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The rollicking first entry in a unique science fiction series that introduces the Near-Earth Orbital Guard—NeoG—a military force patrolling and protecting space inspired by the real-life mission of the U.S. Coast Guard. For the past year, their close loss in the annual Boarding Games has haunted Interceptor Team: Zuma’s Ghost. With this year’s competition looming, they’re l The rollicking first entry in a unique science fiction series that introduces the Near-Earth Orbital Guard—NeoG—a military force patrolling and protecting space inspired by the real-life mission of the U.S. Coast Guard. For the past year, their close loss in the annual Boarding Games has haunted Interceptor Team: Zuma’s Ghost. With this year’s competition looming, they’re looking forward to some payback—until an unexpected personnel change leaves them reeling. Their best swordsman has been transferred, and a new lieutenant has been assigned in his place. Maxine Carmichael is trying to carve a place in the world on her own—away from the pressure and influence of her powerful family. The last thing she wants is to cause trouble at her command on Jupiter Station. With her new team in turmoil, Max must overcome her self-doubt and win their trust if she’s going to succeed. Failing is not an option—and would only prove her parents right. But Max and the team must learn to work together quickly. A routine mission to retrieve a missing ship has suddenly turned dangerous, and now their lives are on the line. Someone is targeting members of Zuma’s Ghost, a mysterious opponent willing to kill to safeguard a secret that could shake society to its core . . . a secret that could lead to their deaths and kill thousands more unless Max and her new team stop them. Rescue those in danger, find the bad guys, win the Games. It’s all in a day’s work at the NeoG.


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The rollicking first entry in a unique science fiction series that introduces the Near-Earth Orbital Guard—NeoG—a military force patrolling and protecting space inspired by the real-life mission of the U.S. Coast Guard. For the past year, their close loss in the annual Boarding Games has haunted Interceptor Team: Zuma’s Ghost. With this year’s competition looming, they’re l The rollicking first entry in a unique science fiction series that introduces the Near-Earth Orbital Guard—NeoG—a military force patrolling and protecting space inspired by the real-life mission of the U.S. Coast Guard. For the past year, their close loss in the annual Boarding Games has haunted Interceptor Team: Zuma’s Ghost. With this year’s competition looming, they’re looking forward to some payback—until an unexpected personnel change leaves them reeling. Their best swordsman has been transferred, and a new lieutenant has been assigned in his place. Maxine Carmichael is trying to carve a place in the world on her own—away from the pressure and influence of her powerful family. The last thing she wants is to cause trouble at her command on Jupiter Station. With her new team in turmoil, Max must overcome her self-doubt and win their trust if she’s going to succeed. Failing is not an option—and would only prove her parents right. But Max and the team must learn to work together quickly. A routine mission to retrieve a missing ship has suddenly turned dangerous, and now their lives are on the line. Someone is targeting members of Zuma’s Ghost, a mysterious opponent willing to kill to safeguard a secret that could shake society to its core . . . a secret that could lead to their deaths and kill thousands more unless Max and her new team stop them. Rescue those in danger, find the bad guys, win the Games. It’s all in a day’s work at the NeoG.

30 review for A Pale Light in the Black

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lex Kent

    This was a solid and enjoyable sci-fi read. I’m a big sci-fi fan but have not read as much lately as I would like too. This had the sci-fi space opera feel that I was looking for and I was happy to read this. This reminded me a bit of Firefly mixed with Starship Troopers with a pinch of Ender’s Game thrown in, but without all the bugs and aliens. This is a pure humans in space story that is very character driven. There are three main characters: A lesbian, a bisexual woman, and an asexual woman. This was a solid and enjoyable sci-fi read. I’m a big sci-fi fan but have not read as much lately as I would like too. This had the sci-fi space opera feel that I was looking for and I was happy to read this. This reminded me a bit of Firefly mixed with Starship Troopers with a pinch of Ender’s Game thrown in, but without all the bugs and aliens. This is a pure humans in space story that is very character driven. There are three main characters: A lesbian, a bisexual woman, and an asexual woman. This book is very LGBTQ friendly, taking place in a time where sexuality and gender is just completely accepted. The romances are all light with no explicit sex scenes at all. There is not much more than a few hugs and kisses. I do have to say I was disappointed that Max and Jenks did not get together. They had the most chemistry of anyone and with how they kept growing closer, they would have been perfect for a romance. Instead, they were both paired up with male partners that were a little boring and lackluster. I’m guessing maybe Wagers didn’t want to have two wlw storylines going on (the other main is a married lesbian), but I think it was a real missed opportunity. While this really is a book about characters and their relationship with family and friends, it also has a mystery that brings some action to the book, and a big competition. There are games that every military branch competes in and our main characters are trying to win the games for the first time. Everything from sword fighting to piloting, the games are like the World Cup or the Olympics, a really big deal. When our characters are not rescuing people in space, they are training for the games. It was a really fun part of the book between the competition and the military rivalries. My one complaint about this part is I think it was too rushed. The games are so important, that fact is hammered home, that the finale big game day is fast-forwarded too much for my tastes. While I really enjoyed this read it did have some pacing issues. It takes a little while to really get into the story. Things were a little slow in the beginning and I was getting a little worried, luckily I soon got hooked into the story. However, the pacing issues did continue some. The story would slow down and the book at times seemed a little long. I noticed parts I would have personally cut-out, but then like I mentioned about the games, all of a sudden the pace went too fast and I wished it would slow back down. This was not a huge issue at the end of the day, but it was one of the major reasons why this was not more than a 4 star read for me. If you are looking for an entertaining and lighter sci-fi story, this is a good choice. This is a story that is much more character driven but still had some good action that kept me entertained. I enjoyed the characters enough that I would absolutely read the next book in the series. The major storylines in this book are complete and this did NOT end in a cliffhanger which is always nice. An ARC was given to me for a honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ash

    Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. A Pale Light in the Black follows the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, who are members of the Near-Earth Orbital Guard (NeoG), a branch of the military akin to the Coast Guard… in space. These characters are the highlight of the story. First off, they’re diverse, representing a variety of sexualities, gender identities, religions, and racial and ethnic backgrounds. They’re also extremely likabl Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. A Pale Light in the Black follows the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, who are members of the Near-Earth Orbital Guard (NeoG), a branch of the military akin to the Coast Guard… in space. These characters are the highlight of the story. First off, they’re diverse, representing a variety of sexualities, gender identities, religions, and racial and ethnic backgrounds. They’re also extremely likable. I’m a sucker for friendly team dynamics and I got plenty of that here. It’s a good thing this book has such a strong cast because it’s extremely character-driven. I fell in love with Max, Rosa, and Jenks (our three main characters) and enjoyed witnessing their personal and relationship development. My only complaint is the dialogue. It occasionally struck me as slightly stilted, particularly during tense or emotional moments. The romance was unremarkable. (view spoiler)[It didn’t help that I was shipping Max and Jenks with each other way more than with their respective (male) love interests. (hide spoiler)] The story was well-paced and revolves around two subplots. In subplot one, Zuma’s Ghost is competing in the Boarding Games, an annual competition between the branches of the military, and hopes to take home NeoG’s first ever win. Meanwhile, subplot two is a mystery that builds gradually from a series of coincidences to a full-blown conspiracy. I preferred the first subplot; it seems Wagers isn’t much of a mystery writer. The ending was rushed and the evil mastermind behind it all was underwhelming. Aside from the characters, what I liked best about this book was the worldbuilding. The future Wagers imagines is immersive and easy to envision. The focus is mostly on military life, which isn’t usually my cup of tea, but I ended up really enjoying it. A few concepts could have been introduced more gradually and naturally, but this is me being nitpicky. In many ways, A Pale Light in the Black reminds me of the Star Trek TV shows. It’s fun, lighthearted, team-based and, yes, a little cheesy. I love me some Star Trek so it’s no wonder I ended up enjoying this book. A Pale Light in the Black is a story with a lot of heart, enough to make up for at least some of the technical flaws. I’m eager to go back and read Wagers’ previous work and I hope she continues the NeoG series.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Ohhhh I loved this book. It's such a warm and cozy, low-angst space opera about a diverse team of caring, competent people working the equivalent of the Coast Guard in space, saving lives, prepping for a big inter-division sports event, and creating a found family along the way. There's a bit of plot, but honestly, the focus is all on the (wonderful) characters and their relationships, and that's exactly how I liked it - it was SUCH a kind and comforting book to read. Perfect for anyone who love Ohhhh I loved this book. It's such a warm and cozy, low-angst space opera about a diverse team of caring, competent people working the equivalent of the Coast Guard in space, saving lives, prepping for a big inter-division sports event, and creating a found family along the way. There's a bit of plot, but honestly, the focus is all on the (wonderful) characters and their relationships, and that's exactly how I liked it - it was SUCH a kind and comforting book to read. Perfect for anyone who loved Becky Chambers's The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (but with a tiny bit more plot, whether that's a bonus or a negative for you!). It really, REALLY worked for me, and I am so impatient for Book 2 to arrive next year, because I want more time with this whole lovely team of people!

  4. 5 out of 5

    CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian

    Although I'm into the found family and cozy space opera aspects of this book, I'm gonna DNF this at 50% because - neither of the two main plots are grabbing me: I don't care about this weird Olympic-like sports competition and the author has not convinced me why it's so important in this world; the mystery is unraveling far too slowly for my liking - Uneven pacing: the narrative seems to speed up and gloss over events that I found more interesting, and linger over scenes that aren't important - t Although I'm into the found family and cozy space opera aspects of this book, I'm gonna DNF this at 50% because - neither of the two main plots are grabbing me: I don't care about this weird Olympic-like sports competition and the author has not convinced me why it's so important in this world; the mystery is unraveling far too slowly for my liking - Uneven pacing: the narrative seems to speed up and gloss over events that I found more interesting, and linger over scenes that aren't important - the world-building is superficial: I appreciate that all LGBTQ+ identities are accepted full stop in the future (careful pronoun usage, lesbian, bi, ace, poly, nonbinary characters) but this science fictional world feels a bit thin. Like, there's no plausible explanation as to how this happened or why it fits in this future culture. Plus the scientists say there are no aliens?!? Boring, plus I thought this goes against contemporary scientific hypotheses? - I know this supposedly takes place in a very different future after a collapse of humanity (very vaguely explained to my disappointment), but reading a story that is so military-focused (and implicitly, pro-military) is not something I'm willing to tolerate except under exceptional circumstances - I accidentally spoiled myself and found out Max (asexual, biromantic?) and Jenks (bisexual/romantic) both end up with bland dudes instead of each other which makes no sense as their chemistry and emerging relationship was my favourite part of the book

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mike (the Paladin)

    Shelves say enough...a few chapters in it was a tossup between falling asleep and vomiting. ...that was a little harsh, maybe a tossup between falling asleep and tossing the book out the window. You know because of the headache.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Barb in Maryland

    Absolute romp of a book! Great fun, engaging characters. I had a blast with this one.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Beth Cato

