Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: March 17 to 25, 2019
Initial impression upon first finishing the book:
A rollicking good read, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would considering this is military sci-fi that’s light on the sci-fi and heavy on the military.
After a quick reread:
My initial impression still stands. This was a surprisingly enjoyable read, although that will never not be weird to say about military fiction (even in genre). Another point in this book’s favor is it’s the beginning of a new series that looks like it could be really good, if the first book is any indication, and I’m looking forward to diving in further.
Tanya Huff is a new author for me, one I’ve been meaning to read for years now, just never had the chance. She’s favorite among my circle of friends, and now that I’ve read one of her books, I can see why.
Her prose is exacting, to the point, and she doesn’t waste space summing up things for you nor does she dwell too long on sentimentality. She strikes a balance between the physicality of war and the emotional toll it takes on troops on the ground, and between the personal and the political. I think it’s just right for this kind of story where the balance of deftness and a delicate hand is required.
That aside, the tone is actually neither heavy-handed or maudlin as one might expect from military fiction. There’s a lot of humor, bantering, and camaraderie, even in the face of peril. And all of it feels authentic. As a matter of fact, this whole book feels authentic, if you don’t count the space ships and lizard people.
Every military organization needed heroes; tragic heroes if they were the only type available.
The book kicks off by dropping you into the beginning of a new mission.
The marines of Sh’quo Company have recently returned from a mission in which they suffered a great deal and lost a number of their own. They’re currently on temporary leave at the start of the book. However, that doesn’t last long as they get called to another mission. Not to another battlefield this time, but to a meeting of diplomats. The company is to escort a group of ambassadors to a new planet, Silsvah, that the Confederation (hegemony) is looking to bring into its circle.
Along with the order, the company also receives a new commanding officer, Second Lieutenant Jarrat, to replace their recently deceased lieutenant. The new guy is good with diplomacy, but has zero field experience. He’s basically custom-fit for this job, whereas the company, being a group of rowdy marines with the exception of their sargents, are not.
Weird to call in battle-weary troops to be diplomatic escorts, yeah? That’s what they thought as well. But an order is an order and they might as well see the new planet and meet its apex predators, the Silsviss, while they’re at it.
The catch is–of course there’s a catch–the new planet is inhabited by a less advanced, rather primitive race of warmongering lizard people who are undecided about the Confederation and aren’t easily impressed by its fancy techs. These people require a show of might before they agree to anything the Confederation has planned.
What initially starts as an assignment to babysit a bunch of diplomats for a few weeks on a foreign planet turns into a siege and a series of skirmishes in the middle of a desert swamp in which the company is outnumbered by hundreds of Silsviss. It’s a grueling fight, but in the end, tech wins out, even at the expense of the people using it.
“We find it strange,” the ambassador murmured, almost to herself, “how a species can be able to make such a sacrifice one moment and can kill another sentient being the next. This mix of caring and violence is most confusing–it must be a factor of bisymmetrical species.”
It was by no means a truism that insight into a species could be gained by wholesale slaughter, but Torin was willing to bet that, right at this particular point in time, no one in the Confederation knew the Silsviss as well as she did.
In the midst of all this is Staff Sargent Torin Kerr, the backbone of the company, main POV character, and someone who grew on me. She’s got the weight of the whole universe on her, and I couldn’t help but feel for her and the burden she lugs around. She’s got a platoon to keep in line, a young officer to back up (who looks to her for confirmation), and of course, diplomats to keep alive.
“It’s all right,” [Jarrat] said after a long moment. “I understand where it’s coming from.”
It had come from places he’s never been, from battles he’s never fought. Torin turned, ready to challenge his assumptions, but his profile–carved out of the morning, too tight, too unmoving to be flesh–convinced her to hold her tongue. He couldn’t understand it all, not at his age, not his first time out, but, unfortunately, he was on his way.
All good stuff, but I have just one quibble. I always imagined the future of warfare to have more drones and fewer or no boots on the ground. The battle scene described in this book, while very well portrayed, is not unlike any battlefield from the last century, which is a little off-putting for me simply because, if humanity ever manages space travel and forms coalitions with alien lifeforms, would face-to-face combat still be a necessity? Wouldn’t there be a more efficient way to eliminate a threat on a large scale?