I agreed to review The PV-3 Mutagen because I found the blurb intriguing, and while it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d expected, the novel lives up to its promise.
This story is somewhere between a paladin’s quest and a net runner adventure. The handsome hero Brother Riccardo is out on the Belligra version of a walkabout while Rene Laurent has a fount of knowledge and special talents despite no physical training. I use gaming terms deliberately. The book is peppered with insider jokes and gaming references, but they work within the narrative. For those who recognize their greater context, they add a little extra without disrupting the tale. The same is true for fans of the universe, or so I assume. There are references made to earlier adventures starring the titular character of the first series in the Virasana Empire Universe.
As promised, there are monsters, battles both physical and of wit, and a wonderful friendship developing between these two unlikely fellows. Rene lives for reading while Riccardo isn’t much for it. Riccardo seeks battles to charge headlong into when Rene considers himself ill-equipped for violence. He’s more likely to suffer the blows and let his psionic healing repair his wounds.
More than opposites attract, they are from different worlds, and I don’t mean geography. Fate, or God as Riccardo would say, brings them together when the brother sees Rene under attack and rescues him. What starts out with a curious Rene acting as a native guide to the planet Floor ends up with shared adventures and a bond full of humorous and self-reflecting moments as well as deadly ones. Even better, both rub off on the other in interesting and positive ways. I appreciated how the two of them honestly care for the people they meet. This, and the need to help others, they have in common.
Rene is a compelling narrator, but this caused one clash between my experience of the book and the narration. I can’t tell his age. Riccardo is described as early twenties, but Rene sounds both like a street-smart teen and a twenty something at times, and when he refers to Riccardo as young, he sounds much older. It’s not so much important for the story as a descriptor to help me visualize the character and in how they relate to each other.
While the paladin label covers Riccardo nicely, Rene has more levels between studying for his history doctorate, instinct for mathematics, and his atypical psionic healing. The description of his healing is fascinating, especially since we’re learning new things about it alongside him. It also makes sense for him to be the series lead (this is the first of a new series in the universe), though I hope Riccardo will be part of the next books, too.
The gaming references are not the only aspects to this book with a greater context. Through a complex universe filled with many planets and people, human or otherwise, the novel explores different forms of exploitation, the meaning of freedom, and several other philosophical aspects. Most of these aspects exist on Floor, Rene’s home planet and the setting for this book. Rene is a permanent student of history, the kind of person who never stops learning and contemplating things, but it’s not only his perspective used to highlight the contrasts in available resources and the value of life. Riccardo has seen many places in his time as a roaming priest, which allows him to contrast conditions in the various levels of Floor with what he’s encountered elsewhere.
I enjoyed this aspect of the world building because it made educating me about the rules and cultures governing different places an integral part of the story, as well as using it to show character development. One of the humorous, but not, elements is Riccardo’s ever-growing list of reasons not to stay on Floor. Another strength is the diversity of the characters and places. There was one point where I became concerned at the appearance of bias in a planet’s description. Shortly afterwards, though, something else balances out the negative descriptor with a positive, and one grounded in often-ignored human history. This is what I mean by complex. The book’s universe is not a veneer on our world, but it expands from ours to make pointed statements about the nature of humans both in history and modern times.
Half of why the universe is so interesting comes from the description. While elaborate, I can only remember one instance where I found it too much, and that could easily be just me. Body language is another aspect of the description I appreciated, giving encounters an extra depth that didn’t require the narrative to over explain.
The plot seeding is well done, leading to a couple of ‘don’t go into the basement’ moments for me when I predicted what would happen. This makes events seem more grounded than if they just appeared. I found the plot a little too well laid out at points, though, telling me what they would face before the end of the book. But for the most part, I enjoyed myself too much to care. There’s a difference between knowing what the next obstacle is and knowing how it will come about. The characters they meet along the way, and how they handle each encounter, whether a gang leader, lawyer, or scientist, are what kept me reading.
In case it isn’t clear, I enjoyed this novel and will most likely look up the first set. Though whether a different lead than Rene will connect as well, I don’t know. The relationship between Riccardo and Rene is part of that, with Rene’s cynicism playing off Riccardo’s determination just as his knowledge balances the brother’s ignorance. This gives the reader a bigger picture of the world and events within it. The setup is fascinating enough to support a series even without considering Rene’s position in the mysterious Circle of Thales, and there are a couple of places that may be teasers for future volumes. I look forward to what happens next.
P.S. This Advanced Readers’ Copy was provided to me by the publisher as part of an Other Worlds Ink blog tour in return for an honest review.
Beryll and Osiris Brackhaus have a new sci fi/space opera book out, Virasana Empire: Dr. Laurent Book 1: “The PV-3 Mutagen.”
As a history scholar and courier for the secretive Circle of Thales, Rene Laurent is a man of many talents – none of them lending themselves much to a life of adventure.
But when a chance meeting with a young, idealistic Belligra priest drags him into a wild quest to keep a dangerous mutagen off the streets of Floor, his curiosity gets the better of him. Between monsters both human and man-made, he realises that maybe fieldwork is more of his game than he had ever thought possible…
Written by Rainbow-Award-winning authors Beryll and Osiris Brackhaus, ‘The PV-3 Mutagen’ is a colourful non-romance sci-fi adventure set in the wildly diverse ‘Virasana Empire’, and the first novel of the ‘Doctor Laurent’ series.
Warnings: Not a romance. Harsh setting, but hopeful.
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We are Beryll and Osiris Brackhaus, a couple currently living our happily ever after in the very heart of Germany, under the stern but loving surveillance of our cat.
Both of us are voracious but picky readers, we love telling stories and drinking tea, good food and the occasional violent movie. Together, we write novels of adventure and romance, hoping to share a little of our happiness with our readers.
An artist by heart, Beryll was writing stories even before she knew what letters were. As easily inspired as she is frustrated, her own work is never good enough (in her eyes). A perfectionist in the best and worst sense of the word at the same time and the driving creative force of our duo.
An entertainer and craftsman in his approach to writing, Osiris is the down-to-earth, practical part of our duo. Broadly interested in almost every subject and skill, with a sunny mood and caring personality, he strives to bring the human nature into focus of each of his stories.
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