I received a free digital copy through StoryOrigin in exchange for an honest review.
A.R.K. Watson’s Vines of Mars follows Tomas, a man living with his family in a colony on Mars. Ordinarily, the greatest danger is a forest of man-eating vines, and even those have been subdued for years—until Tomas finds the murdered body of his long-lost sister.
The murder mystery in The Vines of Mars was the highlight of this wonderfully imaginative SFF. Each chapter drip-fed new details, new secrets, new discoveries—and, of course, new red herrings—that leave the reader calculating how it’s all going to fit together. The second half crescendoed especially nicely, and the reveal at the end was worthy of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. The worldbuilding was unique and well done, and having Tomas, a good man who wants to protect his family, as our hero was a bonus.
I found that each of the characters, while objectively likeable, tended to behave in a consistently predictable and measured manner, consistent with the character trope they were meant to be, whereas I thought fleshing them out in more ways would have been ideal. This especially showed itself in the dialogue, which often had characters overtly stating exactly what they were thinking and feeling. The writing style was similar, not only regarding character interactions but also including chunks of research, history, or exposition. I would’ve enjoyed being shown more allusion, hints, body language, thought processes, etc.
In addition, the story had a rather pleasant feeling, which may be appealing depending on your preferences, but I felt a murder mystery of this caliber deserved more ominousness and nervous suspense in the character interactions.
There were a couple of tropes used that aren’t for me, such as the lying-to-family trope (and in this case especially I had a hard time seeing his motivation for continuing to keep his wife in the dark) or the explaining-the-crime scene (which even A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder does).
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the ending. Keeping spoilers to a minimum, I felt that the reveal an explanation was maybe a bit abrupt (again, AGGGTM does something similar, so this just wasn’t my personal ideal unveiling); the sci-fi element was stretched to border on another genre, by which Tomas got an answer without untangling the clues on his own; I didn’t see why Maria (Tomas’ sister) got into the position to be murdered at all, particularly after avoiding it for so long; and I think the final pages leaned on cloning capabilities—as I said, not sure how I felt, and I can’t go into more details without spoiling key points.
Thank you again to A.R.K. Watson for the opportunity to read this book and provide an honest review!