Reviews

ASCENDING

Publishers Weekly

“First contact with aliens means learning how to say you’re sorry in this very personal journal of a voyage to another world. Grad student Avery Alcott is the first human to be taught the language of the alien Vardeshi, who visited Earth briefly 25 years earlier. Upon returning, the Vardeshi ask for a representative to travel to their homeworld, and Avery’s fluency makes her the perfect candidate. After hurried training, she wins a post aboard a Vardeshi ship and must begin learning Vardeshi culture by immersion while making a case for alliance with Earth. Courteous and reserved, the Vardeshi are not quick to respond to her overtures, and some are openly hostile. Though Avery starts to make friends, sabotage threatens her hard-won acceptance and even her life. Debut novelist Pechenick takes a slow, deliberate path to unfolding the secrets of her characters and her universe, which allows for close observations but threatens to stall the narrative. Readers who appreciate deep cultural worldbuilding akin to C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner books will stick with a maturing Avery despite all her journey’s detours. (BookLife)”

Kirkus

“In this sci-fi debut, a graduate student’s ability to speak an alien language makes her essential to the prospective alliance between humans and the extraterrestrials.

Avery Alcott was born in 1993, the same year Earth had first contact with the humanoid Vardeshi. But the peaceful aliens left shortly after arrival, offering the vague reason that humans were “a volatile race.” More than two decades later, Avery’s professor Dr. Alistair Sawyer at a California graduate school offers her a unique opportunity. Having spent years translating the Vardeshi’s native tongue from various recordings, Sawyer teaches it to Avery. When the Vardeshi subsequently return, Avery is the primary choice for a cultural exchange. In fact, she won’t merely be living among them; she becomes a low-ranking member of their fleet for a one-year, round-trip journey to their home planet, Vardesh Prime. Acclimating to the Vardeshi aboard the ship, Pinion, is strenuous: It takes time for Avery to master nuances of language and customs. But the ship’s commander, Khavi Vekesh, isn’t interested in exchanging cultures, as he orders others not to converse in English with Avery. It’s soon clear someone on Pinion opposes a human/Vardeshi partnership and enacts a dastardly scheme to ensure its failure. In her series opener, Pechenick aptly parallels the human/alien relationship with the real-life diversity of world cultures. For example, in this book there are some, including certain groups on Earth, who protest the alliance while Avery strives to immerse herself in Vardeshi traditions without losing her own. The story’s steady pace meticulously develops characters, such as Zey Takheri; he shares the same low rank as Avery and becomes a loyal friend to the often lonely woman. Along with a touch of suspense (a threat to the ship and crew near the end), there’s humor: The aliens’ initial visit ultimately produced Vardeshi-obsessed fans, called Vaku, as well as popular Vardramas on TV. Though the narrative is predominantly in English, the author adds a few choice Vardeshi words and includes a glossary.

Thoroughly enthralling, thanks to humanity’s representative—a perceptive, tireless protagonist.”

Author Sherwood Smith (via GoodReads)

“In 1993, Earth made contact with aliens., the Vardeshi.

Skip up to the present, and for the first time in the very tenuous alliance, some carefully selected young people are being sent to the Vardeshi as diplomats and scientists, etc.

Avery is our first person narrator. She has been fascinated with the Vardeshi (who wouldn’t be, they look kinda like elves without the ears, or like bishonen, woo!) and, after four years of mastering Mandarin, is ready to tackle the Vardeshi language, which has even more tones, not to mention alien ways of thinking. Their tech is beyond current human limitations, and they seem to have eradicated wars and personal difficulties. What’s not to admire?

She is the sole human on board a ship destined to take her to the Vardeshi home planet. On the ship, she’s the lowest ranking person, which means doing all the grunt work–while cooking all her own food, as the scientists are being very careful about inadvertent bio hazards going both ways.

Anyone who has ever gone to another country after studying their language for a few years, and assuming fluency, will resonate with how well the author has depicted culture shock in all its permutations, from physical to emotional.

This book starts off somewhat slowly, but I found myself engaged with the voice. Avery is a language and history nerd, but she also loves serial dramas. (Which becomes important!) Gradually the pace quickens, then speeds up to a terrific finish.

I loved the worldbuilding, the attention to detail, the development of the characters. I also really love high tech aliens who love beauty. By the end I was so involved I went straight out and bought the second one, though I have a huge TBR pile and I’d promised myself No New Books Till The Pile Is Not Threatening To Bury Me.

Well, I broke the promise, and read half the night in the second book!

Copy provided by NetGalley”

BRIGHT SHARDS

Author Sherwood Smith (via GoodReads)

“I devoured this second installment in the Vardeshi Saga–and am left hoping very strongly that there will be a third. And a fourth, and so on. There are so many tantalizing questions!

This second volume (which should not be read before the first) concerns Avery Alcott’s further adventures with the beautiful, enigmatic, and complex Vardeshi, once certain events were resolved in the first book. She has a choice whether to be escorted on to Vardeshi Prime via a VIP ship, or to continue with the smaller Fleet vessel, and the same crew, with whom she established relations in the first book.

There are consequences to either choice–which is one of the strengths of this series, how all actions and decisions have consequences. The focus in this second book is tighter on Avery and certain among the crew, in particular the three brothers she got to know in the first book.

In this one she gets to know them a whole lot better.

The action again becomes quite fast-paced, with unexpected twists and turns. There is a strong romantic thread in this second volume, beautifully realized as characters gain depth, both male and female. We learn more about the Listening, and there are other glimpses inside the Vardeshi, as the tenuous alliance with humanity is tested by circumstances.

So many scenes of luminous beauty, and appreciation for music and what it means to us. There is also a glimpse of the dark side, opening up yet more intriguing questions.

Margaret Pechenick joins my list of buy-on-sight indie authors. So very glad to have made this discovery–I am left so thankful that indie voices can be heard in today’s publishing climate, the downside being, that unless you’re wealthy enough to buy a ton of publicity, they depend on word of mouth to find their audience.

So here I am, trying to spread the word.”