Those considering a read of the Galaxy’s Edge series from Jason Anspach and Nick Cole can read the following review with no fear of spoilers. Due to the complex nature of the narrative, and the way the authors have woven together the books, this will probably be the last time that holds true. Enjoy it while you can, because this series contains a lot to unpack, and we’re going to delve deep into the mysteries and secrets of this modern day sci-fi masterwork.
The Galaxy’s Edge series takes a hard turn away from mil-SF and plunges right over the cliff into full blown space opera in Galactic Outlaws, the second book in the series. Where Legionnaire begins and ends with the straightforward premise of one military unit cut off well behind the front lines struggling to last until rescue arrives, Galactic Outlaws introduces a much more complicated plot woven together from the threads of multiple storylines that only slowly intersect in some surprising ways.
The subtle distinctions between the lejes of Legionnaire now gives way to a broad cast of characters. As with all good space operas, this one includes a weary and greedy smuggler with a heart of gold and an AI co-pilot who is far more than his projectors make him seem. Along the way he adds a space princess whose title doesn’t do her any favors and a hotshot hacker out of his depth. An old war campaigner serves as the dark mirror to the hot-shot pilot – a man for whom money means nothing, but who cannot turn his back on a young orphaned girl with a pet warbot/butler and her quest for revenge for a murdered father. Nor can he refuse the help of a fuzzy co-pilot with limited verbal skills and an overdeveloped sense of loyalty.
It’s an eclectic group of heroes, matched by an impressive lineup of supporting allies and an even more impressive cast of villains. The heavy of the piece, am eldritch space wizard named Goth Sullus plays the central foil, but his minions include a few familiar and easy-to-hate faces. Along the way, the good guys are aided by a cloistered holy woman in a breathtakingly original garden oasis and a surprisingly sympathetic crime boss.
The action leaves behind the remote planet featured in Book One, Kublar, and increases to a fever pitch. The two ships at the center of the story bounce around from planet to planet like billiard balls on a clean break. Desert planets, ice planets, wrecked planets covered by the bones of old starfaring ships, posh centers of power, it’s all here.
That’s the who and where, but you probably want to know, “What happens in this book?”
To which the answer is pretty much, “Everything.”
It’s a little hard, given that this is a spoiler free review, but basically Goth Sullus is bad news. He murdered the young girl’s father, and now he wants her. He also wants to rule the Galaxy, and has taken control of a massive pirate armada with which he can take advantage of the instability caused by a failing central Republican government almost, but not quite, toppled by the Mid-Core Rebellion. For her part, the young girl has a knack for convincing people that a dead Goth Sullus is in their best interest as well, and so all of the various factions hurtle towards a massive confrontation in which they hope to exit as the last man standing.
It takes a while to get to that understanding, as Nick Cole and Jason Anspach are very good at the narrative head fake. They have no qualms about establishing a character, focusing on him, earning your sympathy, and diverting your attention away from a seemingly minor character, only to kill off the former and elevate the latter. This trick, so beloved by over-rated hacks like a George R. R. Martin, works well in Galactic Outlaws thanks to Cole’s and Anspach’s restraint. It happens rarely, and without more than a chapter or two of time investment. They also use this trick to gradually introduce characters in a roundabout way that feels natural and allows them each some time to grow and change as a character before they get to the flat out sprint to the book’s climax.
Similarly, the deaths that occur feel organic and natural, and they happen with a regularity that helps to maintain the tension and suspense. They are all satisfying in their own way, and never feel like a cheap gag meant to provide a cheap reaction just for the sake of garnering a reaction.
Unlike the Star Wars franchise, many of the set-ups in Legionnaire receive their payoff in Galactic Outlaws. We learn of Captain Devers’ fate. We visit places hinted at such as Ackabar and even more remote planets on the Galaxy’s actual edge. We learn what happened to Wraith after he quit the Legion. It’s a strange thing to root against the Legion after a full novel of rooting for them, but we are given plenty of reason to do so. Not everything is answered, a few of the answers provided simply lead to more questions. Peeking inside one of the precursor artifact temples confirms the implied menace without revealing the full implications of what lurks inside. There’s something fishy going on with that holographic projection of a navigator, too, come to think of it.
Which all adds up to one amazing thrill ride of a book. It’s got a little action for every taste. Huge space battles, huge ground battles, miraculous escapes, double-crosses, sword fights, running gun battles, and dangerous stand-offs, all of them show up. And when the threat of the “don’t make ’em like they used to” lejes wears thin, Anspach and Cole laugh at your doubts by throwing into the mix a massive assault mech that would make the God Emperor of Warhammer 40K sit up a little straighter on his Golden Throne.
Avoid the comments if you haven’t read this book, because we’re going to be spoiling a lot of this book. Then go read it and come back, because I’ll have a few questions for you.