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Linesman #1


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First in a brand new thought-provoking science fiction series.

The lines. No ship can traverse the void without them. Only linesmen can work with them. But only Ean Lambert hears their song. And everyone thinks he’s crazy…

Most slum kids never go far, certainly not becoming a level-ten linesman like Ean. Even if he’s part of a small, and unethical, cartel, and the other linesmen disdain his self-taught methods, he’s certified and working.

Then a mysterious alien ship is discovered at the edges of the galaxy. Each of the major galactic powers is desperate to be the first to uncover the ship’s secrets, but all they’ve learned is that it has the familiar lines of energy—and a defense system that, once triggered, annihilates everything in a 200 kilometer radius.

The vessel threatens any linesman who dares to approach it, except Ean. His unique talents may be the key to understanding this alarming new force—and reconfiguring the relationship between humans and the ships that serve them, forever.

384 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published June 30, 2015

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S.K. Dunstall

5 books410 followers

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5 stars
1,135 (36%)
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538 (17%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 369 reviews
November 9, 2019
Actual rating: 3.75 stars. And a half.

Yet another wondrous MacHalo Buddy Read! Well, I'm, um, you know, assuming it was wondrous and stuff. Back when it happened and stuff. Because I'm, um, you know, a little late for it and stuff. Not much though. Just, um, you know, a couple of years and stuff. Pretty insignificant when you're nefariously immortal like me, really.

But anyway. This Linesman business. Let's get the negative stuff over with right away, shall we? The book is sloooooooow paced. Well it is at first. It's kind of a wonder I didn't DNF, actually. Okay, so I did temporarily DNF it the first time I gave it a try (you know, back in the days when you were all toddlers, in 2016). But I am strong and resilient and reasonable now, meaning I no longer give up on books because I'm slightly bored. No I don't. Certainly not. Okay, where were we? Oh yes, the pace of the book is as hypersonic as a burned out, sleep-deprived barnacle. BUT. There is something about the story that makes it worth slightly nodding off for the first half of the book. What "something," you ask? Wait and see, Young Padawan, wait and see. The big, fascinating reveal shall come in due time.

Okay, let's not get too over excited here, my Tiny Decapods. The big, fascinating reveal in question isn't that earth shattering either. But hey, I appreciate the enthusiasm and stuff.

Another thing that's kinda sorta off putting at first is the main character. It's not that he is repulsively unlikable and stuff, it's just that he kinda sorta comes across as a little whimpish at first. Ugh and stuff. Also, he is kinda sorta hard to warm up to. Nothing as terrible as the much dreaded Unemotional and Flat as a Herd of Ironing Boards (UaFaaHoIB™) type of character, thank fish, but still a bit, you know, well, not easy to warm up to and stuff. Besides, he turns out to be quite the quaint, endearing little guy because reasons to be undisclosed later you're welcome, so all is good and yay.

That's it! No more negative stuff to talk about! Both pretty impressive and fairly painless, huh? Please allow me to pat my little self on the exoskeleton for a minute to celebrate this momentous event. Thank thee kindly.

Like the interlude? Good. I'm glad.

Okay, nerve-racking suspense time is up, time for the big, fascinating reveal. (I'm getting really soft in my old age, I should have dragged this on for hours, maybe also made you beg for it and stuff. Sigh. I've become disgustingly kind, if you ask me.) Please hold on to your pincers, you might never recover from this one. Ready? Get this: the story is refreshingly original. I kid you not. I know this is a lot to take in, but please don't faint. Okay, so I don't read much SF, but I'm pretty sure this line thing is a pretty novel idea. I'd tell you what it's all about, but I'm feeling lazy as fish, so please go and read someone else's review to know more about it. You're welcome. Oh bloody fish, I seem to be in a most lenient mood today, so I'll be super friendly and kind and stuff and tell you this: the "lines" are a sort of Sentient Alien Technology Thingie (SATT™) that make space travel possible. Every spacecraft has a set of lines and stuff. The puny humans in this world don't really know how or why they work, but hey, work they do so who gives a shrimp as to the how or why, really?

And that's where Ean, our Difficult to Warm Up To Yet Quaint and Eadearing Main Character (DtWUTYQaEMC™) comes in. He is a high-ranking Linesman. His job is to, you know, service the lines and stuff. Meaning he fixes the lines and keeps them "in tune" mentally. That would be all fine and dandy and super cool and stuff, only Ean is kinda sorta the autistic genius kind and pretty much everyone thinks he is a freak. He sings to the lines to fix them, you see. And that is just not done in his, um, line of work (I'm hilarious, I know) and stuff. Also, he takes showers, LOTS of showers. Which, you have to admit, is REALLY weird. I mean, taking a shower once a year is strange enough, but taking as many as this guy does here? That can't be a sign of good mental health, if you ask me.

See? Even Toasty the Cat finds Ean's shower obsession repulsive. That's saying something right there.

Anyway, I have to say Ean is a pretty cool character despite his disgusting sanitation habits. He is delightfully quirky and pretty sharp and not nearly as fruitcakey as some people will have you think and he is pretty complex too and I like him so there.

Add to that a Most Glorious Cast of Ass-Kicking Take No Bullshit Secondary Female Characters (MGCoAKTnBSFC™), an exquisite bunch of duplicitous bastards and assholes (both of the male and female variety, thank you very much), tons of deliciously cunning political machinations, and you get your shrimpy little self a bloody shrimping enjoyable read and stuff.

» And the moral of this I Might Have Waited Two Bloody Fishing Years to Not DNF this Book but Wait that Long to Read Book Two I Shall Not Because I am Now Ancient and Wise and Tenacious and Stuff Crappy Non Review (IMHWTBFYtNDNFtBbWtLtRBTISNBIaNAaWaTaSCNR™) is: this book. It is not entirely crappy. HA.

· Book 2: Alliance ★★★★★
· Book 3: Confluence ★★★★★

[ Pre-review nonsense]

Linesman Crash Course (LCC™): lines = singing = insanity = then again maybe not = heart attacks = more lines = pew pew pew =

Don't ask.

