Avanti Centrae’s VanOps Series

About the author:

Education:  B.S. – Computer Information Systems, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

Website: https://www.avanticentrae.com/

Thriller Sub-genre: Techno-thriller

The Simon Review

Avanti Centrae’s series, which begins with The Lost Power, is a cross between an Indiana Jones movie and a James Rollins’ Sigma Force thriller.  It is like Indiana Jones in that the protagonists travel to exotic places in search of an ancient relic and like Sigma Force in that VanOps is a stealth government agency that pursues potential leads on “advanced or obscure” technology that might be a threat to the United States.

The series begins with the two main protagonist, twin siblings Maddy Marshall and Will Argones, visiting their father at his home in Napa Valley after he had urgently summoned them for a family meeting. On their arrival and before their father could explain his intentions, he is shot and killed along with Will’s wife Maria. From that point on Maddy and Will travel the world, pursued by their father’s killer, to follow clues left by their father to uncover a powerful force that could change the world’s balance of power. Along the way Maddy and Will bump into former classmate, Teddy Thorensen, better known to them as Bear who ends up joining them in their journey. Little does Maddy and Will know is that Bear’s appearance was far from being coincidental and that Bear has an ulterior motive to join them.

The Van Ops series has everything you would expect in a first rate thriller; exotic lands, interesting technology, and evil adversaries. My only complaint is Maddy Marshall. Even though Will and Bear play significant roles in the series, it is Maddy that takes the lead throughout the series. So Centrae focuses more on what makes Maddy tick more so than the other characters. Centrae portrays Maddy as a conflicted individual in her role as an action hero. Maddy practices in the art of Aikido which has a significant influence on Maddy’s outlook on life. Aikido is a martial art that focuses on defense against an attacker while at the same time avoiding causing the attacker any harm even if the attacker plans to kill you under any circumstances.  This philosophy in real life is by all means admirable but it takes a damper on being the defender of humanity when the attacker is evil and planning on taking over the world which is true in most thrillers. So Maddy is conflicted on how she deals with the bad guys which is not what you want to see in a good thriller. It’s not just dealing with the bad guys that Maddy struggles with but also with many other aspects of her life which makes her seem a bit wishy washy and in my opinion a weak character. On a positive note, at the ending of the second novel, Solstice Shadows, Maddy does seem to reconcile with some of her problems which makes me hope that she gives up Aikido and becomes an ass-kicking warrior in the next novel.   

Travels through ancient lands, fascinating technology, and some exciting and thrilling moments pretty much sums up Centrae’s VanOps series. Maddy’s experience as an app designer and Will’s engineering knowledge brings a certain element of science and technology to the series which should appease the geek in you. At present there are two books in the series with a hint at the end of Solstice Shadows that there will eventually be a third. Solstice Shadows is not a standalone novel and should be read after reading The Lost Power.

Simon’s pick:

Most Favorite Novel in the Series- The Lost Power- a bit more mystery than Solstice Shadows

Least Favorite Novel in the Series- Solstice Shadowsa close second

What about the science?

Most of the science in The Lost Power and Solstice Shadows focuses on a mineral known as lorándite. Lorándite is a real mineral and I talk more about in The Technical Word in Review. Lorándite has some unique properties but one property that it does not have is the ability to act as a weapon of mass destruction. So Centrae’s lorándite is undoubtedly a work of fiction.

The Technical Word in Review: Lorándite- is a very interesting and rare mineral. It is the predominate source of the element thallium which is a highly toxic metal. There are only a handful of locations around the world that contain lorándite, but the site known as the Allchar deposit, located near the Greek and Macedonian border, harbors the largest deposit.

One of the unusual properties of thallium is that it can detect the very elusive neutrino. I discussed neutrinos in more detail in a previous review, but the long and short of it is that neutrinos are elementary particles and are difficult to detect because they virtually have no mass, are neutral with no charge, and are unaffected by the strong nuclear forces. Bottom line is that they don’t react with anything. Scientist have been searching for years to find a way of easily detecting neutrinos which are produced in mass quantities by our sun and other stars during the process of nuclear fusion. Then along came thallium. The thallium isotope Tl205 will interact with a neutrino to produce an isotope of lead known as Pb205. This allows scientist to now determine the amount of neutrinos being produced by our sun.

In the mid-1980s, physicist started up a project known as the Lorándite experiment or LOREX for short. The project involves the Allchar deposit and physicists are using this mine to determine the luminosity of the sun. Scientist estimate that the Allchar deposit was created about 4.3 million years ago. During that time period thallium was bombarded by neutrinos produced by our sun’s fusion reactions and converted to the lead isotope. Scientist hope to extract as much lorándite as possible and then determine the ratio of Pb205 to Tl205 which should give an accurate account of how much energy has been produced by our sun over the last 4.3 million years. This knowledge will give astronomers a better understanding on energy production by other stars in the universe.

The dark pink crystal is lorandite. This crystal was collected from the Mercur mine in Utah.

“Per your request, I sent the shards to Elena, and her friends in a German company ran some tests for me. Nice that she agreed to help out–I think VanOps would have been the better choice since they suspected the obelisks existed anyway, but I understand your concerns. At any rate, the obelisks we found were made from an extremely rare superconductive material called lorandite?

