Star Marque Rising: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Hi there, readers. Today I’m going to talk at you for a bit with regards to Star Marque Rising, Book 1 of the Star Marque Trilogy, by Shami Stovall.

We open on a space station criminal underworld cage match, which is excellent – and was, to me, immediately reminiscent of the Last Legionary series by Douglas Hill. Which automatically makes this book an absolute fucking banger, let’s be quite clear about that. Clevon Demarco, our hero, is (like Keill Randor) the only non-machined-up dude in the fight, and you just know he’s going to win because he’s cool as fuck and he doesn’t need any o’ that fancy shit.

Much as I hate to say it, it’s all downhill from this moment on. Sometimes it’s a gentle downward coast where the reader throws their head back and lets the wind stream stylishly through their hair; sometimes it’s a mad triple-diamond ski-slope covered in moguls where the reader is a clown wearing a huge pair of pants filled with whitewash and live ferrets. But I digress. Clevon Demarco is just the fucking worst.

How can I frame this? Okay, so for a start, he’s Well Over Six Feet. This isn’t a crime, it’s just a hilarious eye-rolling trope to me at this stage, but it’s always nice to get a new statistic in, for science. While we’re learning what a giant perfectly-sculpted and literal-pheromone-squirting man he is, we also see some glimmers of redeeming conscience in his actions during the cage-match. He picks up a knife, veering him sharply and regrettably away from Keill Randor, and the adventure is underway.

Of course, Clevon doesn’t continue fighting cage matches, slowly climbing through the rankings before finally facing off against Space Station Jim. There is no Space Station Jim in this story. What happens instead is he’s picked up by Commodore Endellion Voight and joins the crew of the Star Marque, as the lone wolf loose cannon who gets results and doesn’t take no guff. It’s just … look. He’s such an absolutely unbearable character that I first sighed, then by about halfway through the book I was unable to stop laughing at him, and by the end I’d settled into this weird Stockholm-syndrome-arsed fondness for the platinum-plated douchenugget.

Don’t get me wrong, some of it was just downright cringey. For quite a few pages I was reading the neurodivergent Sawyer character as a child and that made Clevon’s first interactions with her super uncomfortable, but once I realised what was actually going on it … didn’t really improve matters.


“Like what you see?” I asked.

Of course she did. I was a paragon of fitness, and unlike most, I had potent pheromones. What wasn’t to like?

– an actual line from this book

Now, just to be clear, I’m pretty sure the whole thing is played for laughs, and Stovall subverts and overturns the objectification and power-fantasy bullplop at every opportunity. Like I said, by the time I was halfway through, I’d stopped taking it remotely seriously. Laughter was my only recourse – the damage was done and any chance of me reading Clevon as an actual space adventure action hero was long gone by the time the Star Marque set space-sail.

Look, I could go on dumping on Clevon for the entire review, and it would be very cathartic – but there was an actual plot and other characters in this story that deserve a look-in. The worldbuilding and history of the interstellar human race of the future is really interesting, from the divergence of the literally superior species (homo superior) and the cybernetically and genetically enhanced homo sapiens who are attempting to stand with them as equals, to the political and cultural landscape, to the planet-settled haves and the station-bound have-nots … it’s all just fascinating, and very cool. Superhumans at the top, normies in the middle, and mutants and otherwise defective folks at the bottom.

Endellion, who from the start I thought should be the main point-of-view character but of course by the end I see why she wasn’t, was really well done. Equality and success at any cost, indeed. Also, according to Clevon, she’s got a great rack and legs for parsecs (not an actual quote this time but it should have been, coward). Sawyer, and her back-story, was awful and lovely and – well, the friends you make by accident while you’re trying to get to the prize, isn’t that what this book is about? Don’t answer that, it is.

Some aspects of the narrative mechanics baffled me a little. Clevon, not to harp on about this but on his relentless and all-consuming search for pussy and / or bussy, somehow failed to attempt to tap any of the two hundred people who were also on board the Star Marque but were conveniently forgotten 95% of the time. He tried to fuck the five main characters he interacted with and who had anything to do with the story, then mournfully decided he’d tried to fuck everybody. Couldn’t he have fucked some of the other one hundred and ninety-five crewmembers?

And then there’s Yuan and Mara, and whatever the fuck kind of messed-up Dollhouse shit was going on there. Considerably more interesting than a lot of the rest of the plot, and I love the way it’s just woven in.

The story culminates in an endgame I have to concede I didn’t see coming, mainly because Clevon’s ego was blocking the motherfucking view. Well played, Stovall. Well played. We’ll find out what happens next in the second book in the trilogy, I guess, because that’s how trilogies work.

Sex-o-meter

There’s plenty of sex to enjoy here. Clevon is relentlessly horny, though, so to be completely accurate I’d say we get an adequate amount of sex but a truly inordinate amount of thinking and talking about sex. Boy howdy. I’ll give it a Paul Atreides Bene Gesserit test out of a possible “stick your hand in this box, hur hur hur”.

Gore-o-meter

We start strong with a ruptured head in the first few pages. There’s not much after that, just plenty of dogfights in space and a few fights and murders peppered through the story. Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Nada. The superhuman names (Felseven, Ontwenty, Barten, Vanine, Gaeleven…), the numbers hidden in them are going to be important I’m sure, unless I completely missed the explanation about their generation … but there wasn’t really anything too wacky or surreal here. It’s a straight-up brutal space intrigue story, and as much as I want a better look at the stranger elements of the worldbuilding (the genetic defects struck me as entertainingly similar to the Altered Worlds of the Last Legionary series, but only because it was on my mind), I wouldn’t call any of it true WTF at this point.

My Final Verdict

This book was dedicated to Robert Heinlein, among other folks, which I took to be a good sign. I think Mr. Heinlein would have approved, on balance. Certainly he would have found Clevon Demarco to be a Man’s Man, and a worthy hero. I … well, you have to laugh, like I said. Seriously, this book was a lot of fun! I want to know what happens next. Three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale for Star Marque Rising.

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy. https://hatboy.blog/2013/12/17/metalude-who-are-creepy-and-hatboy/
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