I absolutely loved Van Allen Plexico’s first Sentinels book, When Strikes The Warlord. So much, in fact, that once I finished, I immediately bought the second book, A Distant Star. These two books, along with Apocalypse Rising, form the first Sentinels trilogy, “The Grand Design.”
In this volume, we see the return of the Sentinels — Lyn Li/Pulsar, Ultraa, Esro Brachis and Vanadium. We also see the return of the enemy from the first book, the Warlord, albeit in a different form. There are a succession of Warlords, and every time one dies another takes his place, and it’s all part of something known as the Grand Design. Where this leads to is still something of a mystery that I assume will be the focus of the third book.
The Sentinels’ universe also expands with this book, with the introduction of the Kur-Bai, an alien race coming to Earth in order to eliminate the Xorex, a planet-destroying entity that served as the master of Kabaraak from the previous volume. Upon landing on Earth, one of the Kur-Bai, a warrior named Mondrian, and Esro get swept off on an adventure of their own in space, going up against Mondrian’s former shipmate in a Barsoomian setting.
There’s a lot of jumping around in this book as the Sentinels are seemingly pulled apart in all directions. Ultraa is injured, Pulsar has family issues, Vanadium appears to be corrupted, and the government is prepared to cut their support for the Sentinels, especially with Esro missing. All the while, the Warlord is scheming, but it’s really Esro and Mondrian’s story that serve as the most interesting set-pieces here.
Where Plexico succeeds is in his characters, once more. Mondrian is every bit as intriguing and fascinating as the characters introduced in the previous volume. Her interaction with Esro is a joy to read and Esro himself steps up to the plate, becoming a much more central character than he was in the previous book. It could be said that When Strikes The Warlord was more Pulsar’s story and in that case, A Distant Star is definitely Esro’s. There’s a grandness to this book, a sense of a larger universe outside of Earth. I know that there were aliens in the first, but this one feels more like a space opera.
That being said, one of the strengths of A Distant Star, of it feeling like a part of something greater, can also be considered a shortcoming, depending on your point of view. When Strikes The Warlord can easily be viewed as a stand-alone tale, but with A Distant Star, there’s a lot of set-up for Apocalypse Rising and you know there’s something else coming.
Apocalypse Rising is a book I will be reading in the very near future. So far, Plexico has not disappointed with his superhero epic, and I’m looking forward to an epic conclusion of this trilogy!