I thoroughly enjoy Tanya Huff’s writing, and this series started with a bang in An Ancient Peace. So does this second book sustain the momentum?
Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr had been the very model of a Confederation Marine. No one who’d ever served with her could imagine any circumstance that would see her walking away from the Corps. But that was before Torin learned the truth about the war the Confederation was fighting…before she’d been declared dead and had spent time in a prison that shouldn’t exist…before she’d learned about the “plastic” beings who were really behind the war between the Confederation and the Others. That was when Torin left the military for good. Yet she couldn’t walk away from preserving and protecting everything the Confederation represented. Instead, ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr drew together an elite corps of friends and allies–some ex-Marines, some civilians with unique skills–and together they prepared to take on covert missions that the Justice Department and the Corps could not–or would not–officially touch. But after their first major mission, it became obvious that covert operations were not going to be enough.
I really like the premise of this book. In this slice of the campaign against the mysterious plastic beings who have created so much chaos, an archaeological team discover what they think might be traces of plastic in a pre-industrial society. And that is enough to draw down some very unwelcome attention. In multiple viewpoint, the story structure is interesting – we have a flurry of action as the hapless archaeologists are overrun and then we are inevitably drawn into the political aspects alongside witnessing how the scientists on the archaeological dig are being brutalised by some very unpleasant mercenaries.
At this point, before Torin’s team are engaged, what keeps the storyline humming is the interaction between them and the politicking around the very sensitive subject of the plastic beings. At no time did my attention wander despite the fact I went into this book expecting lots of fighting and mayhem. Indeed, while there is certainly shooting and violence, there wasn’t the set piece battle I was expecting. As ever, Huff serves up something a bit different.
I particularly appreciated that when the inevitable body count starts to rise, it matters. We care about the people who die because the characters in the middle of the violence also really care. Other than Torin, who I love, my favourite character has to be Arniz, the spiky elderly Niln archaeologist who refuses to be cowed by the bullying Martin – a really satisfactory antagonist I loved to hate. As is often the case in this genre, the blood and gore goes alongside plenty of snarky asides between the team which lightens up the mood, often causing me to grin.
I also liked the fact we also get a real insight into the motivations of the mercenaries, as well as the main antagonist. It gives the story more emotional heft and stops it being merely a fight between the goodies and the baddies. That said, we do have a satisfyingly nasty baddie who is clearly going to continue to be a threat for a while yet as his motivation and strategy puts him on a collision course with Torin’s group, the Wardens.
On a practical note, inevitably, there are a lot of characters from a number of species which means a fair number of difficult names are flying around. I did my usual trick of just plunging in without bothering to look at the contents page – this time around I wish I had. Huff has thoughtfully provided an extremely good Cast of Character list at the back of the book which I would have used and recommend to any other reader. As for the ending, Huff, manages to successfully up the stakes such that I very much wish the next book was already available – did I mention how much I enjoy Huff’s writing?