Kassa's Reviews > The Morning Star

The Morning Star by M. Chandler
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's review
Mar 09, 2011

really liked it

The Morning Star is the first in a series of four books staring the same characters. The above blurb is somewhat vague and deals more with the series as a whole than any individual book’s plot. For this first offering, the introduction to the characters and fast paced action plot makes this book an absolute delight. The witty dialogue and laugh out loud antics have the story flying by way too fast and I’m surprised this is offered as a free read or pay for self published PDF. The characters are fabulous and although none have much depth, their entertainment factor is so high it won’t matter. The story is high on the improbability ranking and there are some technical problems, but really none of these mistakes matter. For those readers who love a quirky, delightful spy-ish novel, you’ll clamor for more once you’ve finish this introduction.

The story opens with Simon’s FBI team handling a high profile, wealthy cocktail party. The team is charged with keeping an eight million dollar diamond – owned by socialites the Mornings – safe from a known thief, Jeremy Archer. When said thief shows up but manages to snag the diamond out from under Simon’s talented crew, Simon is enraged. Yet the thief offers a deal, he’ll return the diamond for money. Unfortunately, not everything is as easy as that and Simon, Archer, and the entire team must work together to stop a terrorist plot.

Well as you may have guessed from the summary, the plot itself is classic spy movie implausible. To get the qualms out of the way first, Simon’s high tech FBI team doesn’t act like an FBI group at all and is better suited to being placed as a highly secret government agency. The FBI portion is completely unrealistic, yet putting that aside, it shouldn’t bother readers so much once you’ve accepted this and moved on. It’s as outrageous as the plot but the journey is well worth indulging. The action is incredibly fast paced, a vague homage to Bond/007 movies, and thoroughly delightful. From the opening scene to the last, the pace never lags and never lets up, which is a considerable feat considering the impressive dialogue, characters, and plot all packed within a mere 135 pages.

The characters are many and tend to blend together unfortunately. Simon’s team is called Team Templar after Simon’s code name, Templar. His team consists of 5 people whose names and codenames mix together and offer little in the way of individualizing their personalities. These five members – Rich (Specs Two), Nate (Specs), Mike (Honda), Johnny (Texas), Sandra (Springheal) – are all wonderful, adding great depth and texture to the story. As the author clearly adores these characters, I did as well but I wish there had been more depth and individuality to the various members so it would be easier to tell them apart. It would be nice to like each character versus just the group dynamic.

The group dynamic however is witty, hilarious, and often the backbone of many of the great scenes. Although Simon is a strong classic character and his chemistry with the polished, urbane thief Archer is fabulous, the strength is really in the overall dynamic of the many characters and their interaction together. This fun loving, intelligent and often immature group will keep readers interested and engaged from the start. Here are a few examples of the dialogue between the team members:

“And there you are,” Nate said in Simon’s ear. “We’ve got you on camera ten. Adjust your bowtie if you can hear me.” Simon touched his fingers to his tie. “Good. Great. Springheel, look to your left.” Sandra glanced left and smiled.

“Great. Looks like you’re both still in touch.”

“Bring me back some of those little shrimp things,” Rich added.

“There are shrimp things?” Mike said, plaintively. “I’m down here staring at wallpaper and missing shrimp things?”

“Sure are,” Rich said as Simon and Sandra headed into the room. “Looks like there are cheese things, too. Oh, and curly vegetable things. At least, I think those are vegetables.”

“Oh, and your favorite, Honda: booze things!” Nate said.

“Booze things?!” Mike’s voice went from ‘plaintive’ to ‘incredulous’. “Man, I wanna switch jobs with someone. Hey, Springheel, you come down here and guard the door and I’ll be Templar’s date for the evening."

“Gack . . . unwanted . . . mental image . . . killing brain cells . . . ” Nate croaked.

Rich snorted. “You’d look ridiculous in that gold dress, Honda.” Nate moaned in Simon’s ear in what sounded like real pain.

“Shut up, Specs Two,” Mike said affably. “You shrimp thing, you.”


“You speak Klingon,” Rich pointed out.

“Not any more!” Nate flushed a little. “I mean, come on, that was in college, it was a long time ago . . . ”

Rich snorted. “Verengan Ha’DIbaH!”

“Mu’qaD!” Nate automatically snapped, then yelped and pointed a shaking finger at Rich. “Oh, you jerk, and you were making fun of me for speaking Klingon!”

“I am seriously becoming geekier just by sitting here,” Mike informed Sandra.

“I think my dick is shrinking.”

“Mine too,” Sandra said.

“Mine’s good,” Johnny said, patting it affectionately.

This kind of banter is repeated often throughout the story but never overwhelming or annoying. The father of it all is rough talking, hard hitting Simon who corals everyone and takes no prisoners. His sexuality is a bit questionable as Sandra is his ex-girlfriend and there is little inclination that Simon is gay except an encounter with Archer late in the story. So I can’t wait to find out if Simon is gay, bi-sexual, straight, or gay for thief? Archer’s polished, oh so British personality has a wealth of possibilities and since no background information is offered towards any of the characters or their personalities, I can only assume more will come in future stories. Thus while the characters aren’t fully three dimensional, their entertainment factor is high enough to excuse this point.

As a first book in a series, Morning Star completely delivers. Entertaining, dynamic, engaging, interesting, and composed of fascinating characters all wrapped up in a plot that may be outrageous yet tries hard to stay within reality as much as possible. The Bond feel only enhances the story and the writing is rather slick. For a self published story, the editing is much higher than a lot of recent books I’ve paid, even with the few errors I found, so I’d suggest buying the PDF version and supporting a great new voice. There is no explicit erotica but that doesn’t diminish the latent sensuality between Archer and Simon. Check this out, you won’t be disappointed.
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Chris I'm just a little bit into this (just past the Jefferson Memorial bit) and while I'm enjoying it, I'm having a bit of trouble keeping all the people on Simon's team sorted out, especially since they all have names and codenames...

Kassa Chris wrote: "I'm just a little bit into this (just past the Jefferson Memorial bit) and while I'm enjoying it, I'm having a bit of trouble keeping all the people on Simon's team sorted out, especially since the..."

Sadly that never really gets better. I had to write them down on a sticky note and keep referring when I read the first two books (never went back to finish the series).

Chris *sigh* Ok. *breaks out the sticky notes.

Kassa Rich (Specs Two), Nate (Specs), Mike (Honda), Johnny (Texas), Sandra (Springheal), Simon (Templar), Archer (thief)

Chris Archer = Shadow. :)

Thanks - they haven't given Nate or Mike's codenames since I started my post-it 10 minutes ago. :D

Chris Ok, I stayed up until 2:30 am last night finishing the third book - it was a lot better than the second book. AND I have everyone's codenames down now. :)

Kassa It is? Ok If you think so, I'll go back to the third book.

Chris YMMV, but it's not common for me to read a book straight through until 2:30 am. :D

message 6: by Justacat (new) - added it

Justacat Actually, I disagree with Chris. Kassa, I think you're going to find the issues you have with the first two books continue throughout - at least I did. I keep wanting to write up my review of the series as a whole; haven't done it yet - but the series was ultimately extremely disappointing to me primarily for the reasons you, Kassa, have already ennumerated: the characters gain almost no additional depth or development, you are left wondering why Archer bothers with Simon, since Simon remains basically self-centered - and even when it appears he might be making steps toward development, events prove otherwise (and indeed, some events at the end made me wonder why Archer didn't boot Simon in the ass and tell him to go to hell - those events made Simon just about irredeemable for me, after hundreds of thousands of words of hoping); the interactions among the characters remain virtually identical, with the same sort of banter and again, no further developments or additional depth; the superfluous scenes are even more numerous (and indeed in Book 4 seem to dominate the novel, so that sometimes it's hard to find the actual story)...

That being said, I enjoyed the writing and the characters, for the most part, and I too devoured the four books (admittedly, though, partly because I was hoping for something more than I got). But despite its definite strengths, I found the series immensely unsatisfying overall, primarily because of the lack of character (and relationship) development and the kind of...flatness, or perhaps superficiality is a better word, of the interactions - you never really see beneath the veneers and the endless, endless banter (which follows the same pattern in Book 4 as it did in Book 1, with a few characters and issues added, and is apparently the *ONLY* way these characters have of interacting). In the end, the only one who the author made me care about, or believe had any depth, was Archer.

So again - YMMV, and I wouldn't try to dissuade you from reading further - I often hate stopping in the middle of a series - but given your reactions so far, I wouldn't expect that you'd find much to change your mind in the next two books and the culmination of the series.

Chris Justacat: Hmm, good points relating to what Kassa found frustrating about the first books. I didn't find those things frustrating and actually achieved a complete reading immersion experience... but in doing so, I complete spaced Kassa's concerns.

So, yeah, YMMV, Kassa!

Kassa This is why I adore GR!! Thank you both! Your combined feedback is invaluable. I really really appreciate your added insight Justacat. Those issues will without a doubt leave the series unsatisfying for me. Yet clearly this is a fun, engaging read as you both read the books fast.

The lack of development and the sameness to the characters will ultimately kill the series for me. I need that kind of fulfillment and frankly its not up to anyone but me to know to look for it. I appreciate that you pointed that out Just. I think perhaps the best thing would be to read it in fits and starts. I likely can read a few chapters until I start to get annoyed by all the sameness and then take a break for a few weeks or so til I want to go back.

