Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
A Pride of Lions
A Darkening Stars Book 1
by Mark Iles
Selena Dillon is a beautiful revolutionary, looking to rescue her planet Capulet from a despotic and cruel monarch. When Selena and her co-revolutionaries are caught they’re given the choice of death penalty or twenty five years servitude in the harsh Penal Regiments. Selena takes the latter and although it would be a gross understatement to say that the training is intense and the trainers sadistic, Selena finds that she not only likes it, she excels at it, rising quickly to officer. With an ultimate goal of finishing her servitude and completing her thwarted assassination attempt, Selena’s future seems to be on track. When a race of super-aliens begins destroying human-colonised planets one by one, the fate of the human race looks to be in real danger, and Selena gets the assignment of her career; an assignment that changes everything for her. A Pride of Lions is a fast paced sci-fi action story full of futuristic scenerios, great spacy fights, good guys vs bad guys, pirates, and even a touch of romance. This is a book that will appeal to any reluctant reader or staunch television watcher looking for for a fast, easy and satisfying plot driven story. Readers looking for more than light relief won’t be disappointed either. Selena is well-drawn, with a strong character arc, and enough tragic back story so that the reader instantly likes and sympathsises with her. Iles has a flair for world building and the futuristic elements work particularly well, mingling action with humour as the reader moves from the Shakespearean inspired Capulet, to the barren world of the Citadel where basic training takes place, to the elusive and beautiful Eden:
The doorway opened into a forest, a stunningly beautiful carpet of green grass and trees that melted away into the far distance on all sides. Overhead lay a clear blue, cloudless sky and a warm pleasantly fragrant breeze wafted in, bringing with it a cacophony of birdsong. The passageway emptied from the bole of a huge tree, whose heavy leaved canopy stretched far overhead.
All sci-fi thrillers should have a good monster and though there are plenty of human monsters in A Pride of Lions, the real stars of the books (who probably deserve a series of their own) are the ancient giant Mantas.
They were terrifying and did indeed look like a cross between an upright praying mantis and a spider, except for the six apple-sized eyes that blazed a deep vermillion as they scanned the landscape. Thick dark leather-like webbing criss-crossed the stick-like limbs and body, the garments edged with silver insignia were painted on the central band, which was worn diagonally across the thorax area. It was difficult to tell where the creatures ended and the equipment and trappings of war began.
Although it is possible to read A Pride of Lions as a standalone book, Iles leaves plenty of open questions to draw the reader back to the rest of the books in the series. A Pride of Lions is one of those rare books that offers a little something for every reader. It’s a well-written, plot driven sci-fi fantasy that doesn’t sacrifice quality or character development, and will leave the reader eager for more of Selena’s adventures, and for further insights into the illusive mantis.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks and Paul W Newman is her next guest. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.