    I received this advance galley via NetGalley. I'm a huge fan of Wagers's other sci-fi series (The Indranan War and The Farian War) and I was very excited to see what they could do with space opera set closer to Earth. While this book didn't have the instant magnetism of the previous books--in part because I had a hard time keeping the large cast straight in my head--once it's gets going, it's good. The NEO-G are essentially the space coast guard. Under-funded and under-appreciated, they monitor th I received this advance galley via NetGalley. I'm a huge fan of Wagers's other sci-fi series (The Indranan War and The Farian War) and I was very excited to see what they could do with space opera set closer to Earth. While this book didn't have the instant magnetism of the previous books--in part because I had a hard time keeping the large cast straight in my head--once it's gets going, it's good. The NEO-G are essentially the space coast guard. Under-funded and under-appreciated, they monitor the shipping lanes and keep travelers safe from threats foreign and domestic. There are no aliens. Humans travel space alone, and go long distances thanks to advances in extending the human life span--technology patented by Max Carmichael's family. However, she chose not to enter the company or the Navy, as dictated by tradition and her dictator parents, but to enter the NEO-G and really save people's lives. Shunned by her birth family, she finds a new family among her comrades in space as they do their day jobs and prepare for the big military rivalry reality-type show that happens once a year. However, when mischief in space points back toward Max's family and their hidden tech, she and her new friends start to dig for answers--and soon find themselves the targets of some dangerous people. Timing is weird in publishing. Another book with a similar basic concept--Coast Guard in space, with a reality show component, is also out in March 2020. Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole, being by an author with military experience, is also much deeper into the military aspect and the Coast Guard and Navy rivalry has much, much higher stakes. In comparison, A Pale Light in the Black is a breezier, lighter book more in the mode of Firefly. Both books use the same concepts well, and have entirely different vibes and plot lines. What really shines in A Pale Light in the Black is the concept of found family. These are people who grow close, who have each other's backs, and get to zoom around in space and help others. I mean, what more can a person want?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    My quick pitch for A Pale Light in the Black is space coast guard plus found family but to just leave it there would be doing this book a huge disservice. There are so many lovable, well-developed characters in the NeoG that were all just trying to be decent to each other. I absolutely adored the casual queerness present in the story, particularly the fact that one of the main characters is ace and everyone was just automatically accepting of this element of her identity. Another thing I loved w My quick pitch for A Pale Light in the Black is space coast guard plus found family but to just leave it there would be doing this book a huge disservice. There are so many lovable, well-developed characters in the NeoG that were all just trying to be decent to each other. I absolutely adored the casual queerness present in the story, particularly the fact that one of the main characters is ace and everyone was just automatically accepting of this element of her identity. Another thing I loved was that Wagers perfectly balanced character development with plot so there was always plenty of action to keep me hooked. I read the majority of A Pale Light in the Black in one sitting because I just couldn't get enough of this world and these characters. I've already pre-ordered book 2 and July can't get here soon enough! C/W:(view spoiler)[death of a loved one (off page), violence, loved one with critical injuries (hide spoiler)]

  9. 4 out of 5

    imyril

    It took me a little while to warm up to A Pale Light in the Black, but much like Petty Officer Jenks once it had me by the throat it wasn't going to let up until it was good and ready. If Becky Chambers leaves you hankering for more action in your casually inclusive, fundamentally good-hearted SF, KB Wagers and the NeoG have your back. I went from mildly interested to unable to put it down, and spent the second half sniffling as Wagers landed one emotional blow after another (in a good way) base It took me a little while to warm up to A Pale Light in the Black, but much like Petty Officer Jenks once it had me by the throat it wasn't going to let up until it was good and ready. If Becky Chambers leaves you hankering for more action in your casually inclusive, fundamentally good-hearted SF, KB Wagers and the NeoG have your back. I went from mildly interested to unable to put it down, and spent the second half sniffling as Wagers landed one emotional blow after another (in a good way) based on the architecture they'd put in place. Undemanding fun, where the corporate conspiracy and military competition subplots ultimately play second fiddle to the best crew in the Near-Earth Orbital Guard confronting some of their issues as newbie officer Maxine Carmichael fights to find her place. Full review to follow.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Allyson

    This is another great read from author KB Wagers! This romp combines a lot of the things I love to see in my space operas! Romance! Cool action hero antics! Emotional talks with partners! Amazing world building that has inclusivity built in!! I love Max the main character and her journey as she grows with her new NeoG team and found family. I love the games and how it felt like the olympics with a spirit of competition and togetherness. Jenks is amazing and it was so good to see them grow emotio This is another great read from author KB Wagers! This romp combines a lot of the things I love to see in my space operas! Romance! Cool action hero antics! Emotional talks with partners! Amazing world building that has inclusivity built in!! I love Max the main character and her journey as she grows with her new NeoG team and found family. I love the games and how it felt like the olympics with a spirit of competition and togetherness. Jenks is amazing and it was so good to see them grow emotionally through the story. The fights feel real and I love that there were call backs to pop culture that’s current now! I was given this earc by netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mercy

