Crystal and Flint: A Promising Start to an Action-Oriented SciFi Series
Crystal and Flint (by Holly Ash) has been on my list for a few months, and I read most of it while on a plane back and forth between Washington DC. It’s a fun read; the premise shows promise, and the book delivers a creative, character driven narrative, leaving you hanging on a number of plot points until the last thirty pages or so.
Was the book perfect? No. We’ll see what the scores say below, but Crystal and Flint had very high “highs” and a few mediocre “lows.” However, I was never bored, and I was always thoroughly entertained when reading it . . . but there was something about the book that stuck weird in my mind as I turned its pages. More on that later. In the end, I think it’s a good thing, at least for other readers.
First, let’s talk about the novel’s premise. Crystal and Flint posits a world called Neophia connected to Earth through a gateway of some sort, though it was originally discovered via spaceflight. A fascinating concept, and while the mechanics of travel between the planets isn’t fully expounded, what’s more important is that Holly Ash uses the device to create a fascinating societal dynamics between the humans and the natives of the new planet. Fast-forward a few hundred years, and humans and the people of Neophia have interbred and created a new, dynamic culture.
Now, evolutionary questions aside (plenty of scifi allows for interbreeding of humanoid species), I do hope the relationship between Neophia natives and humans is explored in a later book. There’s lots of fun ways to do it (Stargate is my favorite). But for now, we’ll assume Ash has a clear explanation that may or may not be explored further down the line.
Through interbreeding and technological exchange, humanity intertwines with Neophia. Naturally, not everyone likes the established colonial relationship, and war comes to the people of Neophia. And in the midst of a Cold War, we follow the story of two young women, Crystal and Flint, military commanders for a super-submarine called Journey (hence the series name, Journey Missions). They’re on the same side, but their ambitions cause them to knock heads with one another. It’s a fun conflict to watch, though I was less than satisfied with its conclusion in Book 1. Fortunately, there are hints near the end that the conflict will gain new strength throughout future tales.
As their conflict waxes and wanes, romance enters the fold, too, in more ways than one. Crystal has a checkered past, and I won’t spoil how lost romances drives the building military political drama happening behind the scenes, but its well done. Yet at the same time, Crystal explores a new relationship with one of her soldiers . . . and thus we arrive at the part of the story that sat weird with me.
Crystal and Flint, at its core, is military science fiction. Holly Ash uses her environmental engineering background to explore big-picture tech concepts, through the creation of a really cool military sub, hints at complex and depressing environmental conditions on Earth, and a Cold-War-esque conflict brewing on Neophia. Yet at the same time, I felt like I was reading a Young Adult novel.
Now, that’s not a knock on Young Adult novels. As a genre, YA has a lot of great strengths, and one thing it does really well is communicate “love-triangles” and the complexities of growing older amidst conflict and strife. However, in Crystal and Flint, the main characters are all around the age of 25. The relationship sub-plots are written well (a few cringy lines here or there, but hey, romance is cringy sometimes!), but they felt out of place in the start of an otherwise military-scifi-political-epic.
But I think that’s a matter of taste for me. When I think of Military scifi, I think of books written by David Weber, 500 to 600 page behemoths about space battles occurring at millions of kilometers, or the Expanse, or even Forever War.
But I don’t think Holly Ash was trying to emulate those books. In Crystal and Flint She’s writing her own thing, and she’s created a bridge between YA and Military scifi worth applauding. So while I may not have enjoyed the mix on every page, people looking to taste military scifi should absolutely read Crystal and Flint, especially because its only 330 or so pages, as opposed to the regular length of the military scifi I read!
After that needlessly long tirade, it’s time for the scores!
Writing: 6.5/10. Holly Ash writes exceptionally clear, and it’s easy to understand. I give it higher than my usual average of “6” for writing because it communicates the story so effectively. It doesn’t go higher, though, because the writing, while clear, felt a bit wordy in certain passages.
Characters: 8/10. The dynamic rivalry between Crystal and Flint is fun, even if it wanes a little earlier than I expected. I hope it gains full force in subsequent books!
Setting: 7.5/10. This is one of those books I think could have benefited greatly from a map. The historical and scientific worldbuilding performed by Holly Ash in this novel is exceptional, but I could never establish a sense of place in my mind.
Plot: 7/10. It’s a good story. I expanded on my issues in mixing a YA romance dynamic into military scifi as not to my taste, but I think it works, and more importantly, I think it was the story Holly Ash wanted to tell, and it’s a story worth telling.
Overall: 7.25/10. Crystal and Flint earns four stars! If anyone’s been unsure about the military science fiction genre, Holly Ash’s debut novel is for you. Give it a shot, you’ll turn those pages faster than you might think.