➽ Full Hey I'm Only Two Years Late for this BR Go Me and Stuff Crappy Non Review (HIOTYLftBRGMaSCNR™) to come.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,449 reviews1,092 followers
March 15, 2021
2.5 stars

I wanted to enjoy this more than I actually did. The concept was so unique - the idea of these kind of mystical "lines" allowing ships to travel in space and only certain people having the innate ability to fix the lines. The problem with the book is that Ean was the only character that was interesting to me, and even then I thought he was kind of bland with his total lack of confidence and constant desire to take showers. Then the second character/narrator in the book, Rossi, was honestly equal parts obnoxious and boring. His entire 'other side of the story' viewpoint was just filled with so many other characters that I didn't care about and I was glad when his chapters ended and we shifted back to Ean's point of view. I won't be continuing on with this series.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,233 reviews1,046 followers
July 3, 2015
'Linesman' reminded me just a bit of a more military-inflected take on Anne McCaffrey's 'Crystal Singer' books.

It's adventure-oriented sci-fi. In this future, space travel is dependent on "The Lines" - adopted 'found' alien technology which is only partially understood by humans. Each spacecraft has a set of 'energy' lines which have to be maintained and 'in tune' (almost like a piano) to function well. Only Linesmen (both male and female; this is an egalitarian future) can perceive the Lines and 'fix' them mentally. Ean Lambert is a top-rated Linesman, but he's a bit unusual. He's the only one in his field who has to sing to the lines in order to get them to respond. He's a great singer, but this quirk has caused his colleagues to treat him with contempt for his eccentricity - and has caused Ean himself, a slum boy made good who already had a bit of a self-esteem problem, to have a giant inferiority complex.

Ean's also jealous, because when all the other top-rated Linesmen are sent out to investigate a just-discovered anomaly known as The Confluence, his Guild's master, who holds his contract, keeps him close to home to work on mundane tasks.

However, everything changes when a wealthy and politically well-positioned aristocrat decides she needs to hire Ean for her own purposes. Suddenly, he finds himself placed as a linchpin in a conflict that may determine the fates of interplanetary empires.

It's fun space opera, but at times it dragged on a bit where it should've been more quick-moving. I feel like the story could've benefited by being edited down into a shorter book with the same amount of plot. It has two viewpoint characters - Ean is the main one, but a smaller number of chapters are Jordan, a guy on the 'other side.' I didn't find Jordan's character compelling at all, and I think the book could've done without him.

However, it's a promising debut from these two authors, and I'll be willing to follow up with the forthcoming sequel to find out what happens next!

Many thanks to NetGalley and Ace for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.
Profile Image for Choko.
1,221 reviews2,598 followers
May 20, 2016
*** 4 ***

A buddy read with my MacHalo Freaks!!!

I truly enjoyed this Science Fiction and the idea of "lines" as a force to propel humanity in space, but also as something sentient and needing to communicate and commune with others, humans included! The main character was very lovable and appealing, but I loved all the strong and independent women who surrounded him. This is a slow developing plot, almost ambient at times, but it is worth the read!!! I was very pleasantly surprised by the debt of charters and the intricacies of the political intrigues. I recommend it to all Sci-fi and space opera fans, but it is a good read for all fans of the fantastical:):):)

Happy reading to all!!!
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,253 reviews182 followers
January 22, 2022
RL is a bit much - convalescing- and I couldn’t concentrate on new books. Therefore, I just picked one of my favourite titles and relaxed into it :0) This one is so good, a treat really!

You know the feeling when you start a book and from the first line you know you're not going to be able to stop reading? Well, this is exactly what happened here.

First, the truly compelling main character. Ean is your typical fish-out-of-water protagonist, deeply empathic and skilled at what he does, but totally without a clue when it comes to politics and social rules around him. There is a little of the autistic savant to him or is it the fairy tale, the ugly duckling turning or rather having the potential of becoming the most magnificent swan.

Second is the notion of ships controlled by lines of power, each its own function, characteristic, and sentience. Ean's interactions with them through singing linked art and science in a fascinating way. And this is where the novel shines. I couldn't get enough of these.

The authors also created a complex universe, full of waring factions and political machinations, even if sometimes a little confusing, with several interesting characters, such as Radko, Abram, Michelle, Sales and Rossi. The latter one shares the narration and seemed to provide the counter balance to Ean, but without the charisma. I can't wait however to find out more about all of it.
Profile Image for Sarah.
733 reviews73 followers
March 10, 2018
This was an unexpected find. The starships in this book are run via energy lines that are kept in working order by Linesmen. There are 10 lines on a ship and the strongest linesmen are the ones who can manipulate all 10 lines. The linesmen are somehow able to keep these lines in good repair through some kind of projection of mental force.

Ean Lambert is a level 10 linesman, but an exceptionally unconventional one because he sings to the lines to keep them in shape. According to every other linesman and all of their training this isn't even possible. Ean's contract is bought by the Lancastrian Princess and he's brought out to work with an alien spacecraft that nobody knows how to get close to.

It's hard to pick my favorite thing about this book. The description of Ean's singing as well as his POV of what he's doing to the lines is absolutely fascinating. This also has a number of very appealing and loveable characters: Radko, Abram, and Michelle are wonderful. And then there's Jordan. Man, I hated that guy. His arrogance was so off-putting that I found myself pretty much wanting him to die off and go away. Unfortunately he was one of the POV characters so I was pretty sure I was stuck with him.

The only downsides were Ean's insecurities, which were understandable since he was thought to be completely crazy, and the writing was mediocre. This was a serious page turner for me and every now and then I'd be rocketing along, trying to gulp down a paragraph per second and I'd hit one of these weird sentences that even multiple rereads couldn't make sense of. Neither of these issues was anywhere near enough of a problem to keep me from devouring the entire series in three or four days. There is some serious imagination at play here and it was fantastic.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,275 reviews227 followers
March 17, 2017
Space opera with FTL travel enabled by humans with the special ability to sense and manipulate "Lines", manifestations of some sort of psychic energy that's currently beyond science.

We're introduced to Ean Lambert, one of the few Linesmen that can access level ten, the highest level of Lines and the Line that enables FTL. Ean is unique in that he sings to the Lines and they interact with him in ways that no other Linesman can achieve. Ean starts out with one of the Linesman cartels, but has his contract purchased by a Princess of the Alliance, one of the the three main human political powers. The Alliance are about to go to war with the Gate Union egged on by the third political power, Redmond. Princess Michelle has a last-ditch plan to avert a war and requires a level ten Linesman to pull it off.

