Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire (Book Review)
by Dan Hanks
3 / 5
Adventure with paranormal aspects
I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
This novel follows Captain Samthana Moxley, a former RAF pilot in WWII. Several years after the war she teams up with her archaeologist sister, former pilot friend, and her sister’s boyfriend to find an ancient super-weapon before a shifty American agency (who are teamed up with Nazis) gets it first.
I’m not sure what to make of the novel and I think I’ve settled on fond indifference. There were things I really enjoyed about it while the rest was rather humdrum for an action-adventure.
What I liked best was how Sam was a woman, to be honest. Instead of being a plucky girlfriend to the hero, she’s the Indiana Jones-type character flying planes and fighting and destroying stuff. She never needs rescuing and is as tough as nails. I appreciated that. How could I not?
The action scenes are also a lot of fun. He’s able to describe environments, fights, and movements very well. I could clearly picture in my head what was going on. In truth, his action scenes held the story together for me. I loved the bus chase scene. That was fantastic!
But there were three things that left me a little "meh" with this novel.
The first is the paranormal aspects. We are given a glimpse of these, but not enough to understand their place in the world during the story. I was aware of the real Nazis’ interest in the paranormal during WWII (and not simply because I played Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001, for PS2) quite a bit in my high school/university days). But does everyone know that? Or is it like Indiana Jones/The Mummy where the characters discover stuff is “real”? I just wanted some more clarification on the paranormal. I get that Sam had exposure to it when she worked for The Nine, but I needed more of the constraints of this world she exists in.
The characterization was also lacking. We only get the faintest of glimpses into Sam’s army days and why she joined the airforce. From what I remember, there were women in the RAF but they weren’t fighter pilots. I think at best they were allowed to fly transports, but most were engineers or sanitation. How and why Sam became a fighter pilot was missing from the story - are we to assume that any woman could fly a spitfire in WWII? I’m sure if that were the case there would have been quite a few female pilots. So is this an alternate reality?
Taylor’s motives were also hit or miss. We don’t get any real look into their relationship together, or what Sam did for The Nine to understand their dynamic now. As a villain, he was uninteresting. Sam hardly seemed to hate him.
In truth, everyone was a bit lacking in substance. The dynamic with Jess could have been broadened to provide a much more nuanced and substantial emotional range for the sisters, but instead, we get a rather flimsy antagonism. As a woman with two sisters, I understand sisterly squabbles/jealousy but I still didn’t quite get their dynamic.
The third for me has nothing to do with the narrative craft of the novel but something that just is not my jam. Before I had children, I played lots of video games. I was particularly fond of Fallout and Mass Effect, mainly because there are next to no stupid puzzles. I hate puzzle games - I don’t have the patience for them. I hated Tomb Raider. I hate games where all you do is wander around trying to figure out how to get out of the damn room. I don’t even bother to try a lot of the time when a game throws one at me now; I open up a walkthrough.
This novel has quite a bit of “tomb raiding” with puzzles and traps. I, as you now know, quite strongly dislike that stuff. As the novel starts with one of these, perhaps I was just not engaged from the start. The puzzles are well-described, so those who enjoy that type of thing will likely enjoy it.
The story picked up around the 50% mark for me, but it felt like I was playing Wolfenstein again because, like in most games, the protagonist gets basically near-killed (broken ribs, beaten to a pulp, etc) and she’s able to walk and fight and punch like she’s in God mode. It was unrealistic in the extreme, which lowered the stakes.
While I didn’t hate the novel by any means, nor do I think it’s poorly written, it just isn’t for me. Pity, because that cover is sweet.