**Spoilers for Zenith and Azimuth.**
It starts with a bang – and continues with a whimper, with not much happening for about 40% of the story.*
But when it finally delivers, it's back to Bang! again.
This is the third instalment in a series of m/m romance space opera/ time-travel stories. The first two parts have been a refreshing change to the usual m/m sci-fi fare: solid science-fiction stories with a lot of stuff happening in different time lines and a bit of romance in the background. Insurrection leaves this path and brings the romance to the front. It's the most relationship-focused instalment of the series – and has been a very mixed bag for me.
The first half I was mostly bored.
These stories have never been character-driven. This latest instalment reads like the author tried to change that (maybe due to quite a few readers asking for more romance), giving us more background information about his central characters and more human interaction. I can understand why he went there, but I doubt it was a wise choice. It just served to show what Ahsanuddin is lacking as an author: He's an author of action, not an author of feelz, good when describing what people are doing, but not so good when he tries to tackle their motivations, or the psychology behind them. And there's nothing wrong with that! A lot of space operas aren't driven by characters or emotions, relying on ragtag crews with one or two distinguishing character-traits for each member, fighting villainous villains – and it works! The attempt give the characters more depth is admirable, but didn't work here didn't. Not for me.
I mean, just take Edward as an example: The boy killed a whole world, destroyed a whole time line for mostly selfish reasons, but Ahsanuddin clearly has no idea how to translate this guilt into an emotion palpable for the reader.
The multiple romances continue to be equally devoid of real emotions; this didn't bug me as much in the previous instalments, because there the romance was kept in the background. Dragging it to the front shows the series weaknesses again: constant muttered „I love you“s are no replacement for actual feelings, and marriage proposals don't equal true love (I don't get why they are all so hung up on marrying anyway, but that might be just me). These characters are talking about their feelings a lot, but the only relationship here I can actually believe in is the one between Jacob and Thomas.
That doesn't mean there's nothing to enjoy here. Around 40%, the plot finally - finally! - makes a reappearance and the story recovers to the strength that made Azimuth such an enjoyable read. It offers many twist and turns, secrets wrapped in more secrets, and a lot of Redshirts dropping dead on the way – as well as some more important protagonists.
I still needed to suspend my disbelieve quite a bit: I've noticed before that Ahsanuddin's characters have a tendency to overreact – instead of knocking on the door, they blow up the whole house. Admiral Crazypants I and II here are no exceptions to the rule, always relying on the most extreme measures. But it makes for a fast-paced, exciting story, so I just got over my misgivings and enjoyed the ride.
The high-stake, high-octane action is where Ahsanuddin can shine. A very good editor might smooth the kinks, tease out believable, psychologically sound motivations and reactions from the characters, cut the story where it needs cutting, and add where it needs adding. The basis is there. (Apparently there was an editor in on this. Well... I still think the details need work.)
*Jaja, I hate people quoting T.S. Eliot in PA-reviews (only thing worse is PA authors quoting T.S. Eliot) , and now I'm doing it myself. So much for consistency.