The world-building here is pretty good and the Lines and alien influences are fascinating. The politics are ever-present and believable as well, giving the novel that sweeping scope that you expect in the best space operas. Ean himself is likeable, but his inferiority complex can be a bit hard to take for the first two thirds of the book. He was raised in a slum and is lower class than the majority of other Linesman as well as being trained a lot older. The other Linesmen look down on him for this as well as his strange singing process.

This is an excellent first part of a series, with a reasonable and satisfying conclusion for a first book, but clearly with much more to come including the mysteries of the aliens and the mysterious artifacts that they have left behind.
Profile Image for Justine.
1,157 reviews311 followers
March 16, 2017
4.5 stars

I really liked this one a lot. The worldbuilding was so interesting, and since the main character, Ean, isn't all that worldly himself, the reader gets to learn about it pretty much at the same time he does. It is very well written for a debut novel, and I definitely get the sense that things will only get smoother in future books.

The way the "lines" responsible for a ship's functioning in this world work also make the ship a sentient being, linked to the emotional health of the Captain and crew. This reminded me very much of the way the sentient AIs such as those used on ships and stations were portrayed in the Imperial Radch books by Ann Leckie. Those AIs definitely identified with their people, and did better when there were people around for them to look after. It was very similar here, with the lines forming strong bonds with the crew, except that, until Ean comes along, people generally scoff universally at the idea that the lines are sentient.

I liked Ean as a main character. He was so kind, and obviously unprepared for some things, but his lack of preparation in a lot of ways seems to ultimately be the key to his success in working with the lines. He is intelligent, although quite naive in many ways when it comes to politics both large and small, but ultimately a very open minded and accepting person, which made me sympathetic to him.

This story has so many places to go in future books, and I'm really looking forward to seeing things develop.
Profile Image for Trike.
1,529 reviews162 followers
June 20, 2017
Am I the only one annoyed by this book?

It's meandering, it's repetitive and redundant and repetitive (see what I did there?), and it has no ending. That last one really pissed me off. The writers (S.K. Dunstall is a pair of sisters) set up this big mystery about an alien space ship and then answer nothing about it. I'm not reading a bunch of other novels to find out about that.

When you make a promise to the readers, you need to fulfill that promise. You don't substitute something else instead and then abruptly end the book, like they did here.

All the stuff about intergalactic politics felt like it was spinning wheels. Easily half of that business could've been cut out. Reading a book like this makes me appreciate how effortless Scalzi and Niven make it look.

There was also the issue of proofreading. Things happen and then they either happen again or they seem to have been forgotten. Like Sherry Nugil in Real Genius whose ambition is to sleep with the ten smartest men in the world, there is a character named Katida who only sleeps with the highest-rated linesmen. (Also 10s.) On page 37 she propositions our hero. Then on page 70 he wonders why he hasn't met her yet. Perhaps they meant that to be him wondering why he hadn't met her in the two years he was certified, but that's not what is said. That sort of thing happens a couple of times in the book.

And on the subject of the main character, Ean Lambert, he's just a doofus. He spends all his time taking showers like a weirdo. The reason why is given late in the book, but by that time he just seems like this oddball character who has random quirks and is useless for anything else than fixing lines. I have a hard time believing a ghetto kid would have no other skills, especially common-sense survival skills, that he can call on when the shit hits the fan. He comes across more like a rich, coddled suburban kid who is ill-prepared for life.

This is compounded by little annoyances like questions which don't have question marks. I guess that's a style thing, but it constantly made me stutter and stop and reread.

All of which is a shame, because the premise so cool. Alien technology they use which they don't fully understand yet is vital to an intergalactic civilization, creating plenty of potential conflict. The notion of sentient energy (the "lines") that forms the basis of interstellar travel is cool, but all they really do with it is add to the mystery rather than give us any answers. Aggravating. I didn't care about the politics, I wanted to know about the alien spaceship. Bupkis.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,954 reviews1,292 followers
September 6, 2016
Ah, it’s so nice when a book blows you away with how awesome it is. I was hoping I’d like Linesman, but I didn’t anticipate loving it so much. But sister act Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall have managed to create an original, exciting new entry in the space opera subgenre. If you like space opera, SF with a psychic twist, or whiny people getting their comeuppance, you should read this book. So let’s not waste any more time and get into explaining why!

Ean Lambert is a certified ten—which is not to say he’s good looking. Rather, he’s the highest level of linesman. Think of linesmen as Jedis who use their Force powers to fix ships instead of having impractical lightsaber battles. Lines, numbered from one to ten, are energy constructs that humanity uses to facilitate their spaceship operations, including, crucially, faster-than-light travel. No one is really sure what lines are; as with many innovations, we just sort of stumbled onto the secret of making them. Most linesmen “push and pull” lines psychically—again, no one is really sure how that works. Ean is an outsider, both in terms of his social background and how his initially self-taught linesmen skills mean he must sing to the lines. To other tens, he is a dangerous imposter of a linesman.

Anyway, to make a long story short: Ean gets caught up in interstellar brinkmanship far beyond his pay grade. At first he’s not happy, but he quickly comes to enjoy his new situation to an extent, because at the very least it’s proving challenging—and someone is actually appreciating him. After years of being shit on for not fitting in, a few people are paying attention to what he can actually do. So everything is looking up for Ean—you know, if you ignore the people trying to kidnap him, kill him, seize control of a strange alien ship before he does … the usual.

The stakes Linesman are high. Dunstall thrusts us into a human society on the brink of war. The universe reminds me a little of Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, with a few consolidated powers loosely controlling a vast array of planets, united by a fragile FTL MacGuffin (wormholes in Vorkosigan, carefully-scheduled “gating” in this book to avoid mishaps). Linesman is also like the Vorkosigan books in that it’s not precisely military SF, but it's military SF adjacent. The relationship between Abram and Michelle, for instance, reminds me a little of the relationship between some Barrayaran military generals and people like Cordelia or Miles. They are both very strategic people with slightly different specialties and occasionally different priorities (Abram wants to protect Michelle, even if she’s not in the mood to be protected).

