“Frozen Sky 2: Betrayed” – by Jeff Carlson

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How do you maintain a truce with a harsh alien species with which you can barely communicate? And how much more fragile is that truce when all your decisions are made by a distant bureaucracy riddled with self-interest and political agendas? One betrayal could start an inter-species war.

Betrayed is the sequel to The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson, an author who has had a number of novels which seem to be a mixture of self-published and traditionally published works. The Frozen Sky was a terrific read, so I was quite eager to see what he did with the sequel. Both novels are set of Europa, a moon of Jupiter. It’s not the first time that I’ve seen this moon as a focus of first-encounter fiction. The story revolves around discovery of and interactions with a species of life-form on Europa known as the Sunfish. The environment in which the story takes place is rich, plausible and fascinating.

In this novel, the plot covers a crisis point in the ongoing truce between Humankind and Sunfish. It does not attempt to build up the situation over days or weeks, nor does the crisis endure over a long period. Instead the entire story fits within a matter of a day or so, and as such, is a tense, action-packed sequence. What develops, does so very quickly leaving the onus on the reader to keep pace with several intelligent scientists and engineers as they interpret the actions of the Sunfish and attempt to avert a war. It was a thrill ride that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Vonnie, the engineer and main character of the first novel returns in this novel as an ambassador for the Europa mission, working directly with the Sunfish. She has become a controversial celebrity back on earth and we see her developing some political smarts whilst trying to stay true to her mission of developing a truce with the Sunfish species. As a reader we essentially inhabit Vonnie over the course of the story and everything is related from her perspective. Her self-doubts and internal conflicts are exposed which allows us to see more than just a tough and determined heroine. I’m not one for too much romance, especially if it feels “bolted on”. However, romance is introduced through Vonnie in a way that added to my appreciation of her character. Her feelings towards Koebsch and Ben added nuance to the story without dominating it.

The writing matched the pace of the story well. I didn’t sense any awkwardness or gaffs in the prose and the atmosphere remained consistently tense and exciting throughout. The concepts presented seem well-researched from my inexpert perspective. I read this feeling like the Europa mission was a possibility in our future and the attempts to understand an alien discourse also felt plausible.

I would highly recommend both of Carlson’s novels The Frozen Sky and Betrayed. There’s plenty of action, an icy subterranean world to explore, artificial intelligence, a completely novel species to meet and the old favourites of politics, petty rivalries and deceit. What’s not to love?

Rating: 5/5

Price at the time of review: $3.22 US

Available: Amazon

Author site: http://www.jverse.com/
GoodReads page: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23349445-frozen-sky-2

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