Hey everyone! It’s time for another book recommendation! Today, I am going to review a new series by a friend of mine, Jon Gray Lang. Jon is an extreme (in my lazy-assed opinion) outdoor lover, sword fighter, and creative Da Vinci. He’s written everything from poetry to screenplays to novels. He also plays the ukulele and has even been an actor!
In September of 2018, Jon published his first book, The Matilda, featuring the strong female captain, Jacquotte (Jaquie) Delahaye and her crew upon the ship Matilda. In 2019 the sequel, Twistin’ Matilda, followed. His third book, Black Matilda, will be out sometime in 2021.
The Matilda series is a Firefly-meets-Star Trek-meets-HP Lovecraft saga set in a dark future of high-tech, planet hoping starships that are janky AF on the inside and filled with mysterious alien tech. This tech causes inter-spatial warp jumps which take the crew into an alternate dimension filled with Lovecraftian horrors.
The TLDR Review
The Matilda (book 1) gets a 4/5 because while the characters are engaging and the world is stellar, the overall conflict is still a bit vague. Black Matilda (book 2) gets a 4.5/5 since I can see Lang’s growth. The concerns I have from the first book are being addressed and the writing had gotten even tighter and more clever. I’m still not sure about the captain’s arc but I hope to see that more developed in Black Matilda (book 3).
The Matilda by Jon Grey Lang
Captain Delahaye and her crew of misfits which include a cyborg pilot, a bounty hunter, a dwarf engineer, a terrorist, and a genetically grown super soldier must navigate through this world, using their jump technology as little as possible while also running from the authorities bent on putting one of more of them behind bars. Contained within you’ll find interplanetary mobsters, disenfranchised revolutionaries and not a small amount of singing and whiskey.
The Long Review
What struck me the most about this story as a whole is the diversity of the cast and the strength of the female characters. Race, gender, and sexual orientation ain’t no thang and people are just people. Their differences are clear in their names, physical descriptions and backgrounds but they are not all “generi-white” and boring. This really gives the story, and the whole universe, a lot of depth. (And if you’ve read my Black Prism post, you’ll notice I called this out there as well!).
However, I will say that while Lang’s female characters are really well developed in this first book, you don’t get to see much dimension of the male characters until book two, Twistin’ Matilda. However, it’s happening which gives me hope for the continued series.
Matilda is a fairly quick read. The premise is engaging and the dialog snappy. The reader can really tell the relationships the characters have with each other. They are real and honest. Regardless of where the story went, I would read more just to see the characters interacting with each other. And the dialog…yuuuuus! On top of that, Lang puts together beautiful visuals, and his prose is smooth. Also, it amuses me that Major Tom is now their new deity-figure (as in “Ground control to Major Tom).
Where the story miss-stepped is in the long-game plot arc. It almost works for a stand-alone novel, without the need for sequels, though there are a few slightly vague references to “greater evils”. While I am particularly inclined to the type of world Lang created, the anti-hero mentality of the main characters, and his rich diversity and picturesque images, I don’t know there are enough seeds there for the average Joe to pick up on for the “greater evils”.
As it is Lang’s first novel, it did feel a bit rushed (which may be attributed to it’s shorter length). He does make it clear that each character has their own backstory and they will need to confront a ghost of their past within the timeline. However, I was left with a few question marks as to how they got to where they did in the end.
The crew’s adventures are like a series of TV episodes with a kind of nebulous underlying conflict that I couldn’t quite grasp onto. The mega threat of these interdimensional tentacle horrors will likely play a part in this “long game” plot arc (because this is a multi-book series) but then there are also the mobsters and the umbrella-like “universal government” hunting the crew, though the motive especially of the latter is not yet clear.
Additionally, there wasn’t a ton of growth in most of the crew, except for Galena, the genetically created super soldier. Her exploration of what it means to be human or be like the “natural borns” is extremely sweet and awkward. It’s been a great journey so far, and I hope for it to continue! Also, Luli, the cyborg pilot is my favorite character by far. I just love her.
That being said, the first book wrapped up nicely with the small conflicts tying together while also giving the reader threads of new information. And the end scene left enough of a teaser that I did feel the need pick up Twistin’ Matilda. The fact that the characters are enjoyable and the world interesting are bonuses!
Twistin’ Matilda by Jon Grey Lang
In Twistin’ Matilda, I can definitely see Lang settling into his author briches. This second book in the Matilda series feels more put-together and contiguous with clearer long game plot arcs. The main and supporting characters start fitting into their roles. And shit. Gets. Real. I definitely was able to grasp onto the bigger conflict here, though there are still a few fairly nebulous mysteries.
I will say that Lang does do a pretty good job of keeping the really high-level vague-ish scenes to a minimum–just enough to keep the reader guessing, but not so many as to bog down the flow and pacing.
In Twistin’ you also see more growth from other crew members, namely Barney, the engineer, and Anton, the “terrorist”. Anton’s budding relationship with Galena is another great subplot that is engaging and thoughtful. I’m still not 100% sold on the captain, but since the end of book 2 brought her to a “come to Jesus” moment, I’m hopeful she’ll get something out of it in book 3!
Speaking of which…Lang will be releasing his third book in the series, Black Matilda, sometime in 2021, give his blog a follow for more updates!
You can pick up Lang’s first two books below. If you’ve read them, let me know in the comments what you think!
Happy reading! (P.S. Follow my blog directly to be the first to find out when a new post is available!)
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