    ALL THE STARS!!!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marzie

    3.5 Stars Author K.B. Wagers latest series offers a space opera world that feels like the lovechild of The Expanse and Becky Chamber's Wayfarers series. Although it lacks the species diversity of Chamber's books, it does offer racial, orientation, and economic diversity, and the found family of the crew of Zuma's Ghost, a NeoG (Near-Earth Orbital Guard vessel is similar in feel to Wayfarers. Set in the 2400s, centuries after a worldwide societal collapse, A Pale Light in the Black is equal parts 3.5 Stars Author K.B. Wagers latest series offers a space opera world that feels like the lovechild of The Expanse and Becky Chamber's Wayfarers series. Although it lacks the species diversity of Chamber's books, it does offer racial, orientation, and economic diversity, and the found family of the crew of Zuma's Ghost, a NeoG (Near-Earth Orbital Guard vessel is similar in feel to Wayfarers. Set in the 2400s, centuries after a worldwide societal collapse, A Pale Light in the Black is equal parts military police procedural, big military tournament (the Boarding Games), and corporate espionage mystery. I'm not sure that the blend of these parts always worked well, and the resolution of the mystery that is threaded through the book came quite quickly at the end, with a paper-thin villain who shows up in the last fifth of the book out of nowhere, with a cause that seems to come out of nowhere, as well. The various characters, Max, Rosa, Jenks, Nika etc. are all enjoyable enough but the dialogue between them and their various significant others, children, and parents at times felt stilted and a bit too formulaic. Wagers writes action scenes quite well though, and the novel is at its best when the crew of the Zuma's Ghost are working problems and planning a daring rescue. The powerful Carmichael family, of which Maxine is the youngest child, is a shadowy presence throughout the novel. We meet Max's siblings and learn of their psychological abuse and manipulation at the hands of parents in a powerful family, with strict expectations of conformity. I'm sure that we will be seeing more of them in subsequent installments. I'm also curious to see what Wagers plans for dealing with the recent disability of one of the characters. In spite of a few reservations about the plotting issues mentioned above, I'd definitely pick up the next installment because I grew to like the characters. A Pale Light in the Black is a light space opera read that is quite LGBTQ friendly. The audiobook, narrated by Marisha Tapera, was an easy listen.

  13. 5 out of 5

    steph // bookplaits

    Overall, this was a really fun read! I enjoyed reading about the crew of Zuma’s Ghost and the ‘found family’ aspect of it was great. 🥺♥️ There was a fantastic amount of diversity too (including lesbian, asexual and non-binary characters) and I really liked each POV. I had some issues with the writing and the overall plot though... First, the writing. I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been so used to reading first-person POV recently, but there were times when it took me a second to figure ou Overall, this was a really fun read! I enjoyed reading about the crew of Zuma’s Ghost and the ‘found family’ aspect of it was great. 🥺♥️ There was a fantastic amount of diversity too (including lesbian, asexual and non-binary characters) and I really liked each POV. I had some issues with the writing and the overall plot though... First, the writing. I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been so used to reading first-person POV recently, but there were times when it took me a second to figure out who ‘she’ or ‘his’, etc. was referring to. Also, I sometimes disagreed with the punctuation being used (such as commas instead of en rules), which is admittedly not a hugely important thing, but sometimes I can’t turn the editor part of my brain off! There were also comma splices in a few cases, and although Wagers was maybe using them in dialogue on purpose (e.g. “‘We’re ready to go, it should be a good competition.’”), it was still distracting for me. Second, the plot. Although the Boarding Games takes up a big part of the story and is good fun to read (there was cage fighting and sword fighting!), after all the build-up, the event ends abruptly and then a kidnapping plot is thrown in with 10% of the story to go, which I thought was strange. Also, in general, I found it quite weird that such a focus *was* on these Games rather than the mysterious goings-on in the background. Still, I’d love to read more about these characters in the sequel when it‘s released!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Didi Chanoch

    This book packs a LOT in a compact and efficient package. You've got space, mystery, military, romance, and sports rivalries. Wagers does a deft job of combining these elements, while freeing them from a whole bunch of toxic tropes. This book is a fun queer romp with a nice mystery and that good good team spirit many of us love. It's a book about a bunch of decent people trying to do their best to help other people and each other while also having fun. I certainly had fun reading it! This book packs a LOT in a compact and efficient package. You've got space, mystery, military, romance, and sports rivalries. Wagers does a deft job of combining these elements, while freeing them from a whole bunch of toxic tropes. This book is a fun queer romp with a nice mystery and that good good team spirit many of us love. It's a book about a bunch of decent people trying to do their best to help other people and each other while also having fun. I certainly had fun reading it!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Marlene

