Book Review: Atoned, Steve J. McHugh

Book Review: Atoned, The Wardens Book 1, Steve J. McHugh

Atoned, Steve J. McHugh

Book Review: Atoned, The Wardens Book 1, Steve J. McHugh

Blog Tour December 1, 2023


On the surface, this is a multi-genre sci fi mystery, filled with intriguing aliens, a determined investigator, sentient robots, and interplanetary intrigue. It certainly could be read that way and be very enjoyable to a lot of people.


Felix Drake is a team leader for the Wardens, an investigative service specializing in crimes against and by royalty and other elite government officials and their families. For some reason no one has explained to him, he and his entire team have recently been transferred from their previous posting to a new posting in the empire’s capital city. This is vexing to Drake, as he grew up in this city and has no desire to meet with his former friends and connections there.


Someone else, though, seems to have different plans. Drake and his team are summoned to a crime scene in a sketchy part of town. Three people are dead in a house that has seen better days. To Drake’s horror, two of the victims were friends of his when he was a teenager. One of them had even tried to contact him when she became aware of the danger she was in. The other troubling aspect is that his friends were children of councilors, the group that collectively ruled the empire with the emperor at the head of the council.


What follows is a thrill-a-minute journey through the palace and slums of the capital world, as well as some visits to other planets as the team searches for the killer or killers. Drake is aided by his colleagues from various species within the empire, by his self-aware robot who has many questions but is unfailingly loyal to Drake, by a “tracker” and her team, by the elemental magic that “sages” (which include Drake) are able to use, and by members of the royal family. What they uncover is a conspiracy that threatens the entire empire involving a weapon able to devastate a planet.


That is the surface plot in a nutshell, but I don’t think that is what this book is about. It is about family. Many of the characters are estranged from their biological families, or their biological families are dead. The significant exception to this are the members of the royal family, most of whom seem to like and respect each other (with some exceptions). The other characters, though, have created families of choice. The tracker team is exceptionally close, which makes a betrayal by one of them not just disappointing but truly crushing. The wardens are also a tightly knit group, each of them exceptionally loyal to Drake. Drake himself would die for any one of his team, including his robotic servant. Even some of the criminals in the group are family-focused, albeit in a rather corrupt and manipulative way.


The book is also about discovering your true self. Drake fled his childhood home for reasons that seemed logical at the time. When he returns, he realizes that there are some things that you never leave behind, no matter how far you go in the galaxy. His time away helped him become skilled in many areas, to find a career that was important and meaningful to him. It wasn’t until he returned home, though, that he recognized how his home, his childhood friends, his adoptive family, even the very place itself had shaped the man he became.


I really liked the book. The characters were engaging, the plot was solid, and I am always down for a space mystery. One major disappointment was the editing of the book. I thought at first it was because I had an advanced reader copy, but the Kindle Unlimited version had the same grammar, punctuation, and word-choice errors (apathy instead of antipathy was just one of many issues).. Steve McHugh is a talented writer, but this book at least suffered from a frustratingly uneven job of catching some fairly major language problems. 


Despite the distraction of the many errors, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. If you can glide past the glitches, it is an entertaining story with very well crafted characters. I am excited to be in on the first book of what promises to be an excellent series.


Our thanks to Zoe from Zooloos Book Tours for our copy of Atoned, given so we could write an honest review. The opinions here are solely those of Scintilla. For other perspectives on this novel, check out the other bloggers on this tour.


Atoned, Steve J. McHugh

Book Review: Atoned, The Wardens Book 1, Steve J. McHugh

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