Without Bloodshed: Part One of Starbreaker – Matthew Graybosch

without-bloodshed-final-coverAn ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


“All who threaten me die.”

These words made Morgan Stormrider’s reputation as one of the Phoenix Society’s deadliest IRD officers. He served with distinction as the Society’s avenger, and specialized in hunting down anybody who dared kill an Adversary in the line of duty. After a decade spent living by the sword, Morgan wants to bid a farewell to arms and make a new life with his friends and his music.

Despite his faltering faith, the Phoenix Society has a final mission for Morgan Stormrider. A dictator’s public accusations made Morgan a liability to his organization. He must put everything aside, make his way to Boston, and put down Alexander Liebenthal’s coup while taking him alive to prove he is not the Society’s assassin.

Despite the gravity of his task, Morgan cannot put aside his ex-girlfriend’s murder, or efforts to frame him and his closest friends for the crime. He cannot ignore a request from a trusted friend to investigate the theft of designs for a weapon before which even gods stand defenseless. He cannot disregard the corruption implied in the Phoenix Society’s willingness to make him a scapegoat should he fail to resolve the crisis in Boston without bloodshed.

However, the words with which he forged his reputation haunt him still.


I find this book tricky to review, because in some sense, this is a tale of two books. On the one hand, we have an enjoyable science-fiction thriller set in the near future (2112) as Stormrider seeks to carry out his orders. You get that enjoyable sense of tension from not only the game of cat and mouse being played with Liebenthal, but also from the Phoenix Society: not only those that would see him a scapegoat, but those who seek to use him for other purposes. This book is worth reading for this aspect alone. Morgan and his allies are well written, likable and you want to pull for them, and hope they succeed. The action is well paced, and I feel the author does a good job of developing the characters and giving us down time between the big fights. It’s fun enough and tight enough that if you focused on this part of the book, you might even get a nice little movie out of it.

Unfortunately, the science-fiction elements of the book are where things start to break down a little.

A lot of the elements feel fuzzy, like they don’t quite fit in with the rest of this book. It’s like the author had these ideas about what he wants to see, and couldn’t quite figure out how to fit them in. For example, several characters in this book have a disorder called Congenital Pseudofeline Morphological Disorder (CPMD). That is to say, they bear resemblance to cats: pointed ears, slitted eyes and their diet needs to be much more protein heavy, like a cat. Oh, and they have vestigial nipples that are extra sensitive. What impact CPMD is really supposed to have on this book I really can’t say. There’s a throw a way line in there about how some think that this is the next step of humanity and another that says it’s a competing species, but who cares? I can’t recall reading about the origin of it, what impact it has on the lives of those with it, or what the heck it has to do with the plot. It kind of feels like the author created it so he could mention the nipples.

There is also something called Deva in this book. I think it might be related to the CPMD, but I honestly can’t quite tell you if that connection was really there. They also have some abilities that let them manipulate space and time; but what they are doing here in this novel? Again, not really sure. We’re told the Starbreaker is a weapon and that it can be wielded against the Deva’s enemies, but we don’t know what this weapon does or who these enemies are. I think the author didn’t want to focus on it now, but he really should have, because I honestly found myself scratching my head during these sections. I just was never fully able to wrap my head about what they were, what their motivations were or why they were in this book. Had enough time been devoted to them (at less then 300 pages, I think the author could have spared more time to fleshing out the world without harming the pacing of the story) I think they could have worked a lot better. As it stands, however, these sections really were a drag for me and I think they brought the book down as a whole. The best of these science-fiction elements were things we’ve seen variations on before, such as implants that let people communicate to each other wordlessly, and AI that act as butlers. These worked well, but weren’t enough to overcome the problems that the more creative parts provided.

All in all, this book leaves me wondering if this title was construed as a thriller first and then the science-fiction elements were added on later because these pieces just never quite come together to work as cohesively as they should, and I think that is a shame. There are some interesting things going on here on both sides of the equation, they just don’t belong together in this same book. Presumably part two will go into further detail on these things, but I can’t say that there was enough here to make me want to find out more.

Verdict: A middling Borrow It. Fans who don’t mind some sci-fi in their thrillers will enjoy the book for what it is, just be prepared to possibly be confused while reading this.

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