    Originally published at Reading Reality Military SF, done right, is one of the best things to read if you are looking for serious “competence porn”, and A Pale Light in the Black is definitely military SF done very, very right. There have been plenty of milSF stories featuring various branches of the service taken into space. Often those services model the space forces around either the Navy, as in Honor Harrington, or the marines, like Torin Kerr. The concept of a space Army seems like a bit of a Originally published at Reading Reality Military SF, done right, is one of the best things to read if you are looking for serious “competence porn”, and A Pale Light in the Black is definitely military SF done very, very right. There have been plenty of milSF stories featuring various branches of the service taken into space. Often those services model the space forces around either the Navy, as in Honor Harrington, or the marines, like Torin Kerr. The concept of a space Army seems like a bit of an oxymoron, as the Army has to get out of space and onto some ground in order to really be something called an Army. And a space Air Force feels redundant, even though there’s no atmosphere in space. On the other hand, Stargate Command was run by the U.S. Air Force, so it IS possible after a fashion. But the one service that has been left out of the equation – until the glorious now – is the Coast Guard. Countries have coasts. Earth as a whole doesn’t exactly have a “coast”, but it does have a stretch of territory that it defends and where its laws, rules and regulations hold sway. Or at least it will in the future, if we ever do manage to get into space for real. And it certainly does in A Pale Light in the Black. Because that’s where this story, and the series that will follow (hopefully really, really SOON) is set among the often looked down upon members of this future’s equivalent of a space Coast Guard, the NeoG. The Near-Earth Orbital Guard patrols the relatively nearby space where Earth holds sway. Their duty is to protect the “pale light in the black” that is Earth and her colonial interests. Their job is critical, but it isn’t exactly glorious or sexy. The NeoG is underfunded, undermanned, underequipped and underestimated in the Boarding Games that serve as a combination of mass entertainment, wargame training and inter-military rivalry, scorekeeping and grudge-matching, with a plenty of individual service team-building. The story, and the audience, follow one Lieutenant Maxine Carmichael. Max graduated first in her NeoG Academy class, but has been stationed on Earth ever since, due to the machinations of her rich and powerful family. A family that may have all-but-disowned and abandoned her on the day that she announced she was joining the NeoG instead of either the more prestigious Navy, like her parents and older brother, or the family firm, like her sister. They abandoned her in the hopes that she would fall back into their cold and distant arms and toe the family line. Instead, she excelled at the career that she had chosen. But then, she never did fit in with the rest of the family. Still, they pulled strings to keep her stationed safely on Earth – whether that’s what she wanted or not. Then again, what Max wanted seems to have never mattered a damn to her family. When she finally had enough, she applied to be an Interceptor, part of one of the close-knit crews that patrolled the space lanes for contraband, pirates, and general bad actors of all types. There are NO interceptors serving on Earth, so she finally has her posting out in the black as the story opens. Having achieved her goals does not mean that she isn’t carrying all the emotional baggage her parents loaded her down with and that she doesn’t still have all the buttons they installed. Max has the basics to do her job and do it well, but she has a long way to go to learn how to become a part of a team that treats all its members like family. Because she has no good experiences of family. At all. A Pale Light in the Black is Max’s story as she becomes part of the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, finds her place in the NeoG and in the found family that is her ship and crew. And figures out just how to help her team win this year’s Boarding Games. Meanwhile, Max, her crew, her friends and even her entire branch of the service are investigating an age-old grudge between her family firm and the rivals that everyone believed were long dead. A grudge that could destroy, not just her family, but take half the human population along with it. No pressure. Compared to that, the Boarding Games are a piece of cake! Escape Rating A++: I realize that I’m basically squeeing all over the page here. I absolutely loved this book. And there’s enough to unpack to keep me busy until the next book in the series comes out. First, the worldbuilding here is awesome. Also in a peculiar way a bit scary, because this isn’t a direct progression from our now until then. Instead, we are now in the pre-Collapse world, and our right now is pretty much the “last good time” for a long time. The Collapse Wars are coming, and after that, in about 400 years or so, we reach the time period of the story. “It’s been a long road, getting from there to here.” I love the way that the author demonstrates that we as a species have also left a whole lot of crap behind on that way between here and there. Not by making a big deal about it, but by showing that things are different through the lack of so much stupid fuss in everyday life. We are capable of better as a species, we just seem to need very hard lessons to reach that point. Second, this is great competence porn. By that I mean that everyone, not just our hero but everyone in NeoG, is seen to be doing their jobs well all the time. Even the evil people are good at what they do, just that what they do is terrible. But it is terrific to watch and especially identify with a whole lot of folks who are not just dedicated to their jobs but where the ability to do the job well is expected. Heroism is extra. It was also different to see such good competence porn in a story that does not deal with basic training of any kind. Not that Max doesn’t have plenty to learn, but we don’t follow her going through the Academy. Instead, we follow her as she learns to let down her emotional guards, to let herself accept and be accepted, to figure out what she’s good at and let herself internalize that she has skills and is good enough in all sorts of ways. Her doubts and fears make her human – and they make her easy to identify with and especially empathize with. We all have a little impostor syndrome in us, after all. Max, however, is actually way beyond good enough, but that’s part of the lesson she needs to learn. Max’s first year on Zuma’s Ghost, and the timetable for the Boarding Games provide the structure for the story. At the same time, the ghosts that Max has to deal with, the wounds that she needs to heal from, were all inflicted by her family. And the case that Zuma’s Ghost has to solve, the smugglers and pirates that they have to catch, also deal with her family. The way that Max goes from feeling caught in the middle to knowing exactly where she stands is a big part of her journey. A journey that in many ways reminds me of the character of Ky Vatta in the Vatta’s War and Vatta’s Peace series(es). Ky has to deal with many of the same conflicts between military duty and family obligations. If you like Ky you’ll love Max and vice-versa. I can’t wait to see where Max – and Zuma’s Ghost – go next!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tad

    A close loss in the annual boarding games has haunted the crew of Zuma's Ghost in the NeoG, or Near-Earth Orbital Guard in KB Wagers new series which starts with A Pale Light in the Black. The crew is looking forward to this year's games which they feel confident will finally result in a win for the NeoG. Unexpectedly, their best swordsman is transferred and a new lieutenant, Maxine Carmichael, is assigned to take his place. Max is faced with a daunting task, trying to prove to herself and her t A close loss in the annual boarding games has haunted the crew of Zuma's Ghost in the NeoG, or Near-Earth Orbital Guard in KB Wagers new series which starts with A Pale Light in the Black. The crew is looking forward to this year's games which they feel confident will finally result in a win for the NeoG. Unexpectedly, their best swordsman is transferred and a new lieutenant, Maxine Carmichael, is assigned to take his place. Max is faced with a daunting task, trying to prove to herself and her team that she can be an asset. While on patrol, Zuma's Ghost encounters a missing ship that has turned up and kicks off a mystery that quickly threatens the lives of the crew. They're being targeted and must figure out why and by whom before not only them but thousands more die. Solve the mystery, win the games and save the day. Just another day in the life of the NeoG. This is a tremendously fun space adventure. Wagers’ talent for writing great characters is on full display in this book. Max is so much fun to get to know, as is Jenks, the volatile ensign and the best fighter in the NeoG. They are surrounded by a talented crew and must all work together if they are going to win the games. The same teamwork is necessary to unravel the mystery that started with a missing ship and leads to a secret that could rock their society to its core. The description of the games, both as a whole and in the individual matches, is tremendously exciting. The story is largely about family. Family you are born to, family you find, and family you make. This is the heartbeat of the story which ties together all the great action pieces. A Pale Light in the Black is a lot of fun and I am definitely looking forward to more adventures with the NeoG. Highly recommended. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    This was a lot of fun with a lot of great characters. Um...and some romance. Yay!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Agne

