Cover Image: A Pale Light in the Black

A Pale Light in the Black

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Member Reviews

This is a fun book with a lot of great sci-fi, mystery, and kick-ass action. It gets off to a bit of a rough start but the characters kept me invested. Solid world-building, too. This was my first experience reading K.B. Wagers and I look forward to more books by this author.
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I almost docked a star for a particularly eye-roll-worthy villain but then I had to consider how much I enjoyed this book as a whole. Space opera is definitely one of my favorite sub-genres because it combines the sense of adventure with found family and comingled cultures and extreme diversity (even if there are no aliens this time around). Plus I love seeing how each author approaches the many challenges that space travel presents. The other factor to this book is that it's technically military scifi (which is a sub-genre that I've been admittedly hesitant to explore). But this is actually really cool because NeoG is like the space equivalent of the Coast Guard: it's all rescue missions and not warfare.

We have a big cast of characters that I found very overwhelming at the start. Each character has a name, a nickname, a military rank, preferred pronouns, a backstory, relationships, etc etc. The name/nickname/rank trifecta really knocked me off balance for a while until everyone settled in my mind. Once we got the introductions out of the way, each character was dimensional and distinct with a rich depth of emotion, conflict, and past.

It was a little difficult to get a handle on what the main plot was. There were two that were kind of warring for focus (no spoilers, I promise): the inter-military Boarding Games competition and the big conspiracy that our team stumbles on. Most "screentime" is taken up by the Games (which serves as the primary avenue for character growth, too) but we hinge on (and end with) the conspiracy.

The writing was efficient and carried the story. There were a few times when the rotating third person POV got a little confusing with pronouns and shifting focus between sentences, but the story was clear and generally easy to follow. I would absolutely read more books by Wagers
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This was a solid and enjoyable sci-fi read. I’m a big sci-fi fan but have not read as much lately as I would like too. This had the sci-fi space opera feel that I was looking for and I was happy to read this. This reminded me a bit of Firefly mixed with Starship Troopers with a pinch of Ender’s Game thrown in, but without all the bugs and aliens. This is a pure humans in space story that is very character driven.

There are three main characters: A lesbian, a bisexual woman, and an asexual woman. This book is very LGBTQ friendly, taking place in a time where sexuality and gender is just completely accepted. The romances are all light with no explicit sex scenes at all. There is not much more than a few hugs and kisses. I do have to say I was disappointed that Max and Jenks did not get together. They had the most chemistry of anyone and with how they kept growing closer, they would have been perfect for a romance. Instead, they were both paired up with male partners that were a little boring and lackluster. I’m guessing maybe Wagers didn’t want to have two wlw storylines going on (the other main is a married lesbian), but I think it was a real missed opportunity.

While this really is a book about characters and their relationship with family and friends, it also has a mystery that brings some action to the book, and a big competition. There are games that every military branch competes in and our main characters are trying to win the games for the first time. Everything from sword fighting to piloting, the games are like the World Cup or the Olympics, a really big deal. When our characters are not rescuing people in space, they are training for the games. It was a really fun part of the book between the competition and the military rivalries. My one complaint about this part is I think it was too rushed. The games are so important, that fact is hammered home, that the finale big game day is fast-forwarded too much for my tastes.

While I really enjoyed this read it did have some pacing issues. It takes a little while to really get into the story. Things were a little slow in the beginning and I was getting a little worried, luckily I soon got hooked into the story. However, the pacing issues did continue some. The story would slow down and the book at times seemed a little long. I noticed parts I would have personally cut-out, but then like I mentioned about the games, all of a sudden the pace went too fast and I wished it would slow back down. This was not a huge issue at the end of the day, but it was one of the major reasons why this was not more than a 4 star read for me.

If you are looking for an entertaining and lighter sci-fi story, this is a good choice. This is a story that is much more character driven but still had some good action that kept me entertained. I enjoyed the characters enough that I would absolutely read the next book in the series. The major storylines in this book are complete and this did NOT end in a cliffhanger which is always nice.
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I received this advance galley via NetGalley.

I'm a huge fan of Wagers's other sci-fi series (The Indranan War and The Farian War) and I was very excited to see what they could do with space opera set closer to Earth. While this book didn't have the instant magnetism of the previous books--in part because I had a hard time keeping the large cast straight in my head--once it's gets going, it's good.

