A Tunnel in the Sky

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The Protectorate Trilogy
by Megan E. O'Keefe

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted May 21, 2019
Edits & Addenda on June 27 & 30, & July 5, 2021

Velocity Weapon / Chaos Vector / Catalyst Gate

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I received an e-ARC of Velocity Weapon from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. The first title in a series with the collective name of The Protectorate will be released in three weeks, June 11, 2019. It is science fiction, verging on space opera. Ms. O'Keefe's earlier books, none of which I have read, are steampunk fantasy. It boasts an intricate plot and fast pace, with quite a few suprising twists along the way. My only criticisms would be minor, nothing that hinders the flow of the story to any extent.

Ada Prime is but one of many stations maintained across the galaxy by the Protectorate, all served by their proprietary transfer stations, known as Casamir Gates. Ada Prime is at war with another planet within its star system. The Protectorate does not share its technological secrets with non-Prime worlds, although it does allow others to utilize its gates to transfer goods and people from system to system. Due to the limitations of the gate technology, Icarion is not able to have a gate of their own, since they are too close to their sun. They have had to accept the Protectorate's word on that, so while they aren't able to force information out of Prime as to how they can have their own gate, they have been hard at work developing faster propulsion systems for their own ships so they can bypass the gates. In the first chapter we meet Prime Gunnery Sergeant Sanda Greeve, as she wakes from an evacuation pod on the otherwise uncrewed Icarion ship The Light of Berossus. The ship's AI, which prefers to be addressed as Bero, informs her the war is over, and that it has been 230 years since the Battle of Dralee.

Flashback to Prime Year 3541, to the graduation day of Sanda's younger brother Biran from Keeper Academy. Keepers protect the secrets of Prime's technologies. The upper echelon of Keepers, sort of like our military's Chiefs of Staff, are the Protectorate. During the commencement ceremony word comes of the Icarion attack near the moon Dralee. Over the chaotic weeks and months that follow, mainly from his tireless efforts to gain information on the status of his sister, Biran maneuvers himself into the position of Speaker, liason between the Protectorate and the general population. He has made mistakes, and it's possible he is being set up to fail, but he is supported by a mentor. Protector Lavaux had emigrated from another system, is independently wealthy, and tends to act independently as well. Biran wants to believe his sister is still alive, but even if not he thinks it likely other of their troops could be recoverable in their evacuation pods around Dralee. Lavaux has his own ship, and he recruits Biran and several other of the Protectorate to investigate, although it becomes clear he has an agenda of his own. The other Protectors want a full evacuation of Ada Prime and Keep Station, as well as the destruction of the Casamir Gate, since they fear a massive new weapon Icarion has developed, known as the Fibon Protocol, but the evacuation is forestalled by Lavaux's actions. Chapters alternate between the two timelines as Sanda works to build a rapport with Bero, and the earlier efforts of Biran to find her.

There are two other narrative tracks. One is set on Earth in an unspecified year in our future, as Alexandra Halston, owner and CEO of Prime Inventive, pursues the technology that will create the first Casamir Gate in orbit of Pluto's moon Charon. The successful completion of that project is designated the beginning of Prime Year 1. The other scenario is on the planet Atrux, which at least at the beginning is concurrent with the events on Ada Prime in Year 3541. In Prime Year 3771, Bero and Sanda decide they need to leave the devastated system and try to make it to Atrux utilizing Bero's 8%-of-c drive. In order for her to survive that multiple years journey they need to salvage other evacuation pods which will enable her to periodically go into cold-sleep. On Atrux, Juliella 'Jules' Vicenza (aka Jules Valentine) and her cohort of thieves break into an abandoned building because they have word it may be a stash house for the sought-after drug wraith. They do find wraith, but are also surprised to stumble upon a hidden lab that is evidently being used for something completely different, possibly black-market Keeper technology. Later, Jules and one of her gang are on the run from shadowy forces they identify as Keeper Guardcore, but without insignia, further reinforcing the notion of a covert operation.

