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Rian Sherron is a lot of things. Captain of the spaceship Imojenna. Ex-war hero. Ex-assassin. For years, he’s traveled from one end of the galaxy to the other, both trying to escape his demons and get revenge on the shape-shifting aliens responsible for his slow demise into hell.
That all changed the day Rian rescued an Arynian priestess from slave traders. Ella Kinton is everything Rian both fears and admires. Ella is everything he never let himself admit he wanted. Together, they must face a harrowing choice—come together and defeat the Reidar, or fall apart, leaving the universe in total chaos.
The Final Dawn is the fifth and final book in Jess Anastasi’s Atrophy series, featuring the motley crew of the starship Imojenna under the command of the super badass, super enigmatic Rian Sherron. This story has been a long time coming; book four, Entropy, was published in 2018 and I confess I’d been worried that maybe the series was going to remain unfinished – so I was jumping for joy when I learned that wasn’t the case, and that The Final Dawn would – at last – complete the series and deliver a story for Rian and Ella, the Arynian High Priestess he rescued way back in book one.
The Atrophy books feature an overarching plotline and an ensemble cast, so it’s advisable to have read at least some of the preceding titles in order to gain a full understanding of the plotlines and characters. There will be spoilers for the other books in this review.
A quick bit of background. An alien race of shapeshifters called the Reidar is slowly infiltrating every aspect of human civilisation and replacing key members of Earth’s industry and government with their own. They’ve so far managed to do this without attracting attention, but Rian – who was captured and experimented on by the Reidar before managing to escape – knows what’s going on and is determined to expose the alien plot and preferably rid the universe of as many Reidar as possible along the way. Each of the books in the series has featured its own self-contained storyline running alongside the main plot as well as a romance that reached an HFN/HEA by the end, but in The Final Dawn, the focus is firmly on the fight against the Reidar and the romance between Rian and Ella who have been striking sparks off each other since they met. Their relationship became considerably more complicated in book four, Entropy, when they were mentally and emotionally connected in an entropic entanglement (which also includes former commando Varean Donnelly – and in case you’re wondering, there are no kinky mind-meld-threesomes here!), and when The Final Dawn opens, Rian is still struggling to adjust to the fact that he and Ella are inextricably bound. After years of distancing himself from everything and everyone, suddenly not being alone in his head, heart and soul is profoundly disturbing. Rian has been unsettled by Ella’s telepathic abilities and her cool, detached demeanour since they first met and has gone out of his way to interact with her as little as possible, trying to ignore his inconvenient attraction to her.
When the book proper opens, the rag-taggle crew of the Imojenna has been laying low in relative safety on the planet of Tripoli while Rian has spent the last eight months on the homeworld of the Mar’keish, a race with similar telepathic abilities to the Arynians, learning about and trying to understand the entanglement and the abilities he has developed as a result of being mentally linked to Ella. He’s also spent that time thinking up inventive ways to kill Ella’s brother Isiah Kinton; he’s sure Kinton has harmed his sister in some way and wants to find out what he did and then make the man pay.
Mar’keish intelligence learns of a likely Reidar gathering at an upcoming interplanetary summit, and if, as suspected, they are getting ready to enact the final stage of their universal domination plan, Rian wants to be part of the Mar’keish delegation. There’s just one snag – Isiah Kinton is going to be there, and word is he’s become extremely interested in Rian over the past few months.
“Aw, has he gone all fanboy over my war hero stories?”
“Think less fanboy and more wants-to-kill-you-on-sight for abducting his sister.”
“If we’re being technical, I accidentally rescued her. He should be thanking me.”
“If by ‘thanks’, you mean he wants to see you arrested and punished, then he’s already way ahead of you.”
Kinton’s presence at the summit will make things difficult but not impossible – Rian will simply have to keep a low profile. (Pfft, right.)
In the meantime, Rian’s crew has learned of his intention to head into Reidar Central, and, with the exception of Ella and Zahli (Rian’s sister), who remain on Tripoli in order to keep Ella safe from her brother, they all head out on the Ebony Winter (Qae’s ship) to provide back-up. Needless to say, things don’t quite go to plan (an understatement) and our heroes quickly find themselves up to their necks in trouble (as per usual).
I won’t say more about the plot, which is fast-paced with an intriguing storyline and some terrific set-pieces, which are so vividly written that they played out like mini-movies in my head. There’s a strongly written secondary cast – most of whom you’ll have already met if you’ve read the other books – and I continue to enjoy the humour – Qae’s smart-mouthed snark and his interactions with Rian are often very funny – the team dynamic, and the found family aspect of the stories.
Rian Sherron has been a pivotal figure throughout the series; he’s Atrophy’s Kirk/Mal/Picard and as such has had a major role in all the other books. His romance with Ella takes a bit of a weird turn here, with lots of psychic/mental … stuff (sex on the astral plane?!) – and I never really understood why the entropic entanglement involved a third-person. In her author’s note, Ms. Anastasi explains that she had originally planned at least one more book in the series, but that “due to circumstances” that hasn’t happened – perhaps the entanglement plotline was meant to have been further developed. But still, the author makes good use of it at certain key moments, and the chemistry between Rian and Ella is as strong as ever, so I can deal with a bit of weird.
The author has dropped hints throughout the series that Ella is much more powerful than she lets on and that her abilities could be used in a truly devastating way should she ever choose – or be forced – to use them in that capacity. Here, we learn more about what those powers are, although I have to say that this is another aspect of the book that didn’t quite make sense to me. Maybe it’s me and I missed something, but I wasn’t wholly convinced by Ella’s sudden transformation near the end.
But that and a few other minor inconsistencies aside, I enjoyed The Final Dawn and would recommend the Atrophy series to fans of sci-fi/space opera and anyone who enjoys a rollicking, action-packed, high-stakes adventure yarn.
Note: The other books in this series have been re-titled and re-covered since this review was first posted. (Frankly, I don’t think it’s for the better.)