Dunstall neatly balances Ean’s acumen. He’s not a completely blank slate, but he has largely eschewed politics until now. He has a history with Lancia (Michelle’s faction), having grown up in poverty there and escaped it only because of his skill with the lines. So it’s ironic that he ends up working for them, not just because Michelle buys his contract but because he starts to like them. This sense of humour and playfulness pervades the book and helps to take the edge off what is otherwise a very tense situation.

In addition to following Ean, some chapters follow Jordan Rossi, a more conventional ten. I like this perspective, both on galactic politics and on linesmen’s place in the power structure. Between Jordan and Ean we get a good sense of how linesmen work with the lines—but it’s clear that there is so much more out there that Dunstall have yet to reveal. I love how they gradually dole out that knowledge: at the start of the book, the uses of lines seven and eight are unknown. Ean discovers what line eight does, and he also makes a few other discoveries I won’t spoil here. But the book ends with Ean interrogating line seven about what it does—a mild cliffhanger, perhaps, but a cliffhanger nonetheless. I was well annoyed when I read that last page!

And I so very much want to read Alliance! I have already checked; my library has two copies—one is on hold, so I’m not the only person in Thunder Bay who is enjoying this series. There’s just something so smooth and enjoyable about Dunstall’s writing. Dunstall manages the scope necessary for space opera without forgetting about having great characters. Much like in the paradigm case of Dune, learning about the wider galactic society is an important part of Linesman, but it is secondary to the main plots.

Finally, this story has a wealth of secondary characters who make it so much better. In general, Dunstall gives us a bunch of interesting women in all sorts of roles. Michelle, although royalty, is not your typical princess, and on the opposite side of the political board we get Admiral Orsaya. Rebekah Grimes shares Michelle’s penchant for scheming, while Admiral Katida puts the moves on Ean shamelessly. The best for last, though: Radko, assigned to Ean as a kind of orderly/babysitter while he is aboard, proves essential in so many respects. Not only does she offer physical protection and training, but she is a wellspring of psychological reassurance and support in a way that surprises both of them. I love that Linesman has so many great female characters. Moreover, there were some good, casual comments about fashion and how it has changed since our present day—we’ve got some tight-fitting tops and tights that are all the rage among men as well as women. (Little bit of fat-shaming on Ean’s part, though.) It’s all very subtle but it’s also important to acknowledge.

Of course just as women have always fought, women have always written science fiction. But if any poor, deluded sod was under the impression that women don’t write good military science fiction, Linesman is just another counterexample. This is an awesome new entry into the field; it has excited me about space opera in ways I was not expecting. If you want to feel that, then you got to get a piece of this action.

My reviews of the Linesman series:

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,336 reviews29 followers
June 9, 2017
4.5 singing ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for this solid series opener. This story is just a kick. It's not brilliant, but I really enjoyed this singing space man! Jumping through the void, faster than the speed of light. The theoretical foundations are very light — no attempt at hard science — but there's enough to ignite my imagination. I quite enjoyed it, despite some quibbles. I'm adding a star because this is Dunstall's first novel. As a debut, it stands out from the norm.

Intriguing, this idea of optimally joyous "lines" powering the ships, and the linesmen who work with them, at various levels. The "lines" manifest emotions and intelligence. Maybe they are alive. Maybe a form of AI. Alien maybe. But the accepted theory states that they are merely energy.

Ean, our unsung hero, knows better. The lines respond joyously to his song. Ean's a virtuoso. The lines are virtually strings on his cello. Since childhood, his harmony with them has been heartfelt and intuitive. But everyone derides him, his music, and his theories.

This book reminded me of Crystal Soldier, with the sentient tree. If you liked Lee & Miller's Liaden series, you will probably like this one.

Some quibbles:
1) The lines could hear Ean's thoughts and responded shen he was musing silently to himself, so why does he need to sing aloud??
Ean's thoughts dwelt too repeatedly on how other linesmen slighted him. He began to feel like a victim.
2) I found the political / military discussions a bit long and tedious, even though I care about that topic and it's central to the plot. But various many POVs made it cumbersome, and I didn't care for Rossi or his POV (but his nasty thoughts do add some snarky humor)
3) It's unclear how these lines could be sentient beings, if they are made in a factory. Perhaps the cloning, but patterns cloned repeatedly for 500 years would become corrupt.

I'm fairly curious. Planning to read more about this world.
Update: I've read all three books now, and want more!
Profile Image for Sarah.
3,343 reviews1,015 followers
January 22, 2016
Linesman came highly recommended by Ilona Andrews (one of my favourite authors) so add that to the fact that I've been obsessed with stories set in space recently and of course I HAD to read it. I didn't know a huge amount about the story going in but what I found was unique and refreshing and I enjoyed every minute of it.

After discovering an alien technology humans have been able to adapt it to allow long distance space travel. Space ships access the 10 different lines and each of these lines is used for a different ship function, we don't know what all of the lines do but there is one for communications, one for travelling through the void, another controls the engines and a fourth keeps the ship's gravity in check. One thing all the lines have in common is that they need frequent attention and fine tuning to stay functional and there are only a small number of humans who have the ability to work them. As a level 10 linesman Ean is one of the top tier but his eccentricities have made him a bit of an outcast amongst his peers. Other linesmen tune the lines using their mental abilities but Ean finds he has to sing to them to make them do what he needs. Since Ean grew up in the slums and was initially self trained the others feel he is beneath them and they don't believe he is as powerful as they are.

When a mysterious anomaly is discovered in deep space most of the other level 10 linesmen are sent to investigate but Ean is kept home by his boss and instead forced to take over the day to day upkeep of the entire fleet. Ean initially sees this as another black mark against him but once the captains start to realise how skilled he is he soon finds himself in high demand. Then his contract is purchased by a wealthy and secretive business woman and Ean gets much closer to the Confluence than he ever dreamed possible.

I absolutely loved Linesman, Ean was a great character, someone with very little self confidence who suddenly finds himself amidst some of the universe's most influential people and even stranger they're actually listening to what he has to say. He's totally out of his element and has no interested in the political games that are playing out around him, all he really wants is a chance to study the lines and to use his skills to fix them. Ean really steps up when he's needed and I loved seeing how much his character grew throughout the story. There are lots of interesting side characters, some with questionable motives but also some who are surprisingly supportive of Ean. He's made some powerful allies but that has also gained him some equally powerful enemies and he's now walking a very fine line between both sides of a brewing war.

