Lucas Bale

Award-Winning Speculative Fiction Author

Another Great Review of The Heretic

Michael Patrick Hicks, author of the fantastic book Convergence, which I shall be featuring here shortly, recently read The Heretic and wrote a pretty fantastic review of it. I didn't ask him to, and didn't even know he was reading it until he signed up to my mailing list and I saw he had marked it as "currently reading" on Goodreads.

It was such a great review, I really wanted to share it. Thanks again, Michael.

Although The Heretic is a far-flung future dystopia, it carries with it the strong, heady flavor of the American Old West. As a fan of Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, I’m certainly not complaining, and Lucas Bale nicely balances the genre mash-up in his sci-fi debut.

With the Magistratus in control of this interstellar Republic, and in charge of space travel, technology, and reproductive rights, the greatest heresy is the wish for freedom. The first in his ambitious Beyond The Wall series finds a frontier town on the frozen planet of Herse quarantined and much of its population murdered by Peacemakers following the arrival of a heretical preacher. Tainted by his teachings and the preacher’s call of freedom, the town’s few survivors are cast into the freezing wilderness and hunted by gunmen. On the port-side of this world is an armed trader, Shepherd, making an illegal delivery of medicine and who soon winds up ensnared in the conflict after crossing paths with another survivor seeking aid.

Shepherd is a smuggler, equal parts Han Solo and Hang ‘Em High’s Jed Cooper or Pale Rider, and the sort of archetype that will be immediately recognizable to many genre fans. Although there’s a few central characters, Shepherd is the main filter of information concerning life outside the Core of the Republic, and it’s primarily through him that we learn about the politics and world building, along with a few conversations between the preacher and one of the children in his flock. The world building is one of Bale’s strengths, and it’s quite clear he put a lot of thought and effort into crafting his future realms, and that his series has a lot of intriguing possibilities for expansion. The struggles and fears of Herse’s townsfolk, as well as the technological apparatuses the plot requires, come across quite realistically.

I’m very interested in seeing how this series expands in subsequent volumes. Clearly, Bale’s series has a long-term, epic focus, and in some ways, perhaps obliquely, manages to capture a hint of sprawling fantasy in its thousand-plus years of hidden future-history. With the overarching series title, Beyond The Wall, and references of the punishments awaiting those cast beyond that point, along with the iron fist of the elite ruling class, I’m immediately drawn to the parallels of George R.R. Martin’s work and can’t help but think of Jon Snow and the men of the Nightwatch whenever references to The Wall are made. While there might not be much room for comparison between a sword-and-sorcery marathon to a westernized space opera, I still found The Heretic to be of a similar taste, overall, and I can’t help but draw a few similarities in terms of craft-work, world building, and the enormous scope that is on display. In fact, it’s the easy familiarity to several other genre favorites and references ranging from Martin to Farscape and Star Wars, and the banditry/do-good-(but maybe only secondarily) vibe of Firefly, that makes The Heretic an enjoyable and compelling read.

The opening volume of a clearly expansive series, such as this, tend to be a bit tricky to encapsulate.Not all of the author’s cards are on the table yet, and The Heretic is so clearly a series-focused endeavor that it feels less like a complete read and more of a minor segment, a small opening salvo, if you will, in a grander tale. It works as a skillful bit of bricklaying and a teaser to a grander story that’s yet to unfold. I don’t mean for this to be a knock on the work, or blatantly negative as I did quite enjoy the story, but the book ends just as things get really f**king interesting, which immediately made me want more. It’s not really until the last half of the book that things kick into high-gear, the characters have all been maneuvered into place, and the action starts to kick mondo ass. And the last chapter is filled with such vital information and back-story, and a much-needed glimpse into the preacher’s past, that the abrupt cliff-hanger ending made me wish I could launch straight into book two (or, at the very least, demand spoilers from Bale!).

The fact that I wanted more should definitely be construed as a good thing though! I just need to quell my impatience a bit and hope that my next fix comes along soon. The Heretic is not a work that can stand on its own indefinitely, and cannot be cleanly detached from what must follow because it is so very clearly serialized. Thankfully, the author succeeds in creating a strong enough work to draw readers in for the next installment. What he’s done was done very well, indeed. Ultimately, Bale’s debut is a terrific distillation of many prior SFF works that I’ve enjoyed, if not flat-out loved entirely, and both his story and writing skills are strong enough to have hooked me along for future works in this series. I genuinely cannot wait to see where this story goes next and will be looking forward to Defiance, the next book, with eager anticipation.
— Michael Patrick Hicks, 5 Stars

And to add that fantastic review, this is the highest rank The Heretic achieved during its launch. Thanks everyone! It's a wonderful feeling.


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All words copyright Lucas Bale, 2015