3 out of 4 stars
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Oberlin’s Anomaly by L. Chance Shiver uses some tried-and-true elements of alien mythos, from aliens who altered the course of human evolution to a galactic council protecting planet-locked sapients. At the same time, though, it incorporates some of its own flavor with a covert alien mining operation and a cadre of genetically altered "Warriors" who seek to stop it. The main character, Jack Starkey, is the latest member of this group. When the enemy aliens, known as Archarans, threaten their secrecy, Starkey and his fellow Warriors engage in a campaign to finally wipe them from the face of the planet.
In terms of plot, this book is just fun. The alien species and technology are exciting and mysterious while still having clearly defined goals, and Starkey's personal journey, which involves getting over the deaths of his wife and son, is compelling. The conflicts with the Archarans escalate naturally, and tension is maintained throughout, and there's not a lot of complex intrigue. Unfortunately, there are also lots of plot elements that are dropped in suddenly or never expanded upon sufficiently, like the alien technology that the Warriors can conveniently control right away. I also felt some "twists" were very predictable, like the identity of the traitor in their midst.
The book manages a core group of characters fairly well, and they all have their own goals and desires that make them feel distinct. For example, one of the Warriors is sick of fighting a war in secret and just wants to continue her basketball career. However, I did feel like the author relied too much on the perceived "exotic" nature of certain ethnicities, rather than creating a cast that was interesting in its own right. Many of them could've had much more depth, though I'm sure future books in the series will deliver in that regard.
In terms of writing style, this book is effective. The dialogue isn't stilted, and the characters' feelings and motivations are portrayed well. I did think the action scenes were described a bit blandly, though. There are a lot of unnecessary perspective shifts that presented redundant information; these passages felt like worldbuilding exercises that should have remained unpublished. The book also has several grammatical errors, including missing quotation marks and homophone confusion, and while they're not too distracting, they do make the writing seem somewhat unprofessional.
All in all, I enjoyed reading this book. However, it did lack polish in several areas, so I rate it 3 out of 4 stars. It suffers from the same lack of polish as most first-time novels, and I felt like it should've been rewritten two or three more times, but it's still entertaining in its own right. If you're interested in stories about hidden alien conspiracies that don't take themselves too seriously, it's worth looking into. There's a lot of potential here, and I can see future sequels expanding upon the universe in some very exciting ways.
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