This story had me captivated from beginning to end, I couldn't wait to see how it played out and I was left desperate to get my hands on the sequel. This is a really strong debut from writing duo Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall and I'll be eagerly waiting to see where they take Ean's journey next.
Profile Image for Mei.
1,882 reviews424 followers
March 8, 2016

This is high level political thriller meets SF and Corporate sharks! :)

I really enjoyed this complex, but at the same time intriguing and cute story!

Ean, the main characters is highly unusual. He's completly fish-out-of-water in his highly specialised branch of business, but at the same time unique and capable. He's a 10th lever linesman, the highest level of competence, but he's shunned by everyone because his unique way to apply his ability: he sings to lines, insead of mentaly pushing them!

Ean, is also very shy and uncomfortable with other people because of his humble origin: she's come from the slum and his relatioship abilities are non-existant.

He's alsmost like an idiot savant, but not that at all! He's endearing to me because of naivete and his brilliant approach to the lines! I loved that part of the book where he was interacting with lines as they're almost human and the way that same lines are responding to him the same way!

Apart that, there's a lot of corportare fighting at highest level, spying, conspiracies, jealousies from othe linesmen, and much more that ensue an almost war situation.

A wonderful book! I would like to find out what happens next!
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,041 followers
April 15, 2017
I waffled between 3 & 4 stars for this. It was a compelling story, a rich universe where 'lines' are a poorly understood bit of alien tech that humanity has salvaged to bring the stars within reach. As others have mentioned, Dunstall seems to have channeled a bit of McCaffery's universes (Crystal Singer & Brain Ship) or possibly Modesitt's Soprano Sorceress, but the characterization & politics were reminiscent of Bujold's Vorkosigan universe, too. No rip-offs, but a unique universe with some of the best elements of each in a unique blend. The story is also told from the POV of two characters: Jordan Rossi & Ean Lambert, concentrating on the latter.

Ean is a weird linesman & the main character. He's a fairly clueless geek, an underrated misfit who rather predictably becomes the key to unraveling some of the mysteries of the lines. He's supported by solid characters & faces some good 'bad' guys. While most start off rather simply, most gain some depth as the story goes on so they're not caricatures, but properly motivated adversaries.

The politics are somewhat twisty, but understandable. Typical power-mongers & areas of influence trying for more.

There were more than a few times when I wasn't fully onboard with the logic or conclusions & I almost knocked it down a star for that. Nothing horrendous, but enough to be irksome. If I'd been reading this in print, I would have flipped back & rechecked the thread. Since I was listening to it & usually had busy hands, I just rolled with it, but it left me less than full convinced. I was particularly bothered by the glossing of Rebecca Grimes' situation.

The story line was captivating, though. It seems this is the author's first book, so I'm giving it 4 stars for a great new universe with good characters. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Hank.
821 reviews81 followers
March 15, 2019
That was seriously good. I always feel compelled to temper my enthusiasm for books because I am afraid my friends won't like them as much as I do which shouldn't really matter. We all like different things, so for this one I won't temper.

Loved the space opera aspect, enjoyed the politicking even though I usually don't. Loved Ean, loved the sci-fi/magic (yes I can admit the main premise of this book is magic, not sci-fi). Really loved the character interactions, something about forming bonds is right in my wheelhouse lately. I haven't had the time or desire for years and years to waste a whole day reading, which is sad, but I am extremely glad the stars aligned for this book.

Yes there are nits to pick but we will pretend there aren't. 5 un-tempered stars.
Profile Image for Sara J. (kefuwa).
527 reviews45 followers
July 15, 2015
I randomly picked one of the numerous 'galleys I had loaded into my reader due out this month and started reading... aaaand I was pretty much drawn into the story from there. Yeah, I am a sucker for underdog stories and this is how this one begins... with the introduction of Ean Lambert - a Linesman who doesn't quite fit in with his peers due to his "unconventional" methods and his "street rat" background. Linesmen being those who can interact with "lines" - which is actually from alien tech that humanity stumbled across and eventually gained access to FTL capabilities from.

Oh... there's also space battles, intrigues, royals, admirals, aliens & politics/corporate tussles. But mostly, I think, I found the concept of the "lines" the most intriguing thing.

Overall this book pretty much had a classic space adventure/space opera vibe. Although I think it could have been more richly realised, there is enough there to sink your teeth into.

In hindsight, I did feel that Ean's situation had a bit of a Mary Sue thing going for it (getting support from the right people for one thing and then having all these things happening to you and it working out (somewhat) neatly) but it's done in such away that you don't feel insulted (is that the word?) for enjoying it. Haha. Although now I also notice that Ean doesn't seem to be doing much and was just solely reacting to things that happen to/around him. Oh, and he is pretty much a poster child of the inferiority complex.

Flow-wise there were a few times where I felt the story telling felt a bit scrambled, tch, but I just wanted to find out what happened next and glazed over those passages.

Will definitely look out for the second book (sigh - another series #headdesks)...

My general consensus is between a "like" and "really like" - so a 3.5 rating from me, rounded down to 3 because of certain nit-picky post-read considerations.

Addendum: I just realised what was dodgy about this book... the title! Yeah, linesman just brings to mind that one point in my life when I was into watching the EPL (footie) on TV... with offsides and whatnot. HAHAHA. (Also, I just found out that they're not called linesman anymore but "assistant referees"... whot?!)
Profile Image for Viking Jam.
1,110 reviews16 followers
June 25, 2015

Publisher: Penguin

Publishing Date: June 2015

ISBN: 9780425279526

Genre: SciFi

Rating: 2.4/5

Publisher Description: The lines. No ship can traverse the void without them. Only linesmen can work with them. But only Ean Lambert hears their song. And everyone thinks he’s crazy…

Review: The first half of this novel had a fluid story line then turns a bit disjointed as the scenes jump around without any logical progression. Almost schizophrenic in approach. I tend to disagree with one reviewer that thought this kind of prose reflected Ean’s mental state. I think the trend was towards a lack of editing. The e-copy I received was 1hard to2 read as eve3ry sent4ence h5ad 6progressive numbers7 and spa8ces littered throughout9 the10 entire11novel12.

