– By J.W. Fox –
***Warning: If you have not read the first 3 books of the Reach Series. Do not read this review. Contains spoilers for all 3 books.***
Sunspire is the final volume in Mark R. Healy’s Reach Series, which has captivated me from the start. Healy has a definite talent for generating excitement without wearing the reader down or having to constantly one-up himself in every novel. Original, well-balanced and perfectly paced, Sunspire gives you everything you want in a sci-fi action novel.
At the end of the last novel Skybreach, Knile and the ex-Redman Lazarus made it up to the orbiting habitat but were forced to escape to the skybridge after a bomb blew it all up. The orbiting habitats above Earth are all linked by these skybridges allowing transit between them before the elevators were all shut down. Knile, Lazarus, plus Ursie and her new friend, the lovable old janitor Tobias, must make their way several dozen kilometers along the skybridge to the next habitat called Sunspire. There, they will activate its space elevator and bring their friends up from the surface.
Back on Earth, Talia, Roman, and Silvestri resolve to make their way down the Reach, through the city and across the wastelands to the Sunspire space elevator, which sits atop a remote mountain. The book jumps between these two journeys, one on the surface, one up in orbit. Many enemies stand in their way. There are Redmen on their tail, a serial killer with an obsession with Roman, and wasteland raiders.
Sunspire is all about action, the chase, and overcoming long odds. It reads more like a traditional thriller than a post-apocalyptic novel. While earlier novels in the series explored other themes such as post-apocalyptic despair, family, and friendship, Sunspire and its predecessor Skybreach largely discard these themes in favor of straight action. They do not explore the causes of the collapsing civilization or depict heroes trying to save their dying Earth. It is forsaken. Without this element, the post-apocalyptic scenery is mere setting. This disappointed me a little, only because the first novel explored this theme.
The family dynamic between Knile, Talia, and Roman played a big role in the first two novels but faded in the third and fourth. By book three they’ve largely coalesced into a static pseudo-family and do not develop much. The secondary characters, including Silvestri, Duran, and Zoe have interesting backgrounds and add a side plot or two. Their development fills in some of the personal drama gap left by the main characters. It also helped break up the succession of explosions and gunfights. The pacing is excellent, making the book hard to put down.
As a sci-fi series, The Reach is one of the best out there. Combining arcologies, space elevators, dying Earth, and four distinct race to the top/chase sequences made for a pretty original plot. The characters are all impressive, likable, if a little too good to be true. The main characters possess tremendous patience and insight, as if they had a normal middle class upbringing. They are supposed to be ex-thieves, smugglers, mercenaries, yet some of the dialogue reads like it could have come from a family sitcom. Otherwise, they are clever, resourceful, brave, and resilient. Truly admirable.
To sum up, an excellent and satisfying conclusion to one of the best science fiction series out there. Healy has a definite talent for sci-fi action, likable characters, and lively settings. My minor criticisms aside, I highly recommend all four books!
Jacob Foxx is the Editor of Prescientscifi.com and author of two novels: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.