexei is an orphan without a heart, in it's place is a mechanical pump which runs silently, allowing Alexei to play dead. This apparently was very useful to him when he was a Soviet assassin, lying among bodies to get closer to his targets or bypass security. He does this exactly once as part of the narrative, making the whole heart pump more of a gimmick and possibly a metaphor, but not one that's terribly obvious. Alexei escapes Russia, having amassed unlimited wealth (we find out right at the end how he did it and it's not implausible, I enjoyed that particular moment - it made me smile), he travels to the U.S. showing us his assassin skills in the process, and begins a new life there. He builds an army of children to quietly fight the semi-omnipotent corporations corrupting America and her democracy. One of the most interesting plot points I found was the premise that citizens had largely given their voting rights over to massive corporations, in return for basic amenities. I'm no conspiracy nut, but I actually didn't find this idea unbelievable.
Cantrell writes well but the story feels very rushed. Plot points are a little underdeveloped, in some cases not all, characters and relationships are explored in a very perfunctory fashion. Timelines are confusing, with years seemingly passing by when it's only been months. If I read the story correctly, the main events, leading to the dramatic end, actually occur over a period of 6 months or so but as you're reading it seems like years are passing. At times the story gets bogged down in overly technical descriptions, with an entire page or more devoted to describing a single piece of equipment, though you can easily skip over these parts. The ending felt particularly rushed and suffers from the underdevelopment of a pivotal character, making the final events seem implausible and out of left field. It all ends very abruptly, the previous events are slightly disjointed and don't stitch together well enough as you're reading that the ending makes total sense. If I could sum up my reaction to the ending it would be "oh....REALLY?! Perhaps Cantrell was trying for an unexpected twist, but didn't pull it off.
Having said all this, I enjoyed reading the book. Yes everything I said above detracted a little from my enjoyment, but there were great moments in the story. I liked the character of Alexei, the overall idea of the story is great, relatable and not too far away from reality. The settings were recognisable, I loved the part involving battle mechs (if you've played Mech Warrior this part will take you back a few years), and Christian Cantrell's writing style is really good. I've read and would be willing to read more of his other books. The book is also cheap as chips, so why not?! It's a quick, cheap, easy and overall enjoyable read.
Alexei came across as a character that I could empathize with, though I was not too keen on his methods. As we are not perfect as humans, his flaws lent credibility to him for me. I enjoyed reading parts of the book which featured the female lead, Hyun Ki. She was definitely my favorite character. I was happy that the plot twists and reveals were not given away or obvious while reading the story. The book was written well enough to keep my attention through to the ending, which was a treat. I loved the technology that was described in detail - much of it is either already present, or being developed, and so it gave a lot of realism to the story.
The main thing that I did not enjoy about Kingmaker is that the chapters are just all over the place from one to the next. You never know which character or time period was going to be next, and you could not determine this until a bit into the chapters. Sometimes it is long in the past, sometimes time has progressed many years, but the reader is left to deduce this for themselves. While the story could not have been told as well if the chapters were all chronological, it would have been nice if there had been a blurb at the beginning of each with a year or something to give the reader an idea of where to visualize the events. While Alexei was the main character of the book, I did not enjoy his chapters very much when compared to the other characters.
Overall, I just thought this book was just 'okay'. If the main character had been a bit more interesting to me, and the years presented for each chapter (or something to clear up the continuity issues), it would have made a much better impression on me. I do not feel that this book was as good as Christian's others, but it was not a horrible book. The storyline was great, the characters were well done (other than my qualms about Alexei), and the writing was well edited. I will definitely be reading more of his books as they are released.