Ean is a whiner. Every scene is a tired and overused rendition of “poor little Ean who hopes everyone likes him but doesn’t deserve anything good”. As you battle along with Ean’s self-esteem issues, he is constantly sweat drenched, hoarse, myopic, smelly, morose, maudlin and exhausted. How he finds the time to internally review his sense of fashion where others are concerned is anyone’s guess. Here is a gutter rat that grew up on the mean streets, stealing to survive and in no way are any of those seminal traits imparted onto the adult version. Not real believable.

Although the story-line was inventive (if you can follow it) the characters lacked development. Sympathy in the form of a reluctant hero does not a character make. Over the top emoting royalty/politico types also fail in the same regard.

Read this if you’re waiting in line for lost luggage at a baggage claim area in Surinam.
Profile Image for Josephine.
227 reviews27 followers
December 7, 2015
** 2.5 stars **

A fragmented, confusing read but enough interesting aspects to make me finish it. Like the lines--entities that are created in factories but end up as sentient beings with feelings that run ships! However, they seem to be in people too. How can that be? Who knows; the reader is not privy to that information, at least not in this book. Then there are linesmen who manipulate these lines, the most talented being our protagonist, Ean Lambert. He is unique in that his extraordinary ability was not uniformly honed like all the other linesmen.

The rest of the book is all about intergalactic alliances and vying for control (what else is new). There was a very fascinating alien race that was discovered along with the mysterious ship, but that aspect was glossed over and never fully developed. As this is the start of a series, I have yet to decide whether or not to give the next book a try,
Profile Image for Liviu.
2,284 reviews638 followers
September 30, 2015
another one that moves well though it is plain vanilla writing but nothing wrong with that as long the story and characters are there

finished this and it was quite entertaining though it had a bit too much of the old pulp (planets move in and out alliances like people in and out crowds, now there are 100, next 50, next back to 70 etc, one man can control the fate of the worlds by becoming a modern equivalent of an alien god etc) in new clothes (all gender, sexual orientation etc) feel

the novel has narrative energy, an interesting enough story-line and competent writing, so if you enjoy space opera and can suspend disbelief for the pulp tropes, I would definitely recommend it
Profile Image for Laura (Kyahgirl).
2,094 reviews143 followers
April 13, 2016
4/5; 4 stars; A-

Wow, that was great. I am so happy my GR friends are looking out for me and making recommendations. When Kathleen said that someone who liked the Liaden Universe books would probably like this, she was spot on. There isn't the same kind of social structure or anything like that, its the 'feel' of the world building.

I really enjoyed the concept of sentience outside normal human experience. This book has a vast otherworldly intelligence that we just get a glimpse of as the humans fumble around trying to figure out what is going on. In the meantime, a very sympathetic underdog character, Ean Lambert, is finally getting a chance to shine. The only downside for me, in this book, was I got a bit bogged down in the politics and military web. That made parts of the book kind of heavy going but for the most part the action provided enough momentum to pull me through.

I immediately went to buy the next book so I guess that is the final mark of approval!
Profile Image for F. William Davis.
717 reviews22 followers
February 18, 2023
For this review I'd like to invite spoilers into the comments.... if you have an idea about what the fkn "lines" are please enlighten me. Don't fear for spoilers in the review though because I couldn't spoil this story if I tried.

I'm trying to write a speedy review because I'm nearly late for work (squeezed this in so I can read something else when I get home).... which reminds me. There's a quote on the cover which claims this is a fast-paced story and I don't think that's entirely true. It dragged for me. I'll admit there were some sudden changes and some events which were dealt with super briefly. For example, there was an execution which took place over the course of a single sentence.

The mystical "lines" seem underdeveloped to me. They somehow represent sections of spaceships; line 1 for crew, line 5 or 6 was comms, line 10 the ship itself. They're telepathic but somehow they appreciate vocal talent through the void of space between ships.

Anyway discovery of the "lines" had essentially split space faring human politics into three main factions, which are ever on the brink of war. A new discovery may be the tipping point.

I liked the characters, the political setting and the tricky subterfuge. I didn't like the "lines" at all.

I'm out of time. I may write some more down later, maybe.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,301 reviews
January 4, 2017
3.5 stars

The premise of the story was interesting, the execution at times a bit uneven.

Ean is a self-taught linesman from the slums of a rich world who interacts through song with the lines of energy that control and power ships. Almost by accident, he is plucked from relative obscurity and becomes embroiled in galactic intrigue when a new line source is discovered and various political factions vie to control it and each other.

I usually don't mind beta protagonists with self-esteem issues if there's a little self-deprecating humor involved. There's none here, and while Ean has good reason for self-doubt, it became frustrating to read at times. Nevertheless, he never becomes paralyzed and reacts in most situations with resourcefulness, making him a likeable character.

I had a little more trouble with the political machinations and had difficulty at times recalling who was aligned with whom and why. I usually prefer more action vs. intrigue, and at times the balance tipped the wrong way for me. Still, I enjoyed the story enough to want to come back to it and find out what happened next.

So, 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 both for the intriguing premise and the hope that in the next book in the series there's a bit less emphasis on the political and a bit more personal growth for Ean.

Profile Image for Jo .
2,631 reviews52 followers
June 17, 2015
Linesman caught me from the very first page. Ean Lambert is the main character and he is supported by a large cast of interesting secondary characters. Ean’s background is at the heart of the back story for Linesman. The plot is structured so that both back story and world building come out as the story progresses.

The plot is fast paced and full of both tension and action. While the characters are interesting the plot uses the characters to drive the action and there is plenty of action. I like action driven plots and Linesman manages this without shorting the character development.

The title gives a hint of what is at the heart of the story. Ships travel the void using lines that must be tuned to work correctly. There are ten lines until an alien ship shows up with line 11. Ean becomes a very important linesman when he is the only one who can work with that line.

While Linesman is the first book in a new series it does tell a complete story while setting the stage for future books. I will be keeping an eye out for the next book to see how both the story and the characters develop.
Profile Image for Daniel.
648 reviews30 followers
July 17, 2015
I keep going back and forth on how I feel about Linesman, the debut novel of a series written by Australian sisters Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall. It has some issues, which of course I'll get to, but ultimately it is a solid, entertaining space opera, with a protagonist I found interesting. And balancing each problem I saw with the work, the Dunstall pair did something else really well that I appreciated.

