When your first novel earns widespread critical praise, the stakes are immediately raised for the second, especially when both books are part of a planned trilogy. A writer less comfortable with themselves may be tempted to “go bigger” in the follow-up, thinking that by doubling everything (more romance! more explosions! more danger!) the second novel must by default be even more better!
I’m pleased to report with the second book of the Spectras Arise Trilogy, Contract of Betrayal, author Tammy Salyer (@TammySalyer) avoids that pitfall in splendid fashion by sticking closely to what worked so incredibly well in her first novel, Contract of Defiance (my review here), which I consider one of The Best I Read in 2012.
Just as fun and page-turningly exciting as the first book —I finished it well after midnight in a “must know what happens” marathon reading session — Betrayal is not simply more-of-the-same as the storyline and characters have developed in a realistic fashion. Taking place months after the explosive finale of Defiance, protagonist Aly Erickson, a military deserter and former smuggler with trust issues, has begun to settle into a more sedate life as a member of the Agate Beach colony of non-citizens on Spectra 6.
Aly is shocked when Rob Cross, her former lover and an ex-soldier turned transport contractor for the Admin — the shadowy and dictatorial government overseeing that corner of the galaxy thanks to its powerful military, the Corps — appears to deliver some contraband material to Agate Beach. Cross also has some information: the Admin doesn’t intend on letting book 1’s explosive finale go unpunished, which means Aly’s personal development will need to be put on hold.
No spoilers, but rest assured the arrival of Cross on Spectra 6 sets off a chain reaction of events that leads Aly and her compatriots into the heart of Admin territory as they fight for their lives and freedom. The pace is quick, surprising twists are well-placed and the frequent action sequences are exciting and well written by Ms. Salyer, herself a former Army paratrooper.
As a character, Aly is flawed and fascinating, and I greatly enjoyed slipping back into her combat boots for this second go-round. Much more comfortable taking action than talking about her feelings, Aly joined the Corps quite young so even at thirty her emotional development is somewhat stunted. When she does open up and begin to feel some attachment, to Cross or her Agate Beach companion Karl Strahan, things don’t go well and she tends to regress.
Oh, yes. “Betrayal” is part of the book’s title for good reason, as Aly see-saws through a series of unsettling events that lead her to question much of what she knows, or thought she knew about the Admin, the Corps, her Agate Beach friends and her own life. It is quite a roller-coaster, but integrated so seamlessly into the over-arching storyline that this reader never felt distracted.
The conclusion of Contract of Betrayal provides a solid set-up to the final book of the trilogy, which looks to be just as exciting and action-packed as the first two entries. I. Can’t. Wait.
For more on Ms. Salyer and her writing, check out her blog, Alternative Reality Engineer.