Book Review of Gabriel’s Return, by Steve Umstead
I had been looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Gabriel’s Return for several months, since I finished reading the first installment of the Evan Gabriel Trilogy, Gabriel’s Redemption, earlier this year. This science fiction series, written by Steve Umstead, established itself as an action-packed and intelligent saga with Gabriel’s Redemption, but this latest installment builds on the realistic future world of Lieutenant Commander Evan Gabriel in an extremely entertaining and satisfying way.
At the risk of hyperbole, I believe that Steve Umstead has created what I can only describe as a Tom Clancy-esque world a few hundred years into the future. There are many layers to this story – personal conflicts, military engagements, political maneuvering and, of course, the action-packed tactical elements – that are skillfully delivered throughout the narrative. There are so many plots and counter plots, actions and counter actions, that at one point I wondered if all the loose ends could be addressed adequately. In short, they were addressed, and quite effectively.
For a science fiction or fantasy novel to work, the writer has to win over the reader with the world he or she has created. The world within Gabriel’s Return is not only compelling, but its realism makes the most fantastic elements seem plausible. I very much enjoyed the brainy nuances of this stroy, such as the physical limits to communicating across vast reaches of space, or the effect of weather and the environment on the military gear of the protagonists as they slogged through the steamy jungles of Eden. The futuristic settings are very cool, but have an edgy, gritty realism that helped to pull me into this world.
Good science fiction also has its human element, and again in this area Umstead does a fantastic job. The protagonists are noble, heroic, and dedicated. The antagonists are ruthless, calculating, and in many ways merciless. But they’re ALL human, none are omniscient, and they’re all driven by emotions that make them vulnerable to miscalculation. No one really has all the cards, and so the reader is left guessing as to which side will come out on top. This is effectively played out throughout the novel, but is wonderfully illustrated in a few separate scenes where both Gabriel and the military commander of an enemy terrorist group, Chaud, are seen worrying about whether they each have made enough preparation to defeat the other as the reader approaches the climax.
I enjoyed the first installment, Gabriel’s Redemption, quite a bit. But Steve Umstead’s delivery of Gabriel’s Return demonstrates that he knows how to up the ante. After reading Return, along with its cliff hanger ending, I can honestly say that I hope Steve is well underway on the third installment.