The premise is completely absurd. Charlie gets sucked out of the normal universe into a magical one, in which space travel is facilitated by magic and fire-breathing dragons exist (in this part of the story, they don’t do much but exist until the very end). Magic functions as technology. At times that’s a little bit Harry Potter, mostly it’s pretty creative. I figure if you look at the jacket and think this is the book for you, you’re OK with the absurdity of the premise. In fact, it’s a feature.
The story is well told. Charlie, a former Marine and current engineer, slowly turns in to a space-pirate cum gladiator in a series of misfortunes. He watches all his crewmates from Earth die until he’s the last Earthman in this new galaxy.
Pure space opera.
Aliens, with the exception of the space dragons, are all roughly human in shape and scale and thought process. You could drive a truck through most of the plot holes but again, this is probably a feature for you rather than a bug. Star Wars and Star Trek are pretty silly if you spend a few minutes thinking about them.
There are some holes I can’t get past. Universal facial expressions, for one. The weird way translators work, for another, as if the author were making it up as he went along. Charlie wears a cheap translator for a while, and it only affects one other character, making his friend’s speech into troll-speak. For everyone else it seems to work fine, no misunderstandings.
But the biggest problem is the sexism.
There are basically three feminine humanoids in the story. There’s Charlie’s superior officer, a woman who buys slaves to protect a harem, and a housekeeper at the end. Every other character in the story is male. This is stuff I wouldn’t have noticed ten years ago; it’s just normal for novels and movies to be populated with straight, white, cis-male characters. When Peter Jackson decided to do The Hobbit, for example, he had to get someone to write entirely new female characters so there were women with jobs other than looking pretty.
Charlie arrives in a chauvinistic, hypermasculine universe. Gladiators and pirates, harems with neutered guards, power hierarchies where the most powerful rule and everyone else can get bent. Slavery.
The first female character is sassy and competent. She’s really just like Charlie. But she gets punished harshly for it, being lobotomized early in the tale. Charlie gets rewarded, after a few chapters of hazing, and the book’s competent female gets lobotomized.
The slaver barely sticks around. And the housekeeper is a side male’s love interest and worries about her figure. That’s it.
Sexist wish-fulfilment. Probably 100% unconscious. And I imagine the series gets better, that the author has heard this feedback before and made a decision. But I’m not reviewing the series, only this book. I won’t read another one.
The final problem, and YMMV on this one, is the silliness juxtaposed with seriousness. Some truly frightful things happen, events that belong in a serious universe. It doesn’t sit well in a universe filled with childish language and inverisimilitude. It’s like the Potter universe, where there are goblins and muggles and Christmas feasts conjured up, exams cancelled as a school treat, trying to be gritty and realistic. It just doesn’t work, not for me. So I’m out.
I’m throwing 4 stars on this one because the story really is fun and I figure most people aren’t as pedantic as me. I think you’ll probably like this story and annoy me with trivia about it for years.