I'm on the fence. I kind of want that light entertainment but I truly loathe investing in a series that leaves me disappointed. I have a feeling I'll err towards Justacat's reactions because Simon is a very unlikable character for me. He's selfish, angry, and a user. If he's not redeemed I have a hard time understanding/liking the coupling. Kind of like in The Administration though that mc is redeemed somewhat.

Great discussion and thank you both! This is incredibly helpful.

message 3: by Justacat (new) - added it

Justacat It's funny you should mention The Administration - coincidentally, I just this past weekend finished my fourth or fifth time completely through the entire Administration series, but even before that, as soon as I finished the Shadow of the Templar series, the Administration immediately came to mind as the standard against which I compared - or rather, contrasted - it (maybe because it's another multipart work, self edited, available for free, written by a fan...?). I almost mentioned it when writing my comment above but wasn't sure how familiar you were.

I love The Administration. The writing is tight and impeccable - unlike in SotT. But where Manna Francis excels especially, and this author notably does not, is in character development. Whether or not one likes Toreth or considers him redeemed (I know he's not to all tastes, and that makes perfect sense), what is so amazing about that series is how the author over the course of the series shows so much subtle depth and development in an almost impossibly difficult character, one who at first seems almost entirely one dimensional and horrifying. Whether or not you like him, her skill lies in making you (generic reader you) at times find yourself sympathizing with him, or thinking you understand him, or wanting him to "win," almost despite yourself. His capacity for growth may be limited - but within that capacity, he does grow, in fits or starts, perhaps, but that's the way people do it. And she "shows" it, brilliantly; no telling to be found - you see it happening. To me The Administration is an amazing example of how to write character (and relationship, but especially character) development, in one of the most difficult imaginable contexts.

(As an aside, I don't believe he's ever "redeemed" - I don't think Toreth can become something he's not - but his growth shows that he's more than just his diagnosis and makes me believe that the relationship can work, that while it is bizarre, it is not one sided. Both give and get from it, so I can believe in it, even if it's not your standard romantic relationship. The ending of that series, or at least the ending I've read - I've only read what's online, not the books; I don't know if there's anything after Make It a Surprise - leaves me fully satisfied within the realm of that story, which is all I ask for.)

It's such a stark contrast to this series, in which the author manages to demonstrate no discernible or meaningful change or growth or development in Simon at all, at least that I could see. She at times seems to be trying for that goal, and she has Simon do things that seem to be aiming that way - but I don't think she has the skill to carry it off. The character never *really* changes. She doesn't seem to understand how his actions remain inconsistent with the result she's going for, how an obnoxious character doesn't become okay just because you say so, or because other characters like him, or because he says or does one or two things that are supposed to show he's changed when nothing else about him demonstrates that. And then, as I said, he does one thing at the end of book 4, when supposedly he and Archer are supposed to be heading toward more togetherness, that made him just about completely irredeemable for me - it made me lose all my remaining sympathy for him. It showed that he really hadn't changed one bit - he was still just as selfish and self centered, and that I really didn't actually want him and Archer to end up together.

Then after that, somehow, in the remaining one chapter after x-hundred-thousand words, I'm supposed to believe everything is happy and wonderful, when nothing, absolutely nothing, has happened to show me that this outcome makes any sense.

Anyway. :) Okay, this was long and rambling, and possibly not helpful - but I did want to add something about The Administration, since you mentioned it.

And I think your idea of reading the story piecemeal makes some sense. Either that or just sit down and get it over with, whichever works best for you. Because I did get some enjoyment out of it. But for me at least, that ultimately was outweighed by the letdown; I'm glad to have read it so I can discuss it, but I am actually kind of angry that after so much investment it gave me so little.

Chris Re: SotT again - I'm reading the additional content from the author's website and it's where I think that some of the character development occurs (and most of the smexing). It's stylistically different from the four main books, so I can kind of see why it wasn't included there... but maybe it should've been.

message 1: by Justacat (new) - added it

Justacat Chris wrote: "Re: SotT again - I'm reading the additional content from the author's website and it's where I think that some of the character development occurs (and most of the smexing). It's stylistically diff..."

I've actually read all the additional snippets and stories from the website, both the smut ones and the others. I do agree they add something (like, for example, the huge and unforgivable omission of the disclosure scenes), and reading them gave me a better feeling about the entire series than I had before I read them. However, I don't think they actually serve to remedy the character development flaws - particularly with regard to Simon. Those - IMO, of course; I know there are others who disagree and love everything about this series! - are more systematic and can't be fixed with a few missing scenes.

However - I think that sticking these snippets where they belong in the chronology enhances the books, regardless of what the author says or any stylistic differences. This is where she really needed an editor - she included all sorts of scenes that should have been excised with no remorse, and omitted ones that really needed including.

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