Ean Lambert is a Linesman, rated at the highest level of ten. But he is also a pariah, self-taught and from a disadvantaged background, with odd behaviors and views of the lines that every conventionally trained Linesman considers quetionable, bordering on a sign of insanity.

The problem is that though the lines have been used for centuries, no one really knows what they are, or what exactly they could be capable of. The lines have allowed humanity to travel the stars as never before. Apparent remnants of some alien technology, the lines form an intimate connection with ships, powering them to safely travel through the Void, effectively giving humans faster-than-light travel technology. Through the centuries humans manage to figure out what most of the lines seem to do, and come to a rough understanding how some people have the power to control them. Humanity has spread out among the stars into an empire. But politically organized business interests and others stand in opposition to the Empire, near war. A strange confluence of lines and the discovery of a dangerous derelict alien vessel propel competing political factions into a race to capture potential new line technology, and a powerful weapon.

By happenstance Ean is thrust into the center of this building conflict, but members of the empire begin to realize that Ean's unique approach to the lines may be the key to everything. Ean doesn't just fix lines and use them, he sings to them, he hears their music. As his powers and abilities build he finds that he can communicate with them, and that the lines may be far more than ever suspected, and the mysterious alien race that once used them could one day represent a grave danger for humanity.

One of the best aspects of Linesman is how well the Dunstalls relate this universe to their readers. Things are explained as thoroughly as the characters understand, and the info dump of material blends in rather seamlessly. However, they do a bit too much in trying to make sure readers have gotten things straight. For instance, I began getting tired of reading how 'no one knows what lines seven and eight do'. This sticks out in mind, but there were other aspects to plot and character that became repetitively pointed out.

Cutting that repetitiveness would've been a good start, but I also did feel it could have used some larger trimming, particularly chapters from the point of view of another Linesman, Rossi. Ean has a rather unconfident personality - which makes sense given who he is, where he is from. But I still found him endearing, I like rooting for underdogs and the under-appreciated. But Rossi is just a complete ass. And like most of the characters in the novel, he doesn't really change. (I hope characters can go through more development in the follow up to this). Rossi is from the other side, the enemy of those Ean Lambert works for. So Rossi's sections are here to give us some of that perspective, but also to relate plot details that Ean isn't present for. For the most part I didn't find those necessary though. And with so few redeeming qualities it is hard to see him other than as a sneering character 'type'.

Despite this weakness of Linesman, its otherwise careful construction, excellent dialogue, and tremendously entertaining action/shifting plot made it a real enjoyable read throughout. (And Rossi's chapters are at least mostly short). The Dunstalls relate the action of a scene well, I could follow what was going on easily. By making the exact nature of the lines (and their origin) a bit of a mystery the novel also helped keep my attention through curiosity to find out more on how all these things worked - and the authors seriously tease the reader's curiosity with the novel's last line!

Linesman is a fun space opera and the authors show a lot of potential - as does the series itself for going interesting places. I've read a cluster of 'first-in-a-series' recently and this one seems to be set up to go in interesting new directions. At the same time this novel has a clear resolution to work well enough, satisfyingly, on its own should one choose not to keep reading future volumes.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from the publisher as part of their Ace Roc Stars Street Team in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Daniel.
715 reviews48 followers
February 27, 2019
TL;DR: 2.5 Rounded up. Poorly executed SF that manages to exceed the sum of its parts somehow.

So... this is tough to rate. If I were to try and judge it on "quality" alone, it's a 1 to 2 star read at best. But I have to admit, I enjoyed it on some level. It's very easy reading, I blew through this in 2 nights, and never seriously considered DNFing.

Science: 1 Star - This is not trying to be hard SF. It's space opera, and that's fine. I didn't expect anything else. So it's okay if there are no plausible explanations for the tech. But then they had to go and talk about sub-light travel if certain worlds were denied FTL, and the math is so far off it's clear the authors have no concept of the distances involved. There's also zero explanation for how humans managed to expand to multiple solar systems before the FTL tech was discovered.

Characterization: 1 Star - There are two principal viewpoint characters. "Ean", I guess because that's more future-y than Ian, is a cliche special snowflake, the one pure soul who can do the magic with the newly discovered tech, and everyone thinks he's a loser. Including himself. He's a proverbial black hole of self-esteem. Even when people are praising him and clearly in awe, his internal monologue is all about how disappointed they must be to be stuck with him. He's also a major cinnamon roll, he's had a rough rough life, and been taken advantage of as well, but he's just the sweetest. Poor poor baby. I wasn't too impressed with his behavior toward the slightly overweight gay dude.

The second pov character is like a cartoon villain. He's all ambition and selfishness, constantly calls women (and the occasional man) sweetheart, or bitches if they're not present. And if that's not enough, he hates scientists, which in an SF book is a clear sign of badness.

Those are the deep two.

Writing: 1.75 Stars - I've seen worse. The prose reads quickly and most of the time the intent is clear. But they clearly don't trust their readers to comprehend. Repetitive doesn't convey it at all. It was like watching a blindfolded drunk trying to beat a dead horse, only he's not quite sure where the horse is, and holding the stick the wrong way around.

Plot: 2.5 Stars - It's not what you'd call original, but the elements of a classic space opera are here. The politics, spies, and mysterious alien tech. The execution leaves a bit to be desired, but if you're ok with retro pulpy space opera, the potential is here.

X-Factor: Here's where it gets tough. I kind of enjoyed it. In a retro, pulpy, totally cheeseball way. If I was 10 I probably would have liked it a lot. In a lot of ways it feels like something that was written in the 70s, or in the few decades prior. But despite being conscious of the crappiness all the way through, I was curious enough to keep going, and I kind of liked Ean and a couple of the cardboard crew in spite of his unbelievable self-esteem issues. I can see why some people enjoyed it. On a pure enjoyment level, it was better than meh. I'd give it a 3.5 on pleasure.