The superconductive material in lorándite is thallium. Most superconducting material work at extremely low temperatures which makes them difficult to work with but thallium cuprate has superconductive properties at higher temperatures. When I mean higher temperature, I mean somewhere in the ballpark of -243oF, but at least at this temperature working with it is feasible such as using liquid nitrogen, which as a temperature of -320 oF. Because the thallium in lorándite is not in the form of thallium cuprate and Maddy’s handling of it is not anywhere near -243oF, lorándite doesn’t behave as a superconductor.

Will paused, “So lorandite, huh? How rare is it?

“It’s extremely rare. And dangerous. Not naturally occurring. Probably came from a meteorite.

Lorándite does naturally occur through geological occurrences. Centrae was probably thinking of Lodranite which are primitive achondrite meteorites.


Most Favorite in the series: Solstice Shadows with a score of 4.07

Least Favorite in the series: The Lost Power with a score of 4.02

Based on overall ratings from Goodreads, Library Thing and Amazon (US & UK)

Books in the Series by Order:

#1-The Lost Power- 2019

First Line:

Ramiro needed a way to halt the spheres of ball lightening that killed and tormented his troops.


Characters

Maddy Marshall: App designer and Aikido expert

Will Argones: Twin brother of Maddy, engineer

Teddy ‘Bear’ Thorensen: Ex-marine, high school classmate of Maddy and Will

AJ: Foster child that Maddy would like to adopt

Ivan: Russian who kills Maddy & Will’s father and Will’s wife

Pyotr: Another Russian that is after Maddy & Will

Vincent: Maddy’s ex-fiancé


The Setting

Central California; Spain; Jerusalem; Lithuania, Myanmar, and Egypt


Spain 1057: During a thunderous battle, the first King of Aragon wrestles Alexander the Great’s priceless Egyptian weapon from the Moors, but finds it holds a terrifying and mysterious power.

Nearly a thousand years later, on a fog-shrouded Napa Valley morning, gunshots and the sound of breaking glass rip through the silence. Maddy Marshall, an app designer with special martial-arts abilities, and her twin brother, Will Argones, quickly run toward the sound. Horrified, they discover a sniper has cut down two members of their family.

Before the pool of blood on the living room floor is dry, their father sends the twins on a dangerous quest to recover Alexander’s ancient weapon. Joined by a broad-shouldered friend who harbors a secret alliance with VanOps, an ultra-black covert agency, they soon discover the lethal sniper is from Russia.

They follow time-worn clues from a medieval Spanish castle to a lost warren under the streets of Jerusalem, racing to unlock the secrets that will lead them to an arcane power–before a hostile state seizes the power and cripples the United States.
 
To survive, they must go undercover and off-grid. No place is safe, a wrong move means death, and even a simple phone call is off limits. Because now, the sniper has his sights set on them. 


“My intelligence forces intercepted a recent communication from a scientist at the Russian Ministry of State Security, or MGB.” The king paused, looking at each of them in turn, eyes heavy with the mantle of responsibility. “I believe somehow they have learned our secret. They are also after the lost power.”


Looking for a review of The Lost Power?  Check out:

Curled Up With A Good Book

Book Junkie Reviews

Jessica Belmont

Mystery Suspence Reviews


Amazon Rating-US: 4.06 out of 5 stars based on 127 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.01 out of 5 stars based on 79 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 289 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 5.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 rating

Total Score 4.02

#2-Solstice Shadows- 2020

First Line:

The golden forks of lightening that raged over the bruised sea reminded Ravi of a thunder imbued romp with his Russian mistress on her four-poster bed.


Characters

Maddy Marshall, Will Argones, Teddy ‘Bear’ Thorensen, AJ, Pyotr, and Vincent

Jags: VanOps operative and trainer for Bear and Will

Anu Amar: A researcher in the field of archeoastronomy 


The Setting

San Francisco; Brazil; Washington D.C.; Jerusalem; Russia; Germany, Mexico, Belize, Philippines, Turkey, Morocco, Sudan, Jordan, and Egypt


Broad-shouldered marine turned covert agent Bear Thorenson wants his aikido black-belt girlfriend to join VanOps, but software expert Maddy Marshall isn’t sure she’s ready for a hazardous dark-operations role. When an armed Russian thief escapes over her wrought-iron fire escape carrying an ancient star chart in his hand, her only choice is to join Bear in the pursuit. If her royal Spanish family legends are true, the mysterious chart leads to a treasure trove capable of powering the ultimate quantum computer. Maddy soon learns that the lightning-fast machine will be used by fringe members of the Russian government to spark a global war, and her eyes grow wide with fear before her spine stiffens with resolve.
 
Setting off on a mad dash to uncover the chart’s celestial secrets at a Mexican archeoastronomy site, the VanOps team unearths a clue dating back to biblical times. Racing across the globe through the dangerous bazaars of Morocco, fallen Turkish temples, and Egypt’s perilous Valley of the Kings, the covert group must fight to stay even a half-step ahead of sinister assassins.
 
With millions of lives on the line, can Maddy and Bear crack the chart’s secret code in time?


Looking for a review of Solstice Shadows?  Check out:

Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog

John’s Notes


Amazon Rating-US: 4.22 out of 5 stars based on 64 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 3.90 out of 5 stars based on 31 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.04 out of 5 stars based on 111 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 5.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 rating

Total Score 4.07