    A sci-fi thing about some military-type crew in near-orbital space. I'm really conflicted about this. It's not often that this particular problem plagues a book so hard. So firstly, the good and great: 1) I rather liked the characterisation, there was some complexity to the main crew 2) The writing is solid stylistically, even the dialogue didn't stand out as a weakness (which is so often the case) 3) The whole LGBT and gender thing is nice, but less than seamless in a couple of places. Props nevert A sci-fi thing about some military-type crew in near-orbital space. I'm really conflicted about this. It's not often that this particular problem plagues a book so hard. So firstly, the good and great: 1) I rather liked the characterisation, there was some complexity to the main crew 2) The writing is solid stylistically, even the dialogue didn't stand out as a weakness (which is so often the case) 3) The whole LGBT and gender thing is nice, but less than seamless in a couple of places. Props nevertheless. The bad: The plot. It's utterly uninteresing. There are these idiotic "games" where different teams from the Earth's military compete in sword fighting and actual fighting and hacking or sth. It's like a sort of sports novel where the Olympics are coming. BUT the characters in this book are not athletes with a single focus like that. They have a job. The games are literally inconsequential compared to every other problem they are facing. But there is so much emphasis on the games, even the chapters are titled according to how many weeks are left until they come. I DON'T CARE. The side-plot, which is significantly more important in essence, is unfortunately really generic. So yeah. I don't know how this happened. But you might enjoy it if you can somehow make the games relevant for yourself.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    I’m noping out of this at 80 pages in, and here’s why: 1) why bother? I’ve read twenty percent of this book, about a big sporting event, and still have no idea why these games are important. No clue whatsoever. These aren’t college athletes with salaries on the line and NO EXPLANATION HAS BEEN GIVEN as to why it matters to a single team member. 2) that’s... that’s a TERRIBLE way to handle gender and sexual orientation what the HECK So. The main character is on a government registry of asexual people I’m noping out of this at 80 pages in, and here’s why: 1) why bother? I’ve read twenty percent of this book, about a big sporting event, and still have no idea why these games are important. No clue whatsoever. These aren’t college athletes with salaries on the line and NO EXPLANATION HAS BEEN GIVEN as to why it matters to a single team member. 2) that’s... that’s a TERRIBLE way to handle gender and sexual orientation what the HECK So. The main character is on a government registry of asexual people and her commanding officer was given that information as part of her onboarding process. The pronoun HUD was bad enough (it’s definitely fine and not going to be a problem for anyone, no trans people will be harmed by this, love to have to register my pronouns with the military, love that for everyone) but this was just a bridge too far for me. Your new boss getting your grades from academy along with your “asexual” designation is a horrifying bit of dystopian bureaucracy that would have been a great detail in some other novel. It’s clear, however, that the author intends the setting to be a gay space future where misogyny isn’t a horrific oppressive force, so this threw me so badly I gave up on the novel completely. Honestly a D- for world-building all around on this one C nothin’ for characterization D+ on... being interesting

  20. 4 out of 5

    Susan Welch

    I enjoyed this book very much. There was so much queer representation in here it made my heart warm: there's aces, poly relationships, trans folks, enbies, etc. And a strong theme of chosen family, which resonates very well. My only complaint is the action is a little bit light for what you might expect from such a book, with some things glossed over entirely in favor of a "two weeks later" type approach. But the characters are interesting and well developed and the story lines are fun, both the I enjoyed this book very much. There was so much queer representation in here it made my heart warm: there's aces, poly relationships, trans folks, enbies, etc. And a strong theme of chosen family, which resonates very well. My only complaint is the action is a little bit light for what you might expect from such a book, with some things glossed over entirely in favor of a "two weeks later" type approach. But the characters are interesting and well developed and the story lines are fun, both the mystery the team faces and the games competition they are in. I'll definitely pick up the next installment.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Cosmi

    Sorry this was a DNF at 25% for me. From the part that I did read the writing was good but just boring. Nothing happened that made me want to stay up for one more chapter let alone continue reading the next day. After reading some other reviews to see where to book is going and will eventually end up there’s just no need for me to sit through this. There are too many great to good books in my TBR list to make me want to spend any additional time with this one. Thanks to good reads for proving th Sorry this was a DNF at 25% for me. From the part that I did read the writing was good but just boring. Nothing happened that made me want to stay up for one more chapter let alone continue reading the next day. After reading some other reviews to see where to book is going and will eventually end up there’s just no need for me to sit through this. There are too many great to good books in my TBR list to make me want to spend any additional time with this one. Thanks to good reads for proving this ARC to me.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sana