The NEO-G are essentially the space coast guard. Under-funded and under-appreciated, they monitor the shipping lanes and keep travelers safe from threats foreign and domestic. There are no aliens. Humans travel space alone, and go long distances thanks to advances in extending the human life span--technology patented by Max Carmichael's family. However, she chose not to enter the company or the Navy, as dictated by tradition and her dictator parents, but to enter the NEO-G and really save people's lives. Shunned by her birth family, she finds a new family among her comrades in space as they do their day jobs and prepare for the big military rivalry reality-type show that happens once a year. However, when mischief in space points back toward Max's family and their hidden tech, she and her new friends start to dig for answers--and soon find themselves the targets of some dangerous people.

Timing is weird in publishing. Another book with a similar basic concept--Coast Guard in space, with a reality show component, is also out in March 2020. Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole, being by an author with military experience, is also much deeper into the military aspect and the Coast Guard and Navy rivalry has much, much higher stakes. In comparison, A Pale Light in the Black is a breezier, lighter book more in the mode of Firefly. Both books use the same concepts well, and have entirely different vibes and plot lines.

What really shines in A Pale Light in the Black is the concept of found family. These are people who grow close, who have each other's backs, and get to zoom around in space and help others. I mean, what more can a person want?
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I knew I immediately needed to pick up A Pale Light in the Black as soon as I read this description from the author when Harper Voyager announced their new series:

    "The NEO-G books are going to be a departure from the grimdark futures and instead focusing on a moment in time when humanity is at its best. This will be accessible science fiction with interesting characters and exciting action. Plus, we’re going to have all the things I know I love reading about: found family, snarky siblings, explosions, and triumphant celebrations."

And holy hell! It was so good!!! It's like a slice-of life military sci-fi story that follows a military team as they train for this huge annual inter-military tournament. I loved everything about this book! I especially loved the whole crew of Zuma’s Ghost and the whole NeoG! The NeoG is the space coast guard I never knew I needed in my life and now that I've read the book I need more of their story!

This book was a mix of so many things I love! There was found family! Ethnically and sexually diverse characters! Space battles! A huge tournament-style military competition! And so much more! Even better was that one of the main point-of-view characters was canonically asexual from the start and I loved that so much!

The worldbuilding and the history of the NeoG were superbly done as expected from K.B. Wagers. I was kept on the edge of my seat the whole time I was reading and I didn't figure anything out about the mystery and the big bad before the reveal. I'm interested to see where the crew of Zuma's Ghost go next and what other shenanigans they get up to. I have some ships I'm super shipping and I can't wait to see what comes of them. Fingers crossed that the established ones stay together as the series progresses.

I love when books come out of nowhere and hits you like a bag of bricks. I seriously loved this book so much! It’s definitely going to be one of my top ten favorite books of the year. You all need to go buy this book and immediately read it when it comes out especially if you love a good sci-fi book.
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I was really looking forward to this as I have read several of her other books. The story line was good but I was disappointed with the journey into the gender/pronoun wars. I realize I'm getting older but I don't care for that aspect. Other than that, the book was good. Plot line kept the reader interested.
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I really enjoyed this book! I had seen a little about A Pale Light in the Black coming out and thought it sounded interesting, so I was excited when I got the chance to review an advance copy. . It's military sci-fi but not darrrk like that can be, nice for readers looking for something a little gentler. It's bigger than our solar system but as small as a found family.

The premise is "the Coast Guard... in Spaaace!" It's centered on one crew of the Near-Earth Orbital Guard, or NeoG. Much of the plot involves their preparation for the annual tournament between the military branches known as the Boarding Games. There's fencing, network hacking, spaceship racing, and a lot of trash-talking. But the NeoG is always on call, so our team also rescues stranded travelers, arrests smugglers, and gets pulled into an investigation that reveals a nasty conspiracy.

Big themes in the book are self-determination and the importance of family, however that's shaped for you. A lot of the story is fun, but several of the characters face some really difficult stuff, and the team gets through it together.

