Last September, I reviewed a book that I’d picked up based on what I thought was a striking cover that just happened to have a rec from Suzanne Collins. That book was Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill. I loved Black Hole Sun. I loved that there was a male lead. I loved that it was a sci-fi book that felt like it was a western. I loved that the female lead could kick the male lead’s ass. And I loved that it was going to have a sequel. Invisible Sun is that sequel, and I pretty much loved it too. I don’t love the cover (or the re-release of the Black Hole Sun cover), but you have to look past that and get to the completely under appreciated gem that is this series. This review shall be as spoiler free as I can make it for Invisible Sun, but some spoilers for Black Hole Sun might sneak their way in.

Obsessed with MUSE, the clandestine project that created the AI in his brain, mercenary chief Durango draws the ire of the government when he steals part of the secret project data and hightails it with his lieutenant, Vienne, to an ancient monastery. There, he meets the monks who raised Vienne from an orphan and also encounters soldiers working for his old nemesis, the crime lord Mr. Lyme. Lyme controls the territory surrounding the monastery, as well as the datacenters housing the rest of MUSE.

Undeterred, Durango and Vienne pull off an ill-advised raid on Lyme’s complex. During the ensuing battle, however, Vienne is captured, and Durango is beaten and left for dead. Now, wounded and shaken, Durango must overcome bounty hunters, treacherous terrain, a full scale civil war, and a warrior monk with an eye for vengeance (not to mention his own guilt, self-doubt, and broken arm) to find Vienne and free her from Archibald, a brain-washing pyromaniac with a Napoleon complex who wants to rule Mars–and kill Durango in the process.

I can’t review this book without making comments about the writing in general, which is pretty much perfection for a sci-fi novel. This book and its predecessor have some of the snappiest, most entertaining dialogue I’ve read in a long time. It felt really organic, and was always pitch perfect for whatever the mood is in the background. I laughed out loud more than once, and I grinned through almost every scene with any hint of banter. The tone of the dialogue alone is enough to tell the reader what two characters mean to each other and the kind of relationship they have. It was a great way to show and not tell, and I think that’s what made the characters work sow ell together and as individuals.

Oh, the characters. The best thing about these books for me is the fact that the characters are complete people. With sci-fi, it’s easy to get bogged down in the cool world-building and the neat gadgets, but David Macinnis Gill has written two novels now where the neat stuff coexists with these great characters he has given us. The gadgets and gizmos are part of the story, yes, but they enhance the characters. We see the pieces the characters see and touch and use. And we see the way the cool science stuff is literally integrated with the characters. It’s a great balance and it lets these books be action packed while keeping their soul.

First and foremost, there’s Durango. I love him. I love that he’s smart. I love that he knows when to ask for help, knows when he’s been beat, and also knows that there are things too important to give up on even when beaten. Durango had a great evolution between Black Hole Sun and Invisible Sun. I liked that we got to see him grow in his skills and maturity while still remaining a teenage boy who is confused about girls and what to do with his feelings for a certain girl in particular. What I really liked was how perfectly paced the exploration is of Durango’s backstory. In Black Hole Sun, we got a big piece that let us know what motivates Durango to do what he does. Then, in Invisible Sun, we get to find out the smaller ways that this has not only affected him, but everyone around him. We get enough pieces to move the plot forward, but not so much that there’s nothing to look forward to or so little that it feels liek the author is hiding the ball.

I also really enjoyed the back story we got for Vienne. Vienne was one of my favorite parts of this first book because she was pretty unapologetically badass. She’s the kind of girl who can do anything a boy can do, only better. And she doesn’t try to hide how awesome she was from Durango because, well, she has a level of awesome that can’t be hidden. In Invisible Sun, we get to find out where that strength and toughness came from. We also get to see that the strength and toughness is so amazing because it doesn’t dominate the caring, loyal aspects of Vienne’s personality.

Durango and Vienne work well within the plot of this book. The way they are and the way they think and the things they do fit perfectly into the puzzle going on in the background. And really, I can’t say a lot about it without spoiling the whole thing. But, let’s just say this book has a wonderful beginning, an exciting middle, and a clutch your chest kind of ending. I can’t express how much I appreciate that even though there is clearly more story to tell, Invisible Sun was it’s own complete piece of that story.

The one thing about this book I didn’t love, and I felt this way in Black Hole Sun, is the “villain” point of view. It works in the sense that things are happening offscreen that the reader needs to know about, but it also had a tendency to pull me out of the intensity of the story. The buildup of tension in scenes is awesome in these books, but then I’d flip the page and I wouldn’t be with Durango anymore and that would all sort of fizzle. We spend enough time with the bad guy point of view that I’d be intrigued, but not quite enough to hook me on his character. But then again, it might just be that I was so hooked on Durango and Vienne that I was impatient to get back to them.

Overall, the name of the game in Invisible Sun is balance: the balance of characters and plot, the balance of maturity and age appropriate behavior, and the balance between taking the easy way out and hoeing the tough row. Invisible Sun comes out on March 27, 2012 (thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, for letting me read this early!), so use the time until then wisely, go pick up Black Hole Sun, and buckle in for an awesome ride.

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