Editorial Review: Burnt Worlds by S.J. Madill
As the highest-ranking officer still alive on a ship crippled while testing a new jump drive, Lieutenant Dillon finds himself unexpectedly in charge. Getting the crew home will be challenging enough, but it's just the start of Dillon's problems in this epic space adventure by S.J. Madill.
Burnt Worlds is the first book in the MCS Borealis series and introduces Dillon, a Lieutenant who has the burdens of command unexpectedly forced on him. It is a position that Dillon never envisioned for himself, but with 41 crew members depending on his leadership to get back home he has little choice in the matter. Severe damage to the ship during the testing of a new jump drive means they will have to take the long way home, which is not an easy feat when you are stranded at the far edge of the galaxy. This setup alone would have made for a riveting book, but Burnt World features so much more. The tension ramps up when the MCS Borealis rescues a fugitive alien priestess and then have to deal with unknown enemy ships. It's not all just space adventures and planet side excursions either as the personal lives and problems of the Borealis crew are also placed under the spotlight.
The author has done a great job of creating a believable universe with interesting races and politics while avoiding many of the common cliches and tropes. The fact that Dillon and his crew are basically boldly going where no man has gone before does give the book a classic Star Trek feel, but the story never becomes overly familiar or predictable. Dillon is not the typical square-jawed hero, but it is his determination in the face of his doubts and insecurities that make him such a great protagonist. It also helps that the rest of his crew are fleshed out enough to make them likable, which also means the scenes where they face danger and peril are extra tense.
What is also very surprising about Burnt World is just how much ground it covers. Besides introducing Dillon and his crew, the story also reveals a lot about the universe in which they find themselves and the other alien races that humanity has interacted with. The stakes increase dramatically as the story unfolds, but revealing more would require too many spoilers. Suffice to say that there is rarely a dull moment in Burnt Worlds and Dillon has to deal with far more than just being in lost in space with a damaged ship.
The pacing of the story is quite good and there is a natural flow that keeps it interesting without bogging down readers with too much extra information. It is also refreshing that the book wraps up everything towards the end instead of relying on cliff hangers to entice readers towards the other books in the series. Thanks to the memorable characters and great world-building, it is certainly a series that readers would want to continue following after experiencing this book. All too often science fiction can be impenetrable because authors try too hard to veer away from established tropes or overly familiar as they try to incorporate too many of their favorite elements from other media. This is where Burnt Worlds shines as it is very accessible yet filled with enough originality to draw you in and keep you interested.
Overall, Burnt Worlds is a great start to a series that has a lot of potential and comes highly recommended to all science fiction fans.