I felt like the story had a sort of episodic nature that could translate into a fun TV series. The book has a satisfying ending but there's definitely room for another story, with either this team or another NeoG crew. I hadn't read anything by K. B. Wagers before this, but I will look for their earlier novels and definitely anticipate the second book in this NeoG series.
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K.B. Wagers rocks!  I've read all her books, and she does not disappoint.   A PALE LIGHT IN THE BLACK  is a great read.  Well worth the time the time . Lots of suspense and action; a mystery; a diverse cast of characters; women who can kick-ass, and are still caring.  The men aren't bad, either!  I recommend this book highly.
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This book started out with a NeoG space crew preparing for a competition with members of other branches of the military. Along the way, they start to uncover a plot to make and distribute a fake drug, LifeEX, which is used to extend people's lives, especially useful in long space journeys. I felt that the first half of the book was a little bit slow, and I really wanted to see more development of the characters. About half-way through the story though, the plot intensified and I had a lot more insight into the characters. I enjoyed the tension between Max Carmichael and her family members, an elite family who produced the life-prolonging drug, LifeEx. Most of the family served in the Navy in addition to the family business, and rejected Max for joining the NeoG. As a big fan of the Coast Guard, I really liked how the NeoG was modeled after the Coast Guard. I hope to see more books in this series.
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This is another great read from author KB Wagers! This romp combines a lot of the things I love to see in my space operas! Romance! Cool action hero antics! Emotional talks with partners! Amazing world building that has inclusivity built in!! I love Max the main character and her journey as she grows with her new NeoG team and found family. I love the games and how it felt like the olympics with a spirit of competition and togetherness. Jenks is amazing and it was so good to see them grow emotionally through the story. The fights feel real and I love that there were call backs to pop culture that’s current now!
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I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book.  The description sounded interesting, so I thought I’d give it a try.  I wasn’t completely disappointed.  It took me a while to get into the story, but it did pay off for me in the end.  I’ll probably check out the next book by the author.
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I enjoyed the universe K.B. Wagers created in this book.  I also liked the fish-out-of-water aspect of the story.  I was a bit confused by the climax of the story not coming as a resounding conclusion to the games, which a large portion of the book is leading up to, but elsewhere in the story.  Overall though, I liked it, and am looking forward to the next installment.
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On paper, this book should have been right up my alley - you know, space opera with a military slant, tournaments, a series of mysterious incidents, found family, romance… KB Wagers was basically ticking off all the elements I love. And I did end up enjoying the book, it just took a while for me to get there.

A PALE LIGHT IN THE BLACK turned out to be a “slice of life” space opera. So not the grand-swashbuckling-battles-through-space-type of SF, more of everyday life in space, and I needed to readjust my expectations before really settling into the story. While I loved the diversity of characters and spot-on worldbuilding, I felt the book suffered from a tad too many storylines (err... see all the elements I love). All the loose ends were tied up neatly in the end, but the various subplots were more parallel than intertwining and meant that reveals lacked impact somewhat.

The interpersonal dynamics started to get really interesting for me in the second half of the book and I thought the story finished on a strong note. The scene has now been set for more NeoG adventures, and I'm keen to see what Max, Jenks, Rosa, and team do next.
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A Pale Light in the Black is the first book in a new series by author KB Wagers, known for their prior Indranan and Farian War space opera trilogies (featuring their gunrunner empress lead, Hail Bristol).  But in contrast to those novels, A Pale Light in the Black is set in a much nearer future, featuring at its heart a sometimes friendly sometimes not conflict between SF versions of modern military services, with a space version of the Coast Guard - the NeoG - at its center.  As a big fan of the Hail Bristol novels, I was excited to read Wagers' next work, so I was excited to get an advance copy of this book to review.

And I really loved A Pale Light in the Black, a story that is so positive in its depiction of camaraderie, love, and family that I fell near instantly in love with the characters.  It is still a story with conflict mind you - both in friendly (interservice) and not-so-friendly (in an antagonist conspiracy) - so it's not quite channeling Becky Chambers' Wayfarer works, but the way the book portrays its main cast gelling together, and how they each deal with their various loves and families, is just terrific.  Oh and the cast includes plenty of wiseass protagonists, bar fighting, and space adventures as the central NeoG team does their job to safeguard human space.
-----------------------------------------------Plot Summary----------------------------------------------------

The NeoG - the Near-Earth Orbital Guard - is the branch of the Coalition of Human Nations (CHN) dedicated to ensuring the safety of human being controlled space, in the vein of the old Earth's Coast Guards.  The crew of the NeoG Interceptor Zuma's Ghost is the NeoG's top Interceptor crew - both in its ability to patrol the space of the Sol System and in its performance in the annual boarding games - where the NeoG managed to come up just short of beating the Navy team last year.  Winning the boarding games would prove NeoG's worth to those who mock them, and so the crew - experienced Commander Rosa, second-in command Lieutenant Commander Nika, mechanic and fighter Jenks, computer expert Sapphi, and pilot and team-mom Ma want desperately to pull it off.

