Desert Isle Keeper
Defending the Galaxy
Defending the Galaxy is the third and final book in Maria Snyder’s Sentinels of the Galaxy series, and it’s a fitting end to an engrossing trilogy of books. If you haven’t read the first two, I would stop here and pick up book one, Navigating the Stars. One of the best things about these novels are the unexpected twists and the world-building, and there will be spoilers ahead.
To set the scene, these stories take place roughly five hundred years in the future. Earth has achieved space travel, and while exploring the galaxy has discovered multiple other planets with groups of Terracotta warriors on them. The planets are empty of any life, which is a mystery that scientists have long been trying to understand. Ara Lawrence (formerly known as Lyra Daniels) and her parents are part of a research team on one of these planets, and they have made some huge discoveries in the previous books. First, they learned that some sort of Hostile Life Form (HoLF) emerges when the Warriors are damaged, and these HoLFs have the ability to kill or seriously injure humans. They’ve also realized that a band of looters has been traveling the galaxy, slowly taking over the Warrior planets by damaging the Warriors and releasing the HoLFs on the unsuspecting research bases. These looters have lately been on Ara’s planet, directly attacking the research base and cutting off their communication with the outside world.
In this future, the communication between individuals (or between the research base and the Department of Space Exploration on Earth), occurs via the Q-net. It’s like the internet on steroids – a galactic network that people can tap into using sensors implanted into their brains when they are teenagers. Ara has become very adept at “worming” through the Q-net to access data and work around the looters’ communication blockade. However, even with all her skills she was not prepared for the big revelation at the end of Chasing the Shadows (book two): the Q-net made direct contact with her. The Q-net is sentient.
As you can imagine, it’s been a long year while I’ve waited for this book to move past that cliffhanger. And I’m pleased to say that Defending the Galaxy delivered.
After realizing that the Q-net is sentient, but has chosen only to communicate with her, Ara is in a bind. On the one hand, this is very relevant information that the adults leading the research base deserve to know. On the other hand, she’s afraid they won’t believe her and will just send her straight to the psych ward. In the end, Ara can’t avoid telling them, and also cannot avoid being brought in for a psych evaluation.
One of the things I like most about Ara as a character is how she manages to be both eminently practical and yet clearly a teenager. After the trauma of the looters’ attack on their base, among other things, the psychologist she sees is concerned that Ara has imagined the Q-net’s consciousness as a coping mechanism. Ara gives this real thought and consideration, acknowledging her traumatic experiences in a very mature way. Yet a few days later, when she’s back with her parents and grounded, Ara acts like a normal teen as she finds ways to subvert the rules she considers unfair.
I really can’t say too much about the plot of this book, because it contains some spoilers about how the Warriors work and the ultimate goals of the looters. What I can say is that Ara and her team from the research base work to alert other Warrior planets to what is going on, while still fighting off the looters on their base. The pacing is quite tight here, and a sense of urgency builds as the team prepares for a final showdown. While this did get in the way of my Thanksgiving preparations, as I had trouble putting the book down, I felt the pacing was appropriate as things came to a head.
While there are many pros I could list here about the book – the imaginative story, capitvating mystery and fun characters, the perfect balance of lighthearted and serious – the one con I did notice was how technical the story gets related to the Q-net elements. Ara’s interactions with the sentience are easy to understand, but when discussion turns to the looters’ blockades and how Ara winds around them, it starts to get confusing. There’s no real way around it, as so much of the story focuses on the Q-net and people’s activity there, but it’s another important reason to read the books in order. You definitely need the backstory to make sense of the action here.
Defending the Galaxy is an epic conclusion to a stellar series. It answers burning questions about the purpose of the terracotta warriors, how (and by whom) they were made, and what the looters want with them. Ara remains a strong lead character it’s easy to root for, and it’s so satisfying to see her come to the ending she deserves.