    'The NEO-G books are going to be a departure from the grimdark futures and instead focusing on a moment in time when humanity is at its best. This will be accessible science fiction with interesting characters and exciting action. Plus, we’re going to have all the things I know I love reading about: found family, snarky siblings, explosions, and triumphant celebrations.' SO MUCH YES Source 'The NEO-G books are going to be a departure from the grimdark futures and instead focusing on a moment in time when humanity is at its best. This will be accessible science fiction with interesting characters and exciting action. Plus, we’re going to have all the things I know I love reading about: found family, snarky siblings, explosions, and triumphant celebrations.' SO MUCH YES Source

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Knapp

    Good writing, well developed characters but I don't care to read LGBT and gender fluid stories. Many people want a notation if a book is specifically Christian, I want The same for LGBT. Good writing, well developed characters but I don't care to read LGBT and gender fluid stories. Many people want a notation if a book is specifically Christian, I want The same for LGBT.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Blount

    Fun, fun romp with space coasties...all about family, found, adopted, and born. I want more, and I want it now.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ernest

    For some jobs, you need a military presence, but in space, as on the sea, there are lots of times where that's just overkill, and what you really need is law enforcement and rescue teams. On the high seas, that means the Coast Guard, but in space, it's the Near Earth Orbital Guard, NeoG. In either case, it's the service that get's the lion's share of the dirty work, dealing with smugglers, pirates, and shipwrecks, but not the big-budget that goes to the Navy. Lt Maxine Carmichael chose the Guard For some jobs, you need a military presence, but in space, as on the sea, there are lots of times where that's just overkill, and what you really need is law enforcement and rescue teams. On the high seas, that means the Coast Guard, but in space, it's the Near Earth Orbital Guard, NeoG. In either case, it's the service that get's the lion's share of the dirty work, dealing with smugglers, pirates, and shipwrecks, but not the big-budget that goes to the Navy. Lt Maxine Carmichael chose the Guard over her family's traditional Navy career path or having anything to do with the massive fortune that her grandfather's tightly controlled longevity treatment brings her family, instead choosing the scrappy GUard over the posh and polished Navy. Not content to be an admiral's aide, safe behind a desk, she pushed her way into the deep end of the pool, applying for Interceptor training, where you actually go out into the black and get the job done. Max can run, but she can't hide, and her family's status and her native ability to keep putting her in the thick of things. First, she's been dropped on the crew of Zuma's Ghost, the ship most likely to redeem the Guard in the upcoming Boarding Games against the other services, and then to come across a plot involving pirates, smugglers, and her own family business of tightly controlled longevity treatment. Max may be green, but she's a fast learner, and between her knowledge of family politics and innate pattern matching ability, she's just what Zuma's Ghost needs to get the job done. Not that settling into a tight-knit crew is a cakewalk, especially when you've displaced their star player and a critical set of games is coming all too soon. I kept thinking that one thing or another was too improbable, but time and again, the author made me realize that it's not about luck, it's about the forces in play. A Pale Light in the Black is a great romp and the first of (at least) a two-book series, and we'll look forward to the next chapter in Max's saga.

  26. 4 out of 5

    C. S.

    DNF for several complicated reasons, which I'll go into, most of which have nothing to do with the book itself. So, for whatever reason, I am just not feeling the space opera right now, and even I can't explain why I thought reading four of them in a row (and overlapping) would help that, but here we are. It has very probably colored my feelings about the book, so take this with a grain of salt. Things I liked - the way the book acknowledges the existence of people other than straight white hetero DNF for several complicated reasons, which I'll go into, most of which have nothing to do with the book itself. So, for whatever reason, I am just not feeling the space opera right now, and even I can't explain why I thought reading four of them in a row (and overlapping) would help that, but here we are. It has very probably colored my feelings about the book, so take this with a grain of salt. Things I liked - the way the book acknowledges the existence of people other than straight white heterosexuals, the way the crew bond like a family, and the originality of focusing on what I've seen described as the Coast Guard in space. What didn't work as well for me - the writing style. It felt a little choppy, which kept me from picking the book up and really committing to it until long past when I should have finished it. It also felt a little derivative. Now, that might be just what some people are looking for - a book that definitely knows what it is and fits its genre like jello in a mold.. But for me, it just made it hard to concentrate on. So, I think this one has a broad appeal to both hardcore and mainstream sci-fi readers, it just wasn't hitting the spot for me at this moment.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Georgia

    Thank you goodreads for the ARC. I must have thought this was a regular mystery when I applied but it actually was a fantasy, not a genre I like. This was life in the galaxy after "The Collapse ", quote from pg. 89 "the Collapse was so far in humanity's past and yet affected everything moving forward. It seemed sometimes that it had been only yesterday that the world fell into chaos and ruin that's to the indifference and greed of humanity". Now in the 2400's we learn of life in the galaxy where Thank you goodreads for the ARC. I must have thought this was a regular mystery when I applied but it actually was a fantasy, not a genre I like. This was life in the galaxy after "The Collapse ", quote from pg. 89 "the Collapse was so far in humanity's past and yet affected everything moving forward. It seemed sometimes that it had been only yesterday that the world fell into chaos and ruin that's to the indifference and greed of humanity". Now in the 2400's we learn of life in the galaxy wherein we find women in hugely important roles way beyond men, finding solutions for distress calls, capturing smugglers , helping in proton storms causing radiation exposure , having wives more than one or some women, not all, have a love affair with a man. Women are like gladiators fighting each other and the GAMES seem to be of more importance than the plot. In one of my lit courses many galaxies away, I learn that novels reflect a civilization. Is this what we dream of?🎭🎭

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Karpierz

    A great read This book is Coast Guard in space and deals with non binary by having all AI tags include pronouns. The main character is ace and it is brought up very organically and is considered in the romance she is forming. It’s also a kick ass action adventure and a bit of a mystery. I really loved it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Tas

