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REVIEW: Taking Shield: The Complete Series – Anna Butler

Taking Shield series - Anna Butler

Genre: Military Sci Fi, Space Opera, LGBT

LGBTQ+ Category: Bi

Reviewer: Rowan

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About The Book

The complete Rainbow Award-winning space opera/military sci-fi series.

Earth’s a dead planet, dark for thousands of years; lost for so long no one even knows where the solar system is. Her last known colony, Albion, has grown to be regional galactic power in its own right. But its drive to expand and found colonies of its own has threatened an alien race, the Maess, against whom Albion is now fighting a last-ditch battle for survival in a war that’s dragged on for generations.

Taking Shield charts the missions and adventures of Shield Captain Bennet, scion of a prominent military family. Bennet, also an analyst with the Military Strategy Unit, uncovers crucial data about the Maess to help with the war effort. Against the demands of his family’s ‘triple goddess’ of Duty, Honour and Service, is set Bennet’s relationships with lovers and family—his difficult relationship with his long term partner, Joss; his estrangement from his father, Caeden, the commander of Fleet’s First Flotilla; and Fleet Lieutenant Flynn, who, over the course of the series, develops into Bennet’s main love interest. Over the Taking Shield arc, Bennet will see the extremes to which humanity’s enemies, and his own people, will go to win the war. Some days he isn’t able to tell friend from foe. Some days he doubts everything, including himself, as he strives to ensure Albion’s victory. And some days he isn’t sure, any longer, what victory looks like.

The Review

What happens when space opera meets slow-burn romance? The Taking Shield series! This five novel story is, however, a work of contrast and got mixed reactions from me.

The story of the drawn-out war between Albion and a mysterious enemy, the Maess, was compelling, but kept tripping up on navel-gazing. Exciting action scenes jostled swathes of narrative. Lovely little details immersed you into the world of Albion, and I loved Albion and her people being based on ancient cultures. The world of space, however, lacked sufficient explanation for me to get a handle on it. Distances, proportions, and technical details we were given were sometimes illogical, and I was a long way in before I knew what was going on with Shield and the Maess. I wanted more action and less introspection. More story and less minutiae. More show and less tell.

Bennet was a good, solid character, but his flaws irked me a lot. He was strong and yet weak, straightforward and yet manipulative, honest and yet lying to himself. There were contradictions in his character as well – he’s supposedly a hardened elite soldier, and yet he’s too empathic to be a killer. He improved with each book, but he was never a favourite with me.

Flynn, on the other hand, was easily the best character in the series—hot, smart, and adorably sweet, the bad boy of space you love to love! The romance between him and Bennet was fantastic, and the scenes with both of them were when I liked Bennet the best. These were so well written, I found it easy to forget those character flaws that annoyed me. Their sex scenes were also super hot and emotionally satisfying. I wouldn’t have minded a few more, but I was very happy with the ones I got.

The dying throes of the relationship between Joss and Bennet felt very real. But while we probably aren’t meant to like Joss, and boy does he whine a lot, I felt sorry for him because Bennet is a classic emotional manipulator. He agrees to an open relationship to appease Joss, but takes the moral high road and refuses to take lovers. He can’t stand the drama, but he keeps going home to it. I get that you might try to hang on, fooling yourself into believing you’re still in love with someone, but even after Bennet meets Flynn, it takes him too long to do the right thing. After book one, we should never have heard from Joss again, but he tiptoes through the rest of the books, an unwelcome gremlin.

Of all the subplots, my favourite was the fraught relationship between Bennet and his father. Internal and external homophobia was explored with great sensitivity, and their anger with each other was resolved in a lovely way that gave me a bit of a sniffle.

My biggest beef was how Rosie developed as a character. She morphs from a kickass warrior I was totally in love with into something uncomfortably like a manic pixie dream girl. How she gets there is a spoiler, so I’ll just say that while she’s okay with what happens, I wasn’t. Rosie deserved better from her creator.

The story arc marches steadily on through the five books, delivering some great action scenes and more than a few shocking bombshells. Overall, this series has its misses, but it has plenty of hits as well, and the writing improved with every book. Anna Butler’s imagination is superb, and I look forward to seeing more from her.

If you love a slow-burn romance, frantic action, gut-punching surprises, and don’t mind your space opera being light on technical details, you’ll enjoy the Taking Shield series.

The Reviewer

Reading is my biggest hobby, some would say my passion! Whether I’m sitting on the bus heading to the office, slouched on the couch with a cup of coffee, or tucked up in bed on a rainy day, a book is always within reach. My favourite genre is hard sci-fi, closely followed by fantasy and steam punk. But I’ve fallen in love with books across many genres, from horror to thrillers to cosies to romance. Books are best!