Author: Holly Ash
Rating: 4/5 Stars
I first met Holly a little over a year ago when fate (and a persistent recruiter from the NaNoWriMo Forums ;D) brought us together in a Camp NaNo cabin. I was familiar with her story at that point—we’d occasionally left reviews on each other’s excerpts via NaNo—and I was so excited to get to know more about her, and the story. I was already in love with the premise and with her main character, even though sci-fi is not usually my genre of choice. I eagerly read every scrap she’d give me over the ensuing year, and when I found out she was publishing this fall, I was absolutely overjoyed.
I had no idea what was waiting for me within the pages of the completed Crystal & Flint.
Crystal & Flint is an underwater sci-fi adventure taking place on the distant planet Neophia. Centuries before the start of the tale, humans came to Neophia. In all that time, there hasn’t been a worldwide consensus on how much influence humans ought to have over the native land. With political tensions high leading up to a military summit, Lieutenant Commander Crystal Wolf and her team are throwing putting everything else aside to complete work on Journey, a mega submarine, in hopes of bringing calm and peace at the summit.
Working both for and against Wolf is Desiree Flint, a human Medal of Honor recipient looking to get back in the action. With the end of her political career in sight, Flint is determined to one-up Wolf and establish her own place in the military pecking order on Neophia – as close to the top as she can get. While the two women struggle against one another’s plans, pride, and reputation, someone is working behind the scenes to sabotage Journey’s launch. And a face from Crystal’s past is plotting beneath the troubled waters.
Crystal is such an intricate character. I love the time taken to flesh out her past and her motivations. While she’s immediately introduced as a tough, no-nonsense Commander basically married to her work, over time we see why that work is so important. Her family history is not only tragic but also stands as huge goal she must measure up to; her love life is riddled with betrayal, hurt, and disillusionment; and she lives in an environment of constant tension between full-humans, part-humans, and the native species of Neophia. Yet where it would’ve been so easy for Holly to make her a frigid, dark, self-centered character, Crystal’s concern for her team and her career are fairly well-balanced. It’s in the area of self-care that she needs to grow, and Holly takes her on that journey with grace and realism, bringing Crystal face-to-face with her past in numerous ways that reveal her own flaws and weaknesses and how she can become better for herself and her team.
Desiree Flint is a character who, if you love Crystal, you’ll probably be annoyed with at first. I sure was! Where Crystal’s arc is to learn to care for herself more, Desi’s is to care for herself less. Proud, cold, and calculating, Desi takes no prisoners and will stop at absolutely nothing to achieve her goal – or so it seems. But just like with Crystal, Holly drew out this incredible journey of self-realization and growth from Desi that led me from wanting to strangle her to absolutely rooting for her. No punches are pulled (literally) with either of these ladies, giving them both strengths and weaknesses that feel realistic within their history and the world they’re learning to live in.
In addition to these captivating female leads, there’s an array of a supporting cast with unique, distinct personalities that were easy to fall in love with: Grady, Crystal’s best friend and for-all-purposes-brother, whose devotion and clownishness are both welcomed when tensions run high; Tyler Price, Crystal’s half-brother who’s determined to mend their broken relationship no matter what; and Justin, Desiree’s right-hand-man and the first man to crack the hard shell Crystal’s had around her heart for years.
All of these characters interact in ways that just made my heart sing. The banter, the friction, the distinct relationships and how they all marry and bounce off each other. It was a pure delight to read. Crystal and Justin were a couple I’d rooted for in just the few excerpts I read before the manuscript went into deep edits. Now I love them even more. It’s a respectful, balanced relationship where both sides push the other to be better and in which their care and devotion for each other rises from attraction to respect to something much, much deeper. The ending had me absolutely swooning and cheering for these two to find their happy ending by the close of the series. Holly worked hard to write a relationship that made sense, and boy did she ever succeed.
The worldbuilding in C&F is woven throughout the story. As the plot moves along, we gain insight into inter-species politics, geography and locations, military tactics and also the underlying conflict stirred up between the Sertex, Aquieneins, and other species. There’s also the looming threats made by the man who murdered Crystal’s parents and his submilitary group who are slowly overtaking colonies into their force, called Teria. These details are sprinkled throughout the narrative and plot in a timely way that keeps the reader form being overwhelmed.
While the overarching plot of C&F could be called simple – a nine-month deadline pushed up to five weeks, and how that works out – it reads as anything but. The intricacies of the interpersonal drama and subplots of friction, sabotage, self-discovery, and team-building keep the plot both barreling forward at an exciting pace, and also ground the five weeks so that they feel like a realistic passage of time. Ultimately, it’s not in the success or failure of Journey’s launch that the timeframe feels real, but in the growth of characters and their relationships during that time. This angle was really driven home for me in one particular scene, where the cast goes drinking and dancing at a military cantina. When reflecting backward from that scene to where everyone was at the start, it truly felt like I’d spent five weeks watching these people grow and weave around one another.
Crystal & Flint is written with a kind of crisp, straightforward prose I’ve come to expect the more I read sci-fi, so in that regard it’s a credit to it’s genre. While there are a few places the dialogue waxes a little more eloquent than seems fitting, these moments are few and far between. C&F is a story delivered in uncomplicated, approachable, sensible terms that keep it from feeling burdened down under the information being conveyed about this alien planet and its political intricacies.
Crystal & Flint was so much fun to read. I knocked out the majority of it in the car while traveling out of state and I couldn’t put it down for more than a few minutes before questions and excitement would have me tearing it open again. The only thing keeping this from being a 5 star read for me was a few spelling/grammar errors. In all other regards this book was nothing short of fantastic, and I was so ecstatic to hold it in my hands and finally read it cover-to-cover. Crystal & Flint has been a tremendous labor of love for Holly Ash for many years, and I highly recommend it to all sci-fi readers!
You can pick up a copy of Crystal & Flint HERE!