But winning may just become all that much harder when Nika is promoted to her own ship out of system and the crew gains a new member: Lieutenant Maxine "Max" Carmichael.  The odd woman out of the legendary family responsible for the LifeEx technology that increased human lifespans and made space travel possible, Max is a brilliant analyst, but awkward and uncomfortable with other people, and a total newbie to the idea of the games.  To make it worse, as Zuma's Ghost prepares for the games, they find themselves on the trail of a mysterious conspiracy of a ship and its passengers reappearing after more than a century of being considered lost - a conspiracy that someone will do anything to keep hidden.

Max and the crew of Zuma's Ghost will have to pull themselves together as a crew and as a family and get their shit together if they want to actually pull off the unprecedented and win the Boarding Games for say nothing of surviving the conspiracy and other dangers that come with being a member of the Near-Earth Orbital Guard....


A Pale Light in the Black is an ensemble book, with the protagonists being the entire crew of the Zuma's Ghost, rather than any single character.  As such, the book shifts perspectives between that of Rosa, Nika, Jenks, and Max (with occasional interludes to display letters and communications between characters).  Max is probably the most prominent character, but all of the above four have full character arcs that are central to this novel.

Which works because they're all tremendous characters and Wagers writes them and this world in a fascinatingly positive way.  Whereas the "established team has a key member replaced by a newbie" plot has been done many times before, it usually comes with it conflict and struggle between the old members and the new, as the new member desperately tries to prove themselves throughout the novel so that they can gain acceptance.  Here, Max is accepted pretty much right away - and the only person who doesn't do so wholeheartedly (Jenks) only holds back because the departed member was her brother - and the only one Max needs to prove that she belongs to is....herself.  The crew is incredibly supportive of one another, and conflicts tend to be internal rather than external.  So for example, Rosa struggles with the belief that she failed the team in the last Boarding Games and with crises of her own personal faith; Jenks struggles with being apart from her brother for the first time and with the very idea of a relationship turning more serious, because Jenks inwardly believes she's not worth someone else's love; and Max again struggles with his own belief that he doesn't have a place and the issues of his family's rejection of his path.  But since the conflicts in their character arcs are internal rather than external, each of the characters, including the less prominent members of the crew, is supportive of the other and that's really enjoyable to read.

I should point out that this supportiveness is also reflected by the setting Wagers has created here: this world featured a "collapse" in the 21st century, followed by humanity pulling itself together into this form 3 centuries later with some very positive adjustments.  So every person has an internal chip installed that allows them to display to others their name and their chosen pronouns, which no one has any problem with using.  Sexual Orientations are not an issue for anyone, with characters being straight, bi, gay, ace, etc throughout without any special noting, with some characters being into sex with practically anything that moves (Jenks) and others being....not, and none of it is treated as abnormal.*  There's still conflict mind you - again, there's interservice rivalries between Navy and NeoG and others here, and there are people with alternate views of the future that lead them to criminal enterprises that form the external plot for this book.  It's not a utopia - but it's still a really nice positive world that is enjoyable to read after so many dystopian futures, and provides for a setting where the characters can really grow and develop in fun interesting ways.

*If I have one complaint about this, it's that the book essentially ignores the issue of rank when it comes to characters having sex - and while no one in this book ever abuses rank for sex or even comes close to suggesting it, it strikes me as odd in a military context for the issue never to come up or even be addressed - given how normalized sex is as a behavior here, I guess it's possible the subject just never occurs to anyone, but it feels a weird omission.  

So yeah, I loved the setting and the characters here, which are so nice and refreshing - and I should point out, incredibly fun to read.  There's wisecracking and banter, physical combat and strategizing, romance and fights (there is at least 3 in this book that I can think of off hand) and all of it is written really well, to the point of which I may come back to this book when I need something enjoyable and light to read.  The book isn't perfect: the main external conflict of the conspiracy clearly takes a back seat to the inter-service Boarding Games and thus finds itself resolved incredibly quickly in the end (although I suspect that conflict may not be quite over for this series, so perhaps we'll get more into it next book).  But the ending remains really satisfying and I really really look forward to reading more of the NeoG in future books.
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K.B. Wagers has crafted an engrossing page turner of a read in A Pale Light in the Black. Well worth the read!
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This book was good. I love space operas. I enjoyed the military and sci-fi aspect of the book, could not put the book down.  This book follows a crew apart of a military group call NeoG who patrol space, and the missions they do along with them wanting to win a competition and escape bad guys. 
I really enjoyed the technology and futuristic-ness of this book, and the characters were what drew me in. Loved the diverseness of each character. Can't wait to read more by this author.
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Although this book never connected with me, I can see why it is rated well among readers.  More soap opera than space opera, it has all the 'feelz':  the men are full of heart and the women kick ass, and they come from all nationalities and backgrounds and orientations.  But none of these felt like real people: methodically constructed caricatures, each ticking off a LGBQTA or interracial check list to make sure you understood that it's a brave new world out there. I ended up skimming through the competition scenes and focused mostly on the space/sci fi aspects since those were what interested me most.

