SPSFC Finalist Review: Kenai by Dave Dobson

Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC) Team Tar Vol On has sent our two semifinalists to a pair of other teams, and in return, we’ve gotten four new semifinalists to review and rate. Our scores will combine with those of these two other teams in order to select two books to advance to the finals, starting in mid-April. As in the first round, a seven-person team full of idiosyncratic preferences means we will rarely all agree on a particular book, so we’ve included review snippets in order to help each book find its audience. Additionally, every book at this stage was loved by at least one other team, so there’s always going to be a rave review to check out outside of Team Tar Vol On.

Today we’ll be looking at a first contact military sci-fi with three strong reviews from its first-round team: Kenai by Dave Dobson.

Azrah’s Review and Rating

The overall plot does have some distinctive shifts when it comes to tone, from a tense and action packed mystery to a more contemplative one, which made it feel a bit segmented but I still found myself very much invested in seeing it all through. The big twist in this and everything that followed, though not a totally new idea had a unique spin to it. I figured it out early on but following along still made me doubt whether I was right or not for ages and this made it all the more fun.

I did find that some of the info-dumpy monologue moments in the last part of the story slowed the pacing down when the timeline of the actual story was getting quicker so there was this feeling of the conclusion being a bit rushed. That being said I still liked how everything wrapped up especially for Jess’ personal arc. A great read overall!

Azrah has rated Kenai 8/10. For more, check out her full review.

Bowen’s Review and Rating

Pacing issues affected my overall enjoyment. The first third of the book, I was ripping through pages, enjoying this badass space marine uncovering a potent mystery that really grabbed me. After that, Kenai becomes a very different kind of book, and a much slower-moving one.

There’s a space marine thriller in here, which I thought was superlatively written. But that story goes away about a third of the way in, and is replaced with a slow-moving, intellectual first contact story. Fans of that kind of thing, though, will have to go through the space marine thriller opening to get to it.

Bowen has rated Kenai 6.75/10. For more, check out his full review.

Dave’s Review and Rating

I found “Kenai” to be a captivating sci-fi adventure that offers a fresh perspective on the genre. Dobson’s skillful storytelling, coupled with the compelling character of Jess Amiko, makes for an engaging read that will appeal to fans of speculative science fiction. While suspension of disbelief is required, the immersive alien world and thought-provoking themes make “Kenai” a standout novel deserving of 5 stars.

Dave has rated Kenai 8.2/10. For more, check out his full review.

Jay’s Review and Rating

On the whole, the bingeable prose and engaging main character made for a fun read, and the author managed the difficult trick of drawing me into a subgenre that usually doesn’t much interest me. The writing chops are on full display in the first third and have me curious to read more of Dobson’s work. But as the story progressed, it zeroes in a bit too much on the main plot and leaves potentially interesting subplots to the side, leaving me with mixed feelings upon completion.

Jay has rated Kenai 7/10. For more, check out his full review.

Mark’s Review and Rating

 This book took me a few chapters to get hooked. Once I was hooked though, the rest of the story flowed nicely. I really loved that the author never once did an infodump or any narrative exposition and let the reader reach understanding/comprehension right along with the MC. Very satisfying ending, nicely wrapped up. Really nice worldbuilding.

Mark has rated Kenai 7/10.

Paromita’s Review and Rating

 This is a book which from the opening lines made me sit up, it was something about the storytelling. The writing was good and used in a very effective way to tell the story. It was intricately plotted and the storytelling, pacing, character work, worldbuilding, some meaningful theming – all the elements that constitute a good SF book for me were present. Maybe the last act was a little rushed but it still worked.

The book committed to its worldbuilding elements and executed them very well. There was some wry humour which offered a nice relief. I also liked the chapter titles, interesting touch. I really appreciated the use of flashbacks to build character depth.

Additionally, the way the flashback chapters were incorporated were so well done and really brought the humane, not just human element into the narrative, which was important theming in my reading.

Paromita has rated Kenai 8.5/10.

Rari’s Review and Rating

Kenai is a well written and intriguing read. There were parts of it which went slowly and parts which were very confusing to me, but it’s a well rounded story overall, and I found Jess to be a believable and relatable character. The only other characters of note are Elihar and Otieno who appears in the flashback chapters. Though we see only flashes of Otieno, I really liked her and Elihar, of course is one of the major characters in the plot. I found the world building to be done well and in an interesting manner.

If you love Sci Fi, space opera, other planets, and flawed characters who mean well, stakes that are both personal and larger than that, you will love this book. I know I did!

Rari has rated Kenai 8/10. For more, check out her full review.

Official Scores

Azrah 8
Bowen 6.75
Dave 8.2
Jay 7
Mark 7
Paromita 8.5
Rari 8
Team 7.64


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *