The Icarus Hunt: 8 out of 10
The Icarus Hunt is a space adventure that follows the exploits of a washed up cargo runner as he attempts to make a living in the interstellar shipping industry that has been dominated by one alien species. The main character, Jordan McKell, who is more than a little reminiscent of a certain Han Solo, is a smuggler that tried to live a straight life but was forced into servitude to the galaxy's biggest underworld crime syndicate by massive company debts. When a desperate man approaches him in a bar with an intriguing job offer, McKell agrees to serve as the man's pilot on the Icarus.
A hodgepodge crew of strangers are thrown together in a situation that none of them understand, to face dangers they never expected. A simple cargo shipment becomes a desperate, adrenaline fueled, chase across the galaxy with more than a few close calls.
I absolutely loved The Icarus Hunt (until the end, but more on that it a bit). Every moment is filled with intrigue, danger, and questions. Zahn leaves you questioning what is really going on for the entire book. I was so engrossed in the story and the intrigue as McKell and his partner tried to solve a mystery that defied logic or reason and the crew played a dangerous game of cat and mouse with dangerous, obsessed aliens that want their mysterious cargo. It is a book I could hardly put down. The characters are all compelling, the mysteries are misleading and easy pull you into their twisted web of lies and confusion, and the writing is top notch. For most of the novel, I was sure that I would give The Icarus Hunt a 10 out of 10.
However, the ending left a lot to be desired. Most of the book is a perfect 10, but the ending was so disappointing (more so by how great it was leading up to the final moments), that it really dragged the whole book down. Is it a favorite that I would read again and again? I'm not sure. Despite how good the main portion was, I am not sure if I would be willing to face that ending again. So what was wrong? How does a book that is so good botch the ending? I will tell you in a single word: cliché. The mystery and intrigue continued right up until the very end, until the big, cliché reveal that finally answers every question you have. You will be disappointed though.
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After this harrowing chase across the stars, with murders and fights dogging their every step, where does the story conclude? On the slopes of a mountain, inside a ski lodge that is empty for the off-season. The big reveal takes place in the dining room (sound familiar?). McKell sits everyone down and goes off on a big, long winded monologue explaining how and why everything happened and unveils the murder in true, cliché fashion. Then the crime lord shows up and we get one last bit of mystery before McKell manages to miraculously capture him as well, leaving absolutely no problem unsolved (it is a little convenient how nicely every loose end wraps up). Suddenly (and I mean very suddenly with absolutely no hint of this beforehand), McKell reveals that he is, the future equivalent of, an undercover cop.
Personally, I was disappointed by that reveal. Yes he was undercover, so he wouldn't have given the crew any indication that he was a cop, but come on! We were in this guy's head. We should have known that he wasn't quite who he claimed to be. And I didn't like the sudden, short reveal to finish off the book. The story steadily and strongly builds towards a climax, increasing anticipation until you can barely stay in your seat, and then you get the climax, the reveal, and within a few pages the story is over. It leaves you hanging, waiting for more when there is no more coming. Then you sit back and say, "That's it? That is how it ends?"
The Icarus Hunt is still a good book to read that I would strongly recommend to others, but that recommendation would come with a strong warning not to expect too much from the last twenty pages.