Story: Zuma's Ghost is a NeoG [think Coast Guard] vessel with a varied crew.  Maxine Carmichael arrives to take over the position of second in command, replacing a beloved crew member who received a promotion.  She will have to learn to fit in with the varied personalities as well as come up to speed on the prestigious Boarding Games competition to help the crew turn a second place finish last event to a first place this event.  Along the way, she will  come across a conspiracy that will affect her affluent family directly.

There are two driving plots to the story:  they want to win the competition this time for the NEOG force (they came in second previously) and they are uncovering a lot of strange occurrences that lead to uncovering a massive corporate conspiracy.  The main characters are Maxine Carmichael and Petty Officer Jenks.  Carmichael comes from an affluent family (they invented a serum that prolongs life) and Jenks comes from the streets and knows only fighting for survival.  One is brusque and brash, the other uptight and methodical.  Also included are the captain, Rosa, whose religion forbids going to space but she is there anyway while her wife takes care of their children planetside. Nika Vagin is Jenk's adopted beloved brother - and the person Maxine is replacing. And then several other diverse crew members, each with their own quirks (including the resident data hacker expert). Much of the humor comes from Jenk's irreverence to authority and others.

I think many will enjoy the camaraderie of people with so much diversity coming together and working as a unified team.  Because Max takes up a chunk of the POV of the novel, we see the crew through her eyes as she comes to meet them, gets to know them better, and becomes close friends with them. How she wins each one over is a lot of the crux of the personal side of the story.  Meanwhile, there are space boardings of seized ships, some battles, and of course the martial activities of the Boarding Games.  It's a book with a lot of positivity and 'fist bumping' type of friendships in the NEOG space force.  

Although I will not be continuing with the series, I do feel many will enjoy this book. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.
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A Pale Light in the Black follows the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, who are members of the Near-Earth Orbital Guard (NeoG), a branch of the military akin to the Coast Guard… in space. These characters are the highlight of the story. First off, they’re diverse, representing a variety of sexualities, gender identities, religions, and racial and ethnic backgrounds. They’re also extremely likable. I’m a sucker for friendly team dynamics and I got plenty of that here.

It’s a good thing this book has such a strong cast because it’s extremely character-driven. I fell in love with Max, Rosa, and Jenks (our three main characters) and enjoyed witnessing their personal and relationship development. My only complaint is the dialogue. It occasionally struck me as slightly stilted, particularly during tense or emotional moments. The romance was unremarkable.

The story was well-paced and revolves around two subplots. In subplot one, Zuma’s Ghost is competing in the Boarding Games, an annual competition between the branches of the military, and hopes to take home NeoG’s first ever win. Meanwhile, subplot two is a mystery that builds gradually from a series of coincidences to a full-blown conspiracy. I preferred the first subplot; it seems Wagers isn’t much of a mystery writer. The ending was rushed and the evil mastermind behind it all was underwhelming.

Aside from the characters, what I liked best about this book was the world building. The future Wagers imagines is immersive and easy to envision. The focus is mostly on military life, which isn’t usually my cup of tea, but I ended up really enjoying it. A few concepts could have been introduced more gradually and naturally, but this is me being nitpicky. In many ways, A Pale Light in the Black reminds me of the Star Trek TV shows. It’s fun, lighthearted, team-based and, yes, a little cheesy. I love me some Star Trek so it’s no wonder I ended up enjoying this book.

A Pale Light in the Black is a story with a lot of heart, enough to make up for at least some of the technical flaws. I’m eager to go back and read Wagers’ previous work and I hope she continues the NEO-G series.
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This has a good cast, a fun plot with sub-plots, and good action. A pretty enjoyable space opera. This is my first Wagers book, but it's obvious she has a great imagination and knows how to spin a good tale. 

I really appreciate the copy for review!
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This is a good book. I really enjoyed it. The characters are well developed and the story is packed with action and adventure. The author does a great job delivering a story with a solid plot and interesting subplots.
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