A thought occurred to me as I was looking for something quick to read while waiting for a library hold to come through. As much as I loved the Grand Admiral Thrawn Trilogy, I had never read anything else that Timothy Zahn has written. Hoping to change that, I started browsing my library’s e-book catalog and happened upon The Icarus Hunt, a stand-alone novel originally published back in 1999.
The story was told from the point of view of Jordan McKell, a down on his luck smuggler hopelessly indebted to a powerful crime boss. On the verge of finishing his most recent assignment, he was approached in a spaceport tavern by a man offering a job with a payday too good to refuse. Jordan hesitantly accepted, and found himself teamed up with a makeshift crew recruited under the same circumstances. They were given the relatively simple task of delivering an odd spaceship (the Icarus) and its unspecified cargo to a contact on Earth. When an accident leaves one of the crewmen dead, Jordan suspects a saboteur is aboard and begins to have doubts about his both crew and mission. These suspicions are enhanced when he finds they are being not so discreetly hunted by agents of an alien government intent upon capturing the ship. As these pursuers close in and the number of incidents aboard the ship increase, Jordan and his partner Ixil endeavor to stay one step ahead of their enemies, their only chance at survival to find out who among the crew is the traitor and unlock the secrets of the Icarus’ mysterious cargo.
Incorporating elements of mystery and science fiction into a cohesive and engaging story, this was the e-book the equivalent of page turner. The mystery aspects were perhaps the most central to the book’s identity, and despite not being a reader of that genre, I enjoyed watching them unravel as I read on. I really got into the story and appreciated how hints dropped throughout the book paid off at an ending made all the more satisfying in that it wasn’t revealed too early or made too easy to guess.The sci-fi element was primarily of the space opera variety and introduced a diverse universe populated with a variety of alien races, worlds, and futuristic technologies. While these things were certainly used to good effect throughout the story, they were always in support of the mystery plot as opposed to the main focus. As a result, the book often had the feeling of a mystery novel that also happened to be set in space, as opposed to a full-on Star Wars-like adventure. That said, there were a few sci-fi elements I found particularly interesting; namely McKell’s reptilian partner Ixil with his symbiotic ferret pets and the author’s insightful use of advances in mobile communication technology (keeping in mind that this was written in 1999).
My one criticism of the book (and this is a fairly small one) was that there were a few action sequences in which I found it difficult to follow what was happening. Overall though these were pretty isolated incidents and did not have a significant impact on my reading or enjoyment of these sections as a whole. Most of the action was fast paced yet clear-cut and well-integrated into the rest of the book.
That one minor criticism aside, I had a lot of fun reading this book and spending time in its universe. While not quite as deep as some of the other Sci-Fi novels I’ve enjoyed recently, it did succeed in telling a fun story that was often difficult to put down. Since it also inspired me to add a few more of Timothy Zahn’s works to my reading list, I am going to go ahead and recommend The Icarus Hunt to anyone intrigued by the description. Really happy I happened upon this book.