REVIEW: The Salvation Gambit by Emily Skrutskie

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A hotheaded hacker must outwit the AI at the heart of a rogue warship–turned–penal colony if she and her crew of con women want to escape with their lives in this electrifying sci-fi thriller from the acclaimed author of Bonds of Brass.

Murdock has always believed in Hark, the woman who shaped her from a petty thief and lowlife hacker into a promising con artist. Hark is everything Murdock aspires to be, from her slick fashion sense to her unfailing ability to plan under pressure. Together with Bea, a fearless driver who never walks away from a bet, and Fitz, Murdock’s infuriatingly mercurial rival who can sweet-talk the galaxy into spinning around her finger, they form a foursome with a reputation for daring heists, massive payoffs, and never, ever getting caught.

Well, until now.

Getting caught is one thing. Getting tithed to a sentient warship that’s styled itself into a punitive god is a problem this team has never faced before. Aboard the Justice is a world stitched together from the galaxy’s sinners—some fighting for survival, some struggling to build a civilized society, and some sacrificing everything to worship the AI at the heart of the ship.

The Justice’s all-seeing eyes are fixed on its newest acquisitions, Murdock in particular. It has use for a hacker—if it can wrest her devotion away from Hark. And Murdock’s faith is already fractured. To escape the Justice’s madness, they need a plan, and Hark might not be up to the task.

If Hark—brilliant, unflappable Hark—can’t plot a way out, Murdock will have to use every last trick she’s learned to outwit the Justice, resist its temptation, and get her crew out alive.

Dear Ms. Skrutskie,

A space opera about lesbian con artists going up against a sentient spaceship sounded like a bit of fun. I also liked the fact that it’s not a 550 page tome and seems to be a stand alone story. The action starts in media res and at the point I stopped reading, never seemed to stop. But when I start heckling the MC (I do adore MST3K) and little else is working for me, I know when to quit. Note to self – when the main character is described in the blurb as “hot headed,” I should pay more attention.

Murdock is part of a gang of high achieving con artists. She was a low life thief on a transfer space station when Hark – the clever one – whisked Murdock away and into the group. Murdock is supposed to be the hacker, the one who stays in the background, infiltrates the tech and keeps the others safe as they work their magic and make off with the money. But something went wrong – something that Murdock is shocked to find out that Hark thinks Murdock is responsible for – and when a sentient spaceship that used to be a warship arrives at the planet where their con was taking place and demands “sinners,” the gang of four are handed over to what they discover is a sort of penal colony which no one ever escapes. You can choose how you want to exist there – either (sort of) law abiding colonists, scavs who attack the colonists as well as newcomers onboard, or as blindly loyal followers of the AI which runs the Justice.

None of the four women know what they’ve been dumped into so neither does the reader. Our first glimpse of Murdock is her trying to bash her way out of being dumped on the ship. It doesn’t end well and as Murdock snarls at Fitz for not joining her in the attempt, Fitz replies she knew it wouldn’t work and the way she knew that is because Murdock planned it. Well, planned isn’t exactly correct as Murdock never seems to actually think before bashing her way into or out of something. Things usually don’t go well when she does this. The fact that the blurb has told me that Murdock is going to have to be the one to save the day wasn’t giving me warm or fuzzy feelings.

Murdock bashes, smashes, and crashes her way through life on board. She snarls at her friends and foes. She seems nothing so much as a petulant juvenile delinquent. She also worships Hark. Well, both of the other women appear to do so as well. Hark is described as the sun they revolve around. It’s Hark this and Hark that and Hark is going to think up a plan and save the day. Hark seems to shit gold and fart fairy dust. Pretty soon I was sick of her as well as Murdock.

The backstory for the previous con actions and characters is told via exposition. I also wasn’t sure how old these characters are supposed to be. Murdock reads young and the violence isn’t all that violent so the feel is more YA than adult. As I said the first 40% of the book seems to be non-stop action but for all that, it also felt awfully slow and not much had actually happened. I realize that this is supposed to be a coming of age story but I just found that I didn’t like Murdock enough to care and keep reading. DNF


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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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