Richard Paolinelli’s novel Galen’s Way: A Starquest 4th Age Adventure attempts to re-capture the bygone era of space operas and makes a good run at it, but the cost is encountering more than a few space opera stereotypes.
Galen, a mercenary and smuggler, formerly an elite soldier, is covertly hired by a royal emissary to retrieve a kidnapped Princess from a fortress planet. The job, although sounding difficult, is almost too easily accomplished. However, what he finds is not one Princess, but four, plus a dark plot that spans an interstellar kingdom. In the course of this small saga, Galen alternates between encountering almost helpless and buffoonish bad guys to allowing himself to be captured and violently tortured just (seemingly) to get information.
On the run with the beautiful Princess Rhiannon and his spaceship’s (typically) sarcastic AI Cassandra, they must outwit bounty hunters and professional assassins to unravel a twisted conspiracy and restore justice to the galaxy.
Yes, I encountered a lot of expected characters and situations. Our unusually noble merc and the abducted Princess do fall in love. Galen engages the assistance of his former military mentor who is now a teacher, and there are plenty of other very familiar tropes that turn up. But there are still a bunch of surprises. The story keeps the reader guessing until the end who the actual villains are and, of course, how our valiant hero will survive almost certain death.
The ending was almost too much, with our hero receiving a divine revelation, in spite of the fact that the supernatural doesn’t enter the scene before that point. Plus the re-establishment of the “Galactic Knights,” which wouldn’t have made me even blink if this story were written any time between 1930 and 1950, was pretty jarring. On the other hand, this book only hints at something much larger.
The upshot is that Paolinelli’s tale is essentially good, and packs a lot of action for being under 200 pages. He’s also working from an expansive universe created by John C. Wright that is supposed to encompass millions of years of history in the Andromeda galaxy. “Galen’s Way” is just the first of tens or maybe hundreds of stories planned by Paolinelli, Wright, and perhaps a number of as yet unnamed authors.
Here’s the review on Amazon.