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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425


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Books for Adults - Fiction

Tantamount                    Black & Mist

Cover Art: Tantamount
Tantamount
By Thomas J. Radford
Tyche Books, 2013, ISBN 978-0-9918369-9-4, $16.95
E-book ISBN 978-1-928025-00-9, $3.99

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Being assaulted by flying cutlery is a rather dangerous alarm clock, at least from Nel Vaughn’s perspective. At first she fears the escalating argument between Tantamount’s cook and navigator is what precipitously rocks the ship in the void of space. Her arrival on the bridge shows the error of that thinking. It’s the mangled debris of a smashed Alliance ship ricocheting off the hull. Then dead bodies begin to appear, so Captain Horatio Phelps orders Nel, his first officer, to investigate. Only one man seems to have survived the carnage.

Although Horatio is nominally the captain of Tantamount, Nel is the actual Skipper. She’s a tough woman who can get herself and the ship out of most predicaments, and while she pretends otherwise, the misfits who crew the ship are special to her. Well, all except Castor Sharpe, the survivor who seems a bit too suave with ready answers, but never really seems to answer questions. She suspects he’s up to something because his story feels “like a bad tavern tale, the sort that ended in tragedy or at least a cruel joke” – one she wants no part of. (21)

When a mast from the smashed ship embeds itself in the Tantamount’s hull, they must divert from their current course to make repairs. The only place to do so is Cauldron, a port away from the usual lanes where ships fly and a place where questionable trades can be made for a price. The only problem is they lack sufficient funds to make the needed repairs. Not to fear, Horatio loves to gamble and his winnings should cover the cost. Except he rarely wins, and this time he wagers the ship’s papers. The only way to get out of this predicament is to agree to deliver a secret cargo to a nearby planet that’s currently at war with a neighboring planet. This means they will have to get past the Alliance’s blockade, and those ships are bigger and better armed.

If things aren’t complicated enough, Nel discovers her tail-wagging, adolescent cabin girl has disappeared. Sharpe and the navigator discover she’s been kidnapped by slavers, which forces Nel to trust Sharpe to help her rescue the girl. And time is running out, for Tantamount will sail once all the repairs are completed and the cargo is loaded.

Although not a true tale of pirates, this science fiction adventure captivates readers and takes them for a ride with more twists than a celestial dragon. Mystery and intrigue abound. The misfits rapidly worm their way into your heart until you are compelled to step into their world, which teeters on the fringes between legal and illegal.

 
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Review Copyrighted ©2015 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Black & Mist
Black & Mist
By Thomas J. Radford
Tyche Books, 2018, ISBN 978-1-928025-89-4, US $15.95 / CAN $ 18.37
e-book ISBN 978-1-928025-90-0, US $3.99 / CAN $4.99

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While the Tantamount is in Port Border for repairs and to recruit new crew members, Kitsune Violet explores the city that lies between the High Lanes and lawless Free Lanes. Many merchant ships seem more like those of the Alliance, which is only supposed to have a minimal presence here, and they’re offloading more Draugrs than she can count. What’s more perplexing is that the robot-like creatures are loaded into wagons and carted off, but where? Curiosity drives Violet to discover the answer, but when she does, she can’t believe what she finds and fears for her life, as well as all those aboard Tantamount. She must warn the skipper and the captain, but who’s going to believe her?

Much to her dismay, she finds Navigator Loveland Quill in charge. She’s certain the Kelpie’s one goal in life is to make her life miserable. It doesn’t help that’s he’s already in a huff because the skipper is off searching for another navigator. They’ve done well with one so far, why does Tantamount require another?

Aside from replacing lost crew, Skipper Nel Vaughn has her own demons to face. Rather than do so, she drowns them with drink. Further complicating her life is news that someone has been asking for her. Then she recognizes someone from her past – a past she wishes to forget and someone she hopes never to meet again. It’s time to leave Port Border, but Tantamount still needs supplies and a paying cargo to haul.

Captain Horatio Phelps’s mind may be foggy at times, but he’s still capable of commanding the ship and he’s not as oblivious as some think. He implements steps to help Nel straighten up. He’s ecstatic when Violet finds a job that allows him to pay their many refit bills. The new replacements seem okay, but it’s always dicey having strangers aboard, and their assignment necessitates that they all work together to successfully deliver the cargoes to their different delivery points.

But trouble erupts even before they leave Port Border, and then several accidents befall Violet and it looks like they may have happened on purpose. A flash of light where one shouldn’t be suggests someone is following them, and then a signal light with Alliance colorings is found on board. Who is the turncoat? And why is another ship hunting them if the cargo they carry isn’t that valuable?

Black & Mist is the second title in the Free Lane series and continues the travels and adventures of the Tantamount and her misfit crew. It’s not quite as seamlessly woven as the first book, but Radford definitely keeps us guessing as more is learned about the past lives of some characters and glimpses of the enemy reveal more about the Alliance. The worlds he creates are wonderfully transcribed into stunning word images that bring the Free Lanes to life. The jaw-dropping climax is edge-of-your-seat adventure that leaves us gasping for breath and wondering who survives and what happens next. Secrets abound in this spine-tingling speculative fiction and, as one character says, “It’s secrets that are what kills us.” (206)

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Review Copyrighted ©2018 Cindy Vallar

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