    Read this and other Science Fiction/Fantasy Reviews at The Quill to Live Sometimes you read a book, and you’re not entirely sure how you feel about it. It’s hard to put into words how you would recommend it. Over time, you realize your gut feelings are just going to be the way you feel about it for a while. And it’s not necessarily the book’s fault; it’s more your expectations and taste that make it feel off. This book is one of those books for me, something I enjoyed, but after it was all said a Read this and other Science Fiction/Fantasy Reviews at The Quill to Live Sometimes you read a book, and you’re not entirely sure how you feel about it. It’s hard to put into words how you would recommend it. Over time, you realize your gut feelings are just going to be the way you feel about it for a while. And it’s not necessarily the book’s fault; it’s more your expectations and taste that make it feel off. This book is one of those books for me, something I enjoyed, but after it was all said and done, I had questions. A Pale Light In The Black, by K.B. Wagers, is a competent book that focuses on its characters and their personal journeys, sometimes to the detriment of worldbuilding and plot. The book follows the day-to-day goings-on of the Zuma’s Ghost, a ship within the Near-Earth Orbital Guard (Neo-G for short). They’re a sort of space coast guard, set up a few hundred years into a future after a great collapse in civilization. Maxine Carmichael is trying to escape the grasp of her powerful Navy family, joins Neo-G, and is assigned to the Zuma’s Ghost after the crew’s well liked lieutenant is promoted to commander in the far reaches of a newly established colony. On top of her newbie status, Carmichael is also a member of the family that controls Life-Ex, a life extension drug that can be most easily obtained through service in one of the branches of the Earth military. Can Carmichael integrate herself within Zuma’s Ghost and help them to keep their reputation? I enjoyed Pale Light, but I was not enthralled with it. It’s an extremely good cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day. Wagers is good at character dynamics. Wagers’ heartfelt moments feel warm and fuzzy, and they capture the feeling of awkward situations super well. I also enjoyed that while Carmichael had a lot to prove, the rest of the team wasn’t overly hostile to her in the beginning. Sure there was tension, and it ebbed and flowed based on their situation, but everyone was dedicated to making the new team work. Wagers then focused the character’s dynamics on how they could help each other bring out their strengths, and highlight each other’s weaknesses, without having a single overly determined character breakthrough prejudice. Wagers side steps all of the normal “new kid on the block” drama, giving the characters all a chance to grow on equal footing. It was delightful and refreshing. Where the book fell flat for me, however, is that some of these character moments felt they should have been punctuated by events in the plot, and they just weren’t. They still packed a punch for most of the book because Wagers made their daily routines, day to day drudgery of being on a ship, and anxiety about the future feel important. But it came up short for me in the later sections of the book, when everything the crew had been working for felt as if it had been bypassed. Most of the book is spent training for a competition with the other branches of the military so the Neo-G can show they can hang with the big kids. When the story reaches the big games, though, it’s just a snapshot of all the events the characters participate in. In some ways, I’m okay with this as it feels like Wagers is pulling a Rocky, it doesn’t matter that they won or lost, just that they pulled together and competed in a way that satisfied them. It’s charming, but it also feels stilted because these moments in the games don’t feel big. It just felt unfinished to me. I also was a bit dissatisfied with the worldbuilding in Pale Light. I like complexity, so take these feelings with a grain of salt. It feels incomplete and I can’t tell if that’s because there is more to come, more reckoning in the future, or if it’s built just enough to make the story work as is. There is a societal collapse, and a few hundred years later, humans are in space. How they got there is a mystery, what caused the collapse is a mystery (though it’s somewhat implied that what we’re doing now is the problem), and why humans decided to create a space navy, army, marine corps instead of just the Neo-G is unanswered. It didn’t really ruin my reading experience that these things were just there, taken for granted. But those questions remained, and still remain. I want to reiterate, despite the problems I had with the book, I still enjoyed myself. Wagers does an excellent job of ingraining the reader with the day to day life of the crew and their interpersonal tensions. If I were less picky about certain things, I would have loved this book on the characters alone. However, I didn’t fully love it, and if you can put those other issues aside, then you’ll get a warm story about people working together, and dealing with their problems in an ebb and flow. Friendships aren’t built on overcoming huge character differences, or by making grand gestures. It’s the small things, day in and day out. It’s the little frustrations and the tiny bits of attention we give to each other at just the right moment. Wagers captured that beautifully, and made sure it applied to everyone in the book. So if you’re looking for a breezy read that fills you with the warmth of a found family, A Pale Light in the Black is for you. Rating: A Pale Light in the Black 6.5/10 –Alex

  30. 4 out of 5

    OnlySheStandsThere

    Very enjoyable. I loved the relationship dynamic between all of the characters, especially between Max and Jenks. It reminds me alot of the partnership between Harmony and Jessie in the Harmony Black series, one of my favourite friendships in fiction. Also the casual and extensive variety of sexualities, none of which were made a big deal out of, was a nice addition. I did feel sometimes that certain scenes were missing, like a lot of the Games stuff seemed almost glossed over, but it didn't hamp Very enjoyable. I loved the relationship dynamic between all of the characters, especially between Max and Jenks. It reminds me alot of the partnership between Harmony and Jessie in the Harmony Black series, one of my favourite friendships in fiction. Also the casual and extensive variety of sexualities, none of which were made a big deal out of, was a nice addition. I did feel sometimes that certain scenes were missing, like a lot of the Games stuff seemed almost glossed over, but it didn't hamper my enjoyment overly much. Really looking forward to the sequels, of which I hope there are many.

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