The Kardish were vanquished, but Criss knew they’d come back for him to make him pay for what he did! You know what, he was right!
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Author: Doug J. Cooper
Publisher: Douglas Cooper Consulting
Release Date: November 2014
Purchase At: Amazon
It’s been a few years since Criss and his Leadership—Cheryl, Sid & Juice—destroyed the Kardish High-Prince’s dreadnought and hid all traces of the super-crystal from the world. Since then Juice has been at the head of all crystal research while Sid and Cheryl work closely with Criss on developing a defence array that’ll give them a fighting chance against the inevitable alien revenge.
While they’re busy dealing with the corruption within the defence array’s team and the strange deep space signals Criss detects with his long-range scanners, another problem surfaces. A genius university student called Lenny learns of Criss’ existence by piecing together scraps of information. He plans to reach the crystal and through a contest of intellect become its owner.
While the previous novel was swift in setting up the premise, Doug Cooper does the exact opposite in Crystal Conquest, taking its time to set the stage for its big twist. The twist is quite good, playing with your expectations on where the story should go. Lenny’s part in the novel is yet another switch, a distraction that allows the author to keep building its plot without you realising what’s going on, as Lenny becomes a temporary if weak threat to the team. Much like its predecessor, the novel takes place over a long period of time and Cooper successfully keeps you interested. The minor developments, such as Lenny’s aforementioned quest and Crispin, Criss’ synthetic body, help keep you interested.
Once again, the Kardish have little to no characterisation, being only a collection of titles: King, Captain, Engineer, etc. While this might seem odd, it’s on purpose to make Goljat, the new Kardish crystal, the central villain of the story and he succeeds in making everyone else irrelevant, mere pawns to this drugged up Crystal. While Criss managed to wrestle himself free from the Kardish ‘pleasure feed’ for its crystals, Goljat is hopped up on the stuff and has become despondent and rules the Kardish aboard the vessel as much as he obeys the King’s orders.
Sadly, while Goljat starts off as a fantastic villain, he fizzles out near the end. Instead of the crystal face-off we expect to see, he’s taken out of the competition swiftly and cheaply. True, the manner in which they take him out makes total sense but what doesn’t is that the opportunity existed in the first place, not with how overzealous the crystal is when it comes to its drug supply.
I love the plot twist, which I won’t reveal for the sake of keeping this spoiler free, but it does have the downside of making the last act seem like a retread of familiar ground, of the events covered in the first novel. It makes sense under the framework of the story and that’s the most important thing, but I would’ve loved to see a different plan than “let’s do what we did last time!”
Criss is once again the centre of all characterisation. His logic-driven exploration of humanity is a joy to read, as are his machinations and the rationalisations of his sometimes-manipulative actions when confronted by Sid. With the experience of the past years, he’s more human than ever and with that comes doubt and worry. He finds himself at a loss on what his feelings are for his leadership but he knows Juice has feelings for him and despite Sid’s warnings, he doesn’t do anything to dissuade her and in fact encourages it. At some points in the novel you get hints that he might love her as well but then his logic centres take priority and you can see the scheming and manipulations behind some of those ‘romantic’ choices.
The rest of the cast is almost devoid of growth, as they’re merely there to be points of contrast with Criss. Sid is as fun as in the previous novel, driven by instinct and sheer dumb luck. Cheryl is much softer this time but not even a bit less badass. The new guy, Lenny is a sleazy whiny genius from start to finish. He comes off as annoying most of the time but I expected to see some change in him by the end, and I was slightly disappointed to see very little growth in him after the events of Crystal Conquest.
Doug Cooper has proven he knows how to build and make his characters grow but in the process of exploring the AI’s humanity, the actual humans suffer from it. If there’s a sequel in the works, I would like to see more human development. Particularly with Juice. Once more the romance subplot is a rushed thing and Juice’s breakdown near the end, while understandable, comes slightly out of nowhere and by the last chapter she’s “fine” again. I would’ve wanted to see a bit more personal drama with her, explore those feelings and how appropriate they might be. Her trauma after the first Kardish invasion is another issue. It’s pointed at many times during the story but never does it come into play in a way that would allow her to move past or be dominated by it.
In terms of prose, Cooper’s has improved considerably since Crystal Deception. There are still a few info-dumps but they fit the context and they’re never mentioned to characters that ought to rightly know what they’re taking about in the first place, so that was a pleasant surprise. There is now more showing than telling, which I like. When he does tell you something about the characters he’ll back it up with an internal monologue, so you get the description and the confirmation from the character.
As I’ve mentioned the plot and pacing are good and the twist is terrific, but the downside is that not only does it feel like a retread, but it rarely feels like the characters are in danger, they are always one step ahead of their enemies, always ready for everything and it ruins the new angle the twist introduces to the story. Someone getting shot, close-to-fatally so, would’ve done wonders for the story. Another thing I wasn’t happy about was the explanation for how the Kardish found earth, it’s too far-fetched and coincidental to match the revenge plot. It happens purely by chance and that clashes with Criss’ insistence that the aliens will return.
The chronological split in chapters is still present but it’s not as jarring as it was in the previous novel. It’s fairly easy now to follow the plot thread back and forth as you jump ahead in the story with the next chapter—or back into the past.
Crystal Conquest is a flawed sequel, with a few storytelling and characterisation issues, but much like Crystal Deception, it’s a great sci-fi thriller with a fantastic exploration of humanity.
4/5 – Exceptional