Stellar Instinct

Book Reviews / Sunday, December 18th, 2022

By: Jonathan Nevair
Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller, Spy-Fi
Publisher: Cantinool Books (Self Published)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warning: Shown on Page (things clearly told to the reader): Profanity; Blood and gore; Violence; Death; Kidnapping/hostage; Cults; Animal violence

Alluded to (things only mentioned in passing or hinted at): Violence; Death; Self harm; Cults

“She much preferred anonymity and to license to deceive, kill. Assassination wasn’t murder when its purpose saved lives, not according to her employer’s ethical philosophy…The greater good how hard she worked to keep them safe.” Jonathan Nevair, Stellar Instinct

With Stellar Instinct, Jonathan Nevair is at the top of his game in the science fiction genre. This book was an adrenaline pumping, non-stop thrill ride through space that I couldn’t put down. Agent Lilline Renault is a poetry writing assassin, working for a mysterious organization called GAM-Ops, tasked to keep their galaxy safe from dangerous threats. Stellar Instinct takes the reader from Agent Lilline’s dangerous missions on distant planets hunting down Mavron Nave, the antagonist in the story. In between, there is this wonderful juxtaposition of this deadly assassin who desperately wants to write good poetry, but is not succeeding. After reading Mr. Nevair’s Wind Tide series, a space opera loosely based on Greek tragedies, Stellar Instinct was the complete opposite in both the overall tone the narrative. His versatility in writing shines through, and I was thoroughly impressed with this book. It truly is a spy-fi space thriller.

Mr. Nevair writes excellent characters who always have depth to them. I loved that Lilline, the best agent a GAM-Ops, is a frustrated poet. Keely is one of the many names she uses to protect her agent status, and as Keely she is in a poetry group. She fails miserably at her writing, often criticized for sounding too much like the famous poet Den-shi. Her frustration can be felt as she struggles to find her own style. What is truly brilliant about her arc, is that on these dangerous missions, she is composing poetry in her head about what she is going through, and criticizing her own work. Lilline, trapped in an ice cave, struggling to survive, is composing stanzas in her head, thinking it would make a great poem. While shooting her blaster, she’ll think about it and decide it’s not great.

“…Under the shadow of Frebu’s towering glacier, staring at the mess of blood and organs, a line of verse had bubbled up. She’d tweaked and refined it on the march to the temporary shelter until it fit into a poetic box… “Total crap,” she said and tossed another piece of jacket into the flames…” Jonathan Nevair, Stellar Instinct

Once the best agent in GAM-Ops is Lilline’s grandmother, Kissy. What a great character. She lives in a retirement community, giving them all hell about routine procedures, like drawing blood. She is spunky and full of sass, and just as tough as she was when she was an agent. Kissy very much remembers how to be an agent, despite being retired. Lilline often visits her grandmother, and Kissy always seems to know what’s going on. You can’t fool her, which is what made her the best agent. Lilline is following in her grandmother’s footsteps as the best agent they have now, but she doubts she will ever be as good as her grandmother.

Mavron Nave is the fanatical antagonist. He is in the business of making virtual games. Mavron’s most popular is Freestrike. The latest version, Freestrike 4, is set to come out in days. When it does, billions of species will be in jeopardy as Mavron will release a being with mind control. He is a study in the nature of fanatics with a cult-like following. Mavron has a calm demeanor at times, which belies a dangerous man whose calm demeanor can change in an instant.

There were so many great characters. Many were different species that Mr. Nevair created, each with their own personalities and anatomy. I’ve always admired the way he makes these characters organic. Their characteristics are not “thrown” together. They have adapted to the life on their own world, and many work in GAM-Ops. Some have had to adjust to this new environment to compensate. It was very realistic to have different races since threats are across the galaxy. One character in particular I was very fond of was Pin, an expert in technology and often digging up information other’s miss. Pin is an Oltari. Among her physical features are 4 arms, wings, and no knee joints. This is favorable on her home planet with forest ecosystems. It is these details that always make Mr. Nevair’s characters stand out.

