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Masterminds: A Retrieval Artist Novel: Book 8 of Anniversary Day Saga by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Review by Sam Lubell
WMG Publishing  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781561466252
Date: 01 April 2015

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Masterminds is the grand finale of the ambitious, but uneven, Anniversary Day Saga in the Retrieval Artist series.

In the universe of Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Masterminds the Earth Alliance has treaties with alien races that allow crimes committed by humans on alien territory to be punished according to alien law. So, for example, if a human kills an alien first born child, the human's first born child can be killed. Humans who hide themselves away from an alien punishment are called the Disappeared. Retrieval Artists try to find the Disappeared, if say one is mentioned in a will, without alerting the aliens looking for them.

Masterminds is the 15th book in the Retrieval Artist series and the eighth book in the Anniversary Day Saga subseries that has been published as a book a month from January through June. For most of the Anniversary Day Saga, series hero Miles Flint has been operating as a traditional detective trying to find out who is behind the clone saboteurs on the Moon rather than as a Retrieval Artist (the back cover of this book even refers to him as a former Retrieval Artist). However, in Masterminds the background of aliens and the Disappeared matters a great deal.

The book opens with a flashback 70 years ago to the childhood of Jhena Andre, named in Vigilantes as a possible source of the DNA of the human clones, and two other flashbacks to children whose lives were affected by the legal vengeance of aliens. The main section opens with Flint getting a message from Zagrando requesting help gaining permission to land on the moon. He says he has vital information on the bombings.

Meanwhile, dome engineer Donal O Bradaigh, now in a relationship with Berhane Magalhaes, becomes suspicious of his superior. At the same time, the space yacht with lawyers from S3, the law firm that Torkild Zhu worked for before he was murdered, land on the moon despite refusing to reveal whether they had aliens with them. And Behane's charity has found unidentified clones among the bodies dead from the bombing. Also, Marshall Judith Gomez and Pippa Landau (who is really Takara Hamasaki, the sole survivor of Starbase Human) separately arrive on the Moon.

All these characters need to talk to Security Chief Noelle DeRicci. But one of the people in her office is a secret clone and has taken control of the security systems, blocking communications and preventing Miles Flint from entering. So the book simultaneously deals with the discovery of a new clone threat and the resolution of the investigation of the previous bombings.

Masterminds is a mostly satisfying conclusion to the subseries. All the characters who had been traveling to the moon in the previous books arrive here in time to give their clues (even if Zagrando is barely able to utter a couple of sentences). It is very fitting that the mastermind's motivations tie into the whole fear of alien justice that is why Flint left the police and became a retrieval artist in the first place. Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically considering the pacing problems in the earlier books, this novel seems too rushed with only a few pages after the arrest of the actual mastermind to deal with the aftermath. Some subplots from earlier books were largely jettisoned. For instance, we never see the final result of the investigation into Zhu's murder. And for all the pages getting Salehi and the S3 lawyers to the moon, they never do anything once there.

As the last book of an eight book sub-series, Masterminds is probably the worst place to begin reading the series. Rusch recommends readers start with Anniversary Day, the first in the sub-series, but I think readers should at least read Recovery Man before starting the Saga as that book introduces Talia and Zagrando, whose relationship becomes important in this volume.

Overall, the Anniversary Day Saga is uneven. The author is clearly trying to give the books an epic feel by having more characters and actions that do not involve Miles Flint. Unfortunately, she did not really have enough plot for eight books. This led to some books, especially Search & Recovery, to seem more like background notes and character histories than a unified novel. In her author's notes, Rusch admits to writing sections independently and then assembling them patchwork style into a book.

I also felt there was very slow pacing in spots as too much space was spent on minor characters like Ava Huynh trying to get the Earth Alliance Security Headquarters to investigate or the slow process of getting characters to the moon. Even Magalhaes' discovery of more clones was not worth the large amount of pages devoted to her in the previous volumes and could have just as easily been produced by Flint's computerized scan of records. I think the equivalent of two books could have been cut with the key points explained in narration or dialogue.

Perhaps if the books had been published through a traditional publisher an editor would have helped here. However, this is a very complex narrative and the reader does not know the importance of everything until the end. It is possible that the structure would make more sense after re-reading everything from the beginning.

To sum up, the Anniversary Day Saga is worth reading although readers will need to adjust to a slower pace and a choppier narrative compared to Rusch's earlier Retrieval Artist novels. Still, I recommend the $6 ebooks rather than the $19 trade paperbacks. Readers could probably skip Search & Recovery and Starbase Human without losing much of the plot.

Our Readers Respond

From: Gregoire:
I'm a great fan of the first Recorery Artist Stories but I completly agree with your comment. I skipped Search & Recovery and Starbase Human and read the last one with pleasure but find it not so good (maybe because it's more about "informatique" actions and less about real motivations ) Great review Thanks (and sorry for my english...)

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