In this second book in the Breaker of Empires series, Lieutenant Sikander North is assigned to a remote outpost in the crumbling Tzoru Empire, where an alien uprising presents a number of seemingly insurmountable challenges that could mean his disgrace or redemption.
From a character standpoint, Sikander makes for an interesting protagonist. Alongside his difficulties integrating with an imposed culture lives a man who wants to do the right thing. A hero in the classic mould ... [I] was immensely pleased to see time given to Sikander’s antagonist as a viewpoint ... It’s here the text excels, giving us an antagonist who is...thoughtful, idealistic and determined to do the right thing—by their own lights. The complexity is appreciated, and gives some added depth in between the compelling action sequences. This is a story which asks questions of its readers. When is social and cultural capital a weapon? How far can you stretch soft-power? What are the ramifications of economic warfare, and can you push people far enough that they’re willing to act in their own worst interests just to make it stop? ... It keeps you turning pages, that’s a fact. The characters definitely have the depth and complexity of real people, and they’re working against a well-drawn background to provide a masterful blend of politics, personal drama and hard-hitting military action ... if you need some more sci-fi military action, this continues to be a breakout series that is absolutely worthy of your attention.
Richard Baker’s Restless Lightning is a wonderful, delectable bucket of vanilla ice cream, set in an idealistic vision of a future age of space exploration. Baker is not afraid to flood the reader with alien and military lingo, flexing twenty-five years of experience designing tabletop role playing games for industry titan Wizards of the Coast. The dearth of unexplained vocabulary avoids obstructing the flow of the story, instead creating a pseudo-realistic atmosphere a la Star Trek ... this book takes a rose-colored detour to a universe where every character has the best intentions ... the only weak aspects of this novel are some poorly timed flashback sequences, where Sikander North faces demons of his past. These sequences try to bring depth to North as a protagonist, but unfortunately end up hurting the story’s otherwise smooth plot. These sections are thankfully few and far between. Four hundred pages later, Baker’s space romp concludes with a space battle, foot chase and an explosion, as it should. Wrapped up in a pretty pink bow, Restless Lightning is a fun fireside read, perfect to break up the stresses of everyday life.
Richard Baker’s Restless Lightning...is a cut above thoughtless imperialism, but to be honest, it isn’t precisely what I was hoping for out of military science fiction or space opera ... though Baker at least acknowledges the existence of queer people, one might look in vain for named queer characters...Restless Lightning provides additional evidence that however Baker intends to develop his Sikander Singh North books, they seem set to continue in this pattern ... This is a readable military romp of a novel. It suffers, however, from Baker’s lack of vision in terms of worldbuilding—this is a decidedly bland and familiar future—and from his decidedly middling gifts with character ... although it’s light and mostly enjoyable, it never succeeds in giving rise to a coherent thematic argument, or in becoming more than the sum of its parts.