Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Before Ness, before Corny, before Leopold and Heckle and Mac, there was just Shax and Verin and a newly stolen, er, acquired cargo ship. Join Shax on his first adventure in space in which a pampered demon prince has a lot to learn.
When a steel trap of celestial and infernal politics threatens to close around them, Shax and Verin flee Earth’s system in a stolen ship, leaving everything behind. It’s an elegantly simple plan, with a new ship and a new life as carefree brigands among the stars.
But the ship seems to hate them, and in order to have any sort of life they need funds. A frightened man offering them a contract to deliver three mysterious crates comes just in time, and Shax is sure their troubles are over. Out of his environment and in over his head, Shax scrambles to understand the players and the consequences of his new life. With cargo that’s not what it seems, shadowy motives around every turn, and a gorgeous rogue named Julian for a dash of added confusion, Shax’s grand schemes of a new start may be his demise before he can even begin.
First of all. Angel Martinez. Let’s just get that out of the way. That author’s name is all I need to pick up a book. The title Potato Surprise in combination with science fiction certainly added that dash of anticipation of the quirky, the oddball, the unexpected, and the highly imaginative. You will get all that here. Loved it.
Potato Surprise is a prequel to Brimstone (a collection I grabbed up after reading this wonderful story). Here we get our first introduction to the space faring or fleeing demon Shax, his companion Verin, and their newly acquired ship, renamed The Brimstone. The Brimstone has a delightful IA with a drag queen personality, Ivana Cockatoo! Together the three of them form a slightly less than formidable ship of privateers, willing to trade/ship merchandise legal or otherwise, especially otherwise across the galaxy. This includes those surprising potatoes.
Angel Martinez’ imagination is fearless. Her demons may know other demons that fit within our prescribed notions of what demons should look like and how demons should act, her demons may even be related to demons that act that way. But Shax? He is one surprise after another, loyal, with an endless and often troublesome appreciation for the “pretties”, his charm is as boundless as his enthusiasms. I adore Shax. Verin is a little more hard core or perhaps hard shell,..hard to say. The other books I just now reading let me have more of a feel for his character and background. But here Verin is a solid, loyal as well, presence in both the stories and in Shax’s life and he anchors the stories. Verin may blow smoke, but there’s definitely fire behind it.
Oh, Ivana! Ever since Kirk ended up temporarily with a flirtatious computer on the Enterprise, IAs with entertaining or wildly scary personalities have appeared in stories and screen plays. I love Ivana Cockatoo. Ivana immediately embraces the new name and new owners. They certainly are a better fit for Ivana than the previous owner and this IA jumps into the new life with a joy that’s downright infectious. Ivana is an equal partner in crime and party here, and valued family member.
Why Shax and Verin had to flee Earth is only sketchily filled in here. More details come in the later stories. There is a planet side romance, don’t all pirates have one? That has its own tender, loving element of its own. There are moments of beauty, scenes of glee and disgust, then its time to leave once more. Off on more adventures, more travels and certainly more transactions that will get them into danger and the money they need to continue charging through the galaxy together.
The Brimstone’s crew has me hooked good and proper. This prequel did that job beautifully. I love Shax, Verin, and Ivana. I can’t wait to see how far Angel Martinez takes this crew and what amazing things and places they get to go and what mayhem they commit when they get there. Let me tell you floating bovines is in your future if you love this as much as I do! Its not to be missed!
Cover art by Fredi McKay. Wild and includes elements from the story, although not as I had pictured them in my imagination.