Tom DeLonge and AJ Hartley Jump Right Back In
Though on the surface a relatively simple occurrence, strange lights in the sky have teased, taunted and titillated our collective imagination since ancient times. Whether or not we have come any closer to understanding them is one question which will probably live on for quite some time. Thankfully though, we have authors like Tom DeLonge and AJ Hartley to keep us occupied in the meanwhile, dreaming up fantastic scenarios our eventual encounter with aliens could lead to. They have begun the saga of four people marked by otherworldly alien powers with Sekret Machines Book 1: Chasing Shadows, and they continue right where they left off with the very aptly-named Sekret Machines Book 2: A Fire Within.
Before I go any further into it, I would like to note many readers have complained about the Kindle version being terribly formatted and nigh-unreadable. Personally I read the hardcover edition, therefore I have no input to provide on this matter other than the words of others. Allegedly it seems the problems have recently been resolved for Kindle, though there still seem to be issues with other readers such as Jindal Fire. In other words, I would recommend either the hardcover or audio-book versions if you prefer to play it safe.
In any case, we pick up essentially where the previous book left off, with our four characters now marked by powers they barely know anything about or how to control. They have witnessed the black suits and scientists responsible for the unexplained, keepers of innumerable secrets from mankind. Now hunted by a powerful cabal thirsting for unimaginable power, our four heroes – Jennifer, Timika, Alan and Barry – find themselves on their own missions. While Barry and Alan test the extent of their new-found powers in secret military base, Jennifer and Timika set out to find an ancient tablet which might very well dictate the future of mankind.
No Beats Missed
DeLonge and Hartley don’t waste any time getting into the meat of the story, rightfully using all the world-building and character development from the previous book to its fullest potential. It assumes the reader is familiar with the first book and is up to date with the story. As a result we are directly thrown into a fast-paced plot which immediately feels like it contrasts with the first book, being more event and action-oriented. I feel this slight change of direction was not only welcome but also necessary for the story to have any chance of succeeding; after all, when you spend an entire first book of the series building something up, there better be a payoff in the next one. This speed-centric approach becomes more and more obvious as you get further into the book, going in full swing over the last hundred pages or so with chapters getting increasingly shorter and intense.
While a fast pace is often exciting and capable of carrying the reader through the book quicker than they can notice it, it does come with a caveat: there are places where the story feels rather rushed and some interesting elements only get glossed over at best. It’s more apparent towards the last chapters when the book begins to feel somewhat unfocused and it’s unclear what the authors are trying to capture the reader’s attention with. If it is an attempt to conceal the relatively banal route followed by the plot, then I would venture to say it at least semi-worked as I found myself simply enjoying the present moment of the ride rather than look behind or in front of me. It’s more in hindsight where this book’s flaws become apparent, which I believe is a far lesser sin than having them stand out during the reading itself.
Facts, Truth and the Stars
While the book may be very largely focused on action, it is contained across almost seven hundred pages, which still leaves a relatively large amount of room for additional elements to be integrated. Namely, the authors did their best to include real-world aspects basing them on various findings in the field of alien research. Now, I feel slightly conflicted about this part of the book, namely due to it being a project of To The Stars Academy who have a shaky reputation to say the least. Some believe in the organization, others denounce them as crooks and scammers. This is not the place to have this debate, but I cannot feel like I must take with a huge grain of salt anything an organization with a cloudy reputation tries to present as fact. In other words, I highly recommend treating the entire thing as a piece of fiction so you can focus on the plot rather than be concerned with what’s real and what isn’t.
With this being said, I took an approach as objective as possible and tried to see these scientific concepts and alleged facts as ideas which might merit further exploration, or at least a bit of dedicated thinking. At the very least, I found it helped pique my curiosity about space exploration and the search for alien life in the cosmos, having me come up with thoughts and ideas using the power of my own grey cells. Whether or not this was the authors’ intention I cannot say with any true certainty, but I am overall glad it turned out this way.
The Final Verdict
Ultimately, Sekret Machines Book 2: A Fire Within is a nice work of science-fiction, and while it might be cookie-cutter and even average in some segments, on the whole I found it to be an engaging and fast-paced story with the ability to push me to think for myself. If you have read the first book in the series and enjoyed it, I believe you will also be quite pleased with this second one… especially if you felt book one moved a bit too slowly.
Andrew James Hartley is a British-born American writer of mystery and thriller adventures. He received the 2012 SIBA Book Award (young adult) for Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact, as well as four other prizes for Steeplejack, including the 2017 Thriller Award from International Thriller Writers and the 2017 Manly Wade Wellman Award for science fiction and fantasy.