The Vital Link (A Spark in the Ashes) by K P O'Donnell

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The Vital Link (A Spark in the Ashes) by K P O'Donnell

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Alex Mitchell
Reviewed by Alex Mitchell
Summary: K. P. O'Donnell's debut novel presents some good ideas, an interesting plot, and likeable characters, however, the issues with the prose and story structure prevents me from giving it a higher score.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 499 Date: October 2023
Publisher: K.P. O'Donnell Publishing House
ISBN: 979-8218277239

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VL-15, a prototype robot, is desperate to understand who she is. Unfortunately, before she could find any answers, the world ended, consumed in an apocalyptic war between the nations of Drexel and Renada. Over half-a-century later, civilisation is starting to rebuild. Dr Amelia Wong is determined to continue her father's legacy, building a world where machines and humans can live together in harmony, but internal frictions and external enemies might bring it all crashing down again. Craig Anderson, leader of a group of salvagers called the Exhumers, has his entire life turned upside down when he unearths a prototype combat robot: none other than VL-15 herself. Even after being buried for 65 years, her determination hasn't diminished in the slightest, and no errant machine, no savage human tribe and not even Drexel's ravaged ecosystem will stop her on her quest for answers…

This is K.P. O'Donnell's first novel, and the first in a series, and I think he's done a good job so far. The characters are well done, the world is compelling, and I would be interested in seeing how the story develops in later instalments. On the other hand, the author's relative inexperience with writing does show in some parts. There are some issues with the book's structure, and the way it's written makes it a bit confusing to follow at times. I think O'Donnell shows promise as an author and with a bit more practice and editing, a lot of the prose and structure issues could be ironed out.

The pacing and structure of the story needed some changes. For example, after the prologue of VL-15 escaping containment and the world being destroyed, the story starts in medias res, with a short section presumably to build up excitement for later in the story. However, it was devoid of all narrative and emotional context and seemed more like a quick way to build tension. I would've preferred if it had been delivered chronologically so that we got the full context of the scene.

There were also some parts where the viewpoint character would abruptly change without any paragraph breaks or indication that this is going to happen. While it's not too glaring and I could still follow the story most of the time, there were a couple of times when I needed to skip back a paragraph or two because I thought I had missed a scene transition. The author does also have something of a habit of writing sound effects out loud. While onomatopoeia isn't inherently bad when used sparingly, the author used them so much that it made the prose come across as a bit too childish for a book aimed at adults. While this may be a bit nitpicky and other readers might not have a problem with it, it did take me out of the story too often for me to fully appreciate it.

The characters of the story are, for the most part, well done. VL-15 is desperate to recover the memories of her previous life, all the while being unsure of who to fully trust or who she even is. On the other hand, Craig is rather generic as far as sci-fi protagonists go. His boss, Dr Amelia Wong, the leader of a small pocket of civilisation under siege from both external enemies and internal frictions, who must increasingly choose between her principles and her desire to keep control, all of which is painfully well done. We also have Sekiya Garza, a double agent sent to bring the Hub down from within, allying with the enigmatic and menacing machine known as La Borg. Overall, I liked most of the characters in the story and I would particularly like to see how VL-15's story develops in later instalments.

The world of The Vital Link is an interesting one. While it does take place in the future, it seems to take place on either a parallel earth or another planet entirely, with entirely different countries and some extra elements/minerals that allow the setting to work. In most post-apocalyptic media featuring robots, the robots are usually the ones that caused the end of the world, but that wasn’t the case here. It seems like the robots and their human creators coexisted in harmony for the most part. No, instead it was just good old human belligerence that ended the world, which is honestly a much more refreshing take than what is present in most popular sci-fi media. Overall, I am interested in the world O’Donnell has built, and would like to see it further expanded upon in future books.

In conclusion, I think that O’Donnell has a lot of potential, with some interesting ideas, a compelling story, and some likeable characters, but the overall issues with the writing style kept me from giving this a much higher review score.

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