To say much more would be to risk spoilers. I will say that the events on Atrux and Bero's decision to go there made me wonder what the connection might be. I began to suspect Bero had not been completely truthful to Sanda, that 'he' also had an ulterior motive. She was challenged by the fact that within the Prime sphere AIs had been limited, not allowed to develop a personality matrix, so it takes a while for her to establish a bond, all the while I was thinking that wasn't such a good idea. I also had a theory that someone had altered Casamir Gate technology to not only be a trans-spatial portal, but a time portal as well, but the eventual reveal was quite different. As to the minor criticisms, I'm well aware of the changing use of aphorisms, figures of speech, just within my own lifetime. Several times current common phrases were used, which I seriously doubt would still be in use 3500 years later, especially in solar systems light years from Earth. Also, Alexandra Halston seems to be confused about the different compositions of asteroids and comets (which could be an error in the ARC, corrected before publication). Another is the not so subtle similarities between the structure of Prime society to current concerns about the overreach of Amazon Prime. Alexandra Halston is not Jeff Bezos, but the parallels are unmistakable, and I doubt they're coincidental. For instance, the highlight color for Prime Fleet uniforms is cyan.

Overall, I rate this 4 out of 5 stars. It's recommended due to several interesting characters, the relentless pace, and the unexpected twists and turns of the plot. I'll want to continue the story because this ended with multiple major cliffhangers. That's the main reason I titled this page "Protectorate" rather than the title of this book. Not sure when to expect the sequel, but I'm definitely interested.

EDIT, 6/27/21 - I just re-read this, still the ARC I had read before, in preparation for the second book, which along with the third I bought recently. I cannot recall if I originally had a suspicion about a particular character, or if I did I forgot about it by the end. I've already started the second book, and that suspicion is even stronger. I may be wrong, and even if I'm right I can't prove I haven't already got to the reveal one way or the other. One of Sanda and Biran's fathers, Graham, had emigrated from Atrux. He and his husband Ilan now run a transport business, but his life on Atrux had been within the criminal element, including smuggling and drugs. It has already been revealed he knew several of the people Jules was working with. Is it possible he has a closer connection to her, perhaps even unknown to him? Could Graham be the father she never knew? I'm uploading this speculation now before it is either confirmed or refuted in Chaos Vector. I'll update again as soon as I finish it.


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Posted June 30, 2021
It has been almost a year since Chaos Vector was published, but I didn't purchase it until a couple of months ago, and at the same time pre-ordered the third book, which came out last week. In one way it was good to have waited, since if I had read it a year ago I would have been upset that I couldn't continue the series immediately. Now I'm torn between needing to say a few things about it, or starting the next book right away. I decided to do both. My comments will be brief for now, but I may edit or add things even before finishing Catalyst Gate. There is again a danger of spoiling the plot, and I still don't want to say much more about the first book. Suffice it to say things weren't exactly as I thought concerning Sanda's predicament, and while I won't go into detail, I will say she was able to make it back to Ada Prime and reunite with her family, but that is short-lived. Once again she is plunged into mysteries, conspiracies, and subterfuge. If this was written in first-person there would be complaints about the unreliable narrator. It's all third-person, from multiple perspectives, and almost everyone has a secret or secrets, either personal or concerning someone else, that they do not want to reveal.

It's no wonder there are so many secrets, since that's how everything with the Prime worlds started. Alexandra Halston kept the secret of gate technology from almost everyone, except her main assistant, and lover, Maria Salvez, and the first of twelve designated as the Keepers. When one of those Keepers revealed the secret to someone else, she killed all of them and prepared others for the task. I'm not totally convinced of several suppositions, the main one being the technology was of alien origin. The eventual reveal may be that it's from the far, far future. Because Salvez didn't fully trust Halston she started a group of her own, known as the Acolytes, who were tasked with monitoring the Keepers. More than 3500 years later, the Acolytes are still active. Maybe. Or maybe that group has been subborned by another. Prime Director Malkia Okonkwo, the highest ranking official throughout Prime space, claims to be an ex-Acolyte. She might still be associated with them, or whatever group is claiming to be them. Guardcore are supposedly anonymous, never being seen in public without their fully camouflaging uniforms and helmets. That has made it easier for rogue Guardcore to infiltrate them, carrying out their own secret agenda. Okonkwo claims to not be aware of them, which seems highly suspicious. Would you trust the highest level security person if they were not aware of such a breach?