“Oltari were gifted with broader sensory capacities that all other sentient species…
Pin lumbered forward. That was another thing about Oltari. Their social skills in a mixed-race civilization lacked empathy, at least with those who interacted with them…They did, however, love music. Oltari made beautiful sounds when aroused, excited, or angry…Lilline delighted in the sonorous quality of the phrases, while others found them baffling.”
Jonathan Nevair, Stellar Instinct

The pacing and prose were excellent. The action is non-stop. When Lilline is not risking her life to find Mavron, we get moments of analysis, poetry, and visits to Kissy. It was all perfectly balanced. There were plot twists and turns that I never saw coming. The story is told in the third person narrative. It was an excellent choice. Most is told through Lilline’s perspective. With Stellar Instinct, we need a broader perspective of the characters and the narrative gives that to the reader. Some chapters are told in Mavron Nave’s perspective. He was an important choice to have only his story told. We need to see his fanaticism. We need to see how he really believes he will make the galaxy a better place with him in charge. We need to see what Lilline is up against. This made for a smooth and perfect choice to tell the story of Stellar Instinct. If you want a spy-thriller with plenty of action, various races of beings, and an amazing poetry writing protagonist, I highly recommend Stellar Instinct.

Overall Thoughts

Stellar Instinct was a thrill ride from the start. The versatility in Jonathan Nevair’s science fiction writing is among the best I have read. This book had a completely different tone than The Wind Tide Series, which focused, in short, on planetary destruction for greed.With Stellar Instinct, we get a true spy-fi story, with Agent Lilline Renault, a top agent in GAM-Ops who has a penchant for writing poetry. Mr. Nevair always had amazing character development, and Stellar Instinct was no different. He created multiple species working together, both good and bad. Each had their own, well thought out characteristics. They were adapted to the planets they lived on, so they felt organic. It was simply another feature that Mr. Nevair excels at. He doesn’t just create species, he pays attention to the details of where they come from, and this makes them feel real to the reader. All of these characters are fully developed and that is no small feat given how many there were. Mavron Nave, the main antagonist, is a fanatic bent on taking over the galaxy, truly believing he will make it better. The portrait that is made of him perfectly illustrated the mindset of a fanatic. The pacing and prose were excellent. There was action interspersed with Lilline visiting Kissy, her grandmother and the top agent GAM-Ops ever had, the technological aspects, and her dealing with her boss, which was always great interaction. It was told in the third person narrative of both Lilline and Mavron, giving the reader a clear picture of both the good and bad that is happening. It was smooth flowing throughout. Stellar Instinct was an amazing read and I had looked forward this new novel. I was not disappointed and highly recommend it to all fans of science fiction, and those that love a thrill ride of a novel.

Summary (from Escapist Book Tours)
A secret agent. A gaming mastermind. Two players in a dangerous competition blurring the boundaries of entertainment and reality.

Mysterious signals pulse from an icy planet in a remote star system. GAM-OPs wants answers. Enter Lilline Renault, secret agent extraordinaire. To ordinary citizens she’s Keely Larkin, an adventure company guide with a flair for the daring and a penchant for writing trite poetry. Lilline’s at the top of the spy game, but publishing her literary work is proving harder than saving the galaxy.

When the mission uncovers a dastardly plan threatening billions of lives, Lilline leaps into action. Verses flow as she rockets through space, dons cunning disguises, and infiltrates enemy territory with an arsenal of secret gadgets. But to prevent the whims of a self-obsessed entrepreneur from turning the galaxy into a deadly playground means beating him at his own game. Lilline will need her best weapon to stand a fighting chance: her instinct.

My sincere thanks to Jonathan Nevair for gifting me with a copy of Stellar Instinct and to Escapist Book Co. for an eBook.

Thank you Mr, Nevair for including me in the acknowledgements. It is truly an honor.

Find out more about Jonathan Nevair on his website:
Purchase Stellar Instinct on Amazon

Jonathan Nevair (he/him/his) is a science fiction author and, as Dr. Jonathan Wallis, an art historian and Professor of Art History at Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia. After two decades of academic teaching and publishing, he finally got up the nerve to write fiction.

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