It's a shame Ace didn't spend some more time and effort helping the authors polish this up. If I see the later volumes on special for $0.99 or something I might pick them up. But I'm in no hurry to continue the series as is.
Profile Image for Paul Harmon.
234 reviews27 followers
July 25, 2015
This book was given to me by Netgalley

Linesman by S. K. Dunstall, sisters Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall actually, is a space opera about "lines' which are sentient alien technology yet somehow they have a factory that constructs these living things and apparently people have "lines" as well? I really couldn't tell you what the lines look like or if they are actually a physical thing at all, and they can't be since people somehow have them so, how is there a factory that makes them? Yeah it's like that.
The story is from the point of view of two "level 10" Linesman, which are Line repairmen first is our main character Ean Lambert and the second a rival? linesman named Jordan Rossi, and I couldn't even figure out who he was until half way through the book.
I was thinking on many occasions that the editor really dropped the ball on this one then I started thinking maybe the editor just threw his hands up and said "Whatever" which is how I felt most of the time. The book needed to be a hundred pages shorter and at one point I was reading a Rossi chapter but the first page and a half was from Lambert's POV right after leaving one of his chapters. On several occasions the scenes were taking place like normal with someone talking about something I didn't care about then abruptly I'm in the middle of another conversation without any real sense of a change in scene which became frustrating. In fairness I believe a small part of that had to do with my constant loss of focus and interest in what was happening in the previous conversation.
Other than Ean Lambert the characters in this book were indiscernible from each other I had no idea most of the time which talking head was who. I found my attention wandering off so often that I began to wonder if I was developing ADD. Most of the book is political posturing and double talk and just felt so muddled I couldn't have cared less.
When finally about halfway through the book some interesting action began to take place I thought things would pick up, but quickly the book became talking heads of cardboard cut outs again until near the very end when we had another semi-action scene...mostly running away, and the ending itself didn't end up being very satisfying.
I gave it two stars because ultimately there is a really interesting story underneath with some good ideas but forcing myself through the dull characters and conversations made it not worth the effort, the book would have been fascinating had it been shorter, more fleshed out with more interesting characters and more things actually happening but I spent more time counting down how many pages I had left than I did caring about the characters...whoever most of them were. In the end I was curious about the future of Ean and the lines and the many things left unresolved but there was too much broth and not enough meat to inspire me to return to this universe should a sequel be forthcoming.
Profile Image for Babbs.
218 reviews70 followers
February 3, 2019
An interesting new idea of a poorly understood sentient energy, existing in "lines" that allows for FTL travel. The lines are maintained by Linesman, who are trained from childhood and contracted/indentured by cartels. A Linesman's worth is dependent on their rank, 1-10, with 10s being the most sought after, and also the rarest.

Our main character, Ean, is primarily self taught, "feeling" the lines as a child, and didn't begin formal training until he was an adult, and because of this, most other Linesmen consider him defective. When an anomaly is discovered further away in known space, all higher level Linesman are drawn away, leaving Ean as the only "10" available to repair ships, earning him a bit of a reputation with captains.

This book is another case of an excellent idea executed by inexperienced authors in great need of an editor. The pacing was highly varied, with some portions creeping along while presenting redundant information, and others leaving you wondering what just happened. The use of certain phrases repeatedly was also tiring, and I think would have been caught in editing. Specifically, "Linesman don't damage lines, they fix them," and "lines 7 and 8, we don't really know what they do", including a few others not quite bludgeoned into my skull as these two were, but their continued verbatim usage also detracted from the story.

Ean was also likable, but felt very childlike and naive, something that is hard to believe if he had the background that was attributed to him.

All this being said. I enjoyed this book a LOT more than I really should have. It seems to be the authors' first work, so I'm going to give them a pass and assume the writing improved with subsequent releases. The books in this series are team written by Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall--sisters from Australia. If the editing had been a little better, this would have been a four star read.

If you're on the fence--pick it up. You'll likely end up like me, sneaking reading time as you attempt to figure out the mysterious space objects along with the characters, despite the fact that they don't know what lines 7 and 8 do.
Profile Image for Erin Burns.
402 reviews32 followers
July 19, 2018
This book was a recommended read from Ilona Andrews, whose opinion I trust, and the blurb somehow reminded me of Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax, when it comes to space piloting, which I found fascinating. I read the first chapter excerpt and couldn’t wait to get it, so it actually jumped the line over several things that should have been first. I was also pretty pleased that it breaks my cycle of eyes in science fiction (while those have overall been successful for me-it would be tedious if that was only how I found science fiction books), and that it was a male protagonist with no reported romance interest, like The Martian, which was a highly successful read for me. So my goal for this was as an entertaining palate cleanser.

And I have to say, if nothing else, the politics were rather fascinating. Which is a funny thing to say, and sounds like damning with faint praise, but truly, the politics were fascinating. And it was an excellent contrast or background for an affable, self effacing man who thinks more of the work than the politics, and whom you can’t help but like. He’s out of sync in more ways than one, but a likable underdog for the reader to get behind,

This is definitively science fiction, but I think it would be accessible to even non-science fiction readers, because the science isn’t heavy (though there are sentient ships which is always a cool feature), plus there is plenty of action and adventure, and interesting character studies. I truly liked most of the characters, i wanted to see them prevail, I wanted the ships to be heard, it is a story where there is always someone to root for. And while the linesmen aren’t the pilots, it was very satsifying for the technicians to be the heroes of the story, not the more glory filled professions.

Like I said, I really enjoyed this story and I couldn’t be happier that it looks like a sequel is in the works, since this is a world I’d like to spend more time in and see how future developments unfold.

Profile Image for Anne - Books of My Heart.
3,122 reviews195 followers
February 25, 2016
LOVE this one. 5 hearts.

My review at The Book Nympho:


I wanted to read Linesman when I got it and every time I thought of it, and finally managed to read it earlier this month. I’ve been very thrilled with many of my Ace Roc star gifts and especially seem to enjoy the space opera offerings.

Linesman has space and technology and aliens and ships. Military strategy and political manipulations are key facets of the relationships. The world is slowly built with a few viewpoints, of a different linesman.

The “star” for my nerd girl heart is Ean Lambert. He’s a boy from the wrong place / social group, not exactly trained and yet his talents are extraordinary. He is humble, hard-working and kind. Ean is sometimes ashamed, sometimes worried about his background. Yes, I love him and I want to protect his tender heart and the rest of him from the various dangers to him.

Another linesman, Jordan Rossi, provides a contrast. He is a typical linesman, trained since childhood from an appropriate family. He is “on top,” used to being treated well, expecting it.

The world has its perspectives tipped on end by Ean Lambert. Highly recommended. I went right on to read the second book, Alliance, which was published on Tuesday.
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