There are other spies and suspicious people, one of which Sanda had trusted before. Several of the Keepers of Ada Prime could be in cahoots with the big bad villain, although the true nature of that villain has yet to be established. Are they alien, or a construct of aliens, or a construct of human scientists? While the first book's main strength was clever misdirection and colorful action, the second book is just as strong in character development. Yes, there are pyrotechnics galore, but that means nothing if you can't root for (or fear for the safety of) your favorite characters. As with the first book, there is a major revelation concerning one of them at about the halfway point. Sanda has to buck authority at every turn, never knowing whom she can trust, and the same for Biran, even though in somewhat less dangerous situations. It's possible they both will be very highly placed in the Prime hierarchy when all is said and done. Or they will both be dead; the stakes are extremely high. There are surprises on nearly every page, with the way I perceived certain characters changing just as frequently. Meticuloulsly plotted, relentlessly paced, highly recommended.


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Posted July 5, 2021
An even harder book to review without spoilers. I can still give a strong recommendation for the trilogy, although the conclusion does have a few flaws. First, there is enough exposition to have filled another book, if not another trilogy, yet it is the shortest of the series. More time is spent on Sanda and her crew's conflicts with the major antagonist, Rainier Lavaux. Most chapters are short, but instead of alternating between the different scenarios, many times multiple chapters kept the perspective on Sanda. Not that those scenarios aren't interesting, but I was equally interested in what Biran was doing, as well as Jules Valentine. In a few instances it took me a while to remember, or I had to backtrack several chapters to check, about where their stories had left off. In one particular instance with Jules it seemed an interim scene might have been edited out.

Another surprising revelation at the midway point, then another toward the end, although in retrospect maybe I should have expected that one. Even though most storylines are concluded, not everything is fully explained, particularly why Rainier's powers were strong, but also limited. Was she merely a machine consciousness, or was she originally a corporeal alien being? If the former, did her limitations come from being hijacked by Alexandra Halston? Was her mandate something of her own design, or was it shaped by those she referred to as the Waiting? Have the Waiting transcended the material plane, or are they still to be encountered 'in the flesh'? The same could be asked of the Sentinels, other entities Biran encountered on a new world. My criticisms are mainly about the execution, not the content of the plot, with at least one exception. I would have preferred a switch as to the fate of two characters, but that's all I'll say about that.

Parts of this book's plot could have been presented in the preceding book, or some eliminated altogether. Several times Sanda and crew are on a ship, then they are either captured by others or thrown off the ship in various ways, then they're able to escape their captors or are rescued, back and forth. Too repetitive. There were multiple red herrings about which of the Keepers weren't to be trusted, but that didn't seem to matter much if Rainier was not as invincible as first thought. If you've read Return of the King or seen the film you should know what I mean by an almost neverending ending. It's not quite as complicated and drawn out here, but that did come to mind. Again, not perfect, but there is enough good to outweigh any of the negatives. The second book is the strongest, but the whole is well worth your time. It's complicated, engaging, unpredictable, and definitely not boring. I need to check out some of O'Keefe's earlier work, and I'm definitely interested in what she comes up with next.

Oh yeah, one other thing. I don't know if I was right or wrong about a direct connection between Graham Greeve and Jules Valentine. It never came up, but it still makes sense to me, so I'm leaving that speculation as is.


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Megan E. O'Keefe


Purchase Links:
Velocity Weapon
Chaos Vector
Catalyst Gate

Velocity Weapon
Chaos Vector
Catalyst Gate

A purchase through our links may earn us a commission.