Xen’tarza, the third installment in Paul L. Centeno’s Twelve Dimensions series, continues the adventures of fallen sorceress Shirakaya and her motley-crew of “Shadow Mercs,” as they embark on a perilous quest to regain Shirakaya’s arcane powers.
Evil antagonist Ashkaratoth is laying waste to the Cosmos. To vanquish Ashkaratoth and the koth’vurian savages supporting him, Shirakaya must first recharge her depleted magical batteries. However, acquiring the means to facilitate this will prove no easy feat.
Shirakaya’s crew journey to a mysterious asteroid to retrieve her brother, who is engaged in a perilous investigation to retrieve an ancient artifact. From there, the group traverses the galaxy in search of a cosmic legend that will restore Shirakaya, encountering hostile alien races, cult religious groups, and fantastical beasts along the way.
Readers unfamiliar with the surplus of characters and incidents introduced previously might initially be challenged reading Xen’tarza, since the author wastes little time introducing or contextualizing the story’s players. That said, it doesn’t take long to make sense of the plot, a rollicking adventure that successfully fuses traditional quest fantasy paradigms with the pulpy, epic, spacefaring escapades of classic space-opera.
Centeno does an admirable job building the fictional universe of Ensar, a colorful intergalactic canvas made up of warring extra-terrestrial factions and sophisticated technologies. Using lean prose and bantering dialogue, he builds suspense throughout. Shirakaya, meanwhile, is a likeable protagonist supported by an amusing group of allies.
The novel falters occasionally, however. Xen’tarza is littered with daring exploits, messy shoot-em-ups, and grandiose space battles, and Shirakaya’s crew are constantly hurtling from mission to mission at breakneck speed. This makes it difficult to invest in some of the crew’s adventures. Occasionally, too, the plot deviates from Shirakaya to focus on crew members. Although fun, these side-quests impede the novel’s pacing while adding little to the overarching story.
Even so, the novel’s positive attributes outweigh its negative ones. Science fiction fans looking for a breathless read, will undoubtedly appreciate Xen’tarza.
Also available as an ebook and audio book.