I’ve really enjoyed this quirky military space opera series featuring solitary super-soldier Jon and his formidable sentient space ship, Lobo. It manages to deliver gripping adventures, nicely tempered with welcome humour, either in the snarky exchanges between Jon and Lobo, or the chatter of semi-intelligent machines as they bicker amongst themselves – see my review of Jump Twist Gate. However this time around, there aren’t so many laughs…
No child should ever be a soldier. Jon Moore knew that better than most, having learned to fight to survive before he’d hit puberty. So when a former comrade, Alissa Lim, asks for his help in rescuing a group of children pressed into service by rebels on a planet no one cares to save, he agrees. Only later does he realize he’s signed up to do far more than he’d ever imagined. Jon’s commitment hurtles him and Lobo, the hyper-intelligent assault vehicle who is his only real friend, into confrontations with the horrors the children have experienced and with a dark chapter from his past.
That is as much of the rather chatty blurb as I’m prepared to share, as it gives away far too many plotpoints in my opinion. The author clearly feels passionate about the subject of child soldiers – in the Afterword, he says that the groups trying to reintegrate these children have estimated that at present there are approximately some 300,000 child soldiers around the planet. As he says – that’s a shocking number of children whose childhoods have been devastated and turned into something horrific.
However, this isn’t some gritty non-fiction exposé on the issue – it happens to be the main spine running through a military space opera adventure story. So does it work? Yes, overall I think that Van Name has once more delivered a strong story with plenty of tension. I always find Jon a very sympathetic character and I enjoyed learning about the traumas in his childhood that led to him falling into the wrong hands, sealing his fate as mercenary. And in this book, we learn just how much he minds about that choice being taken away…
I love the villain of the piece in this story – it doesn’t hurt that he’s a politician, given that right now I’d happily put all the ones littering up Westminster on a boat and set them adrift in the Channel until they start behaving with some responsibility. There were also some moments of real emotional heft in the story where I had a lump in my throat. To be honest, I could have done with a few more laughs, but I do understand that Van Name’s own sense of humour wasn’t firing on all cylinders this time around – and I certainly prefer that he didn’t attempt it if he wasn’t feeling it.
Any niggles? The pacing was just a tad slow in the middle – something I haven’t experienced before in this series – I felt the lead-in to the final denouement could have come a few chapters sooner than it did. But overall, it wasn’t a dealbreaker and this was a gripping, enjoyable episode – though if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, please don’t start with this one. This is definitely a series which needs to be read in the right order.
Recommended for fans of gripping military science fiction.
I’ll have to start paying greater attention to your reviews for military sci-fi – not that I wasn’t paying attention before, just that I kind of always thought this type of read wasn’t for me so I never took a note of any particular titles – and now I’ve just read a book that worked it’s magic and left me wondering just how many good reads I’ve been missing out on through to stubbornness.
I’ll freely admit there are some military sci fi reads that would leave you cold – but there are a whole lot that are packed full of enjoyable, three-dimensional characters and quirky situations. Not that I’m trying to sell it to you as a genre. At all…
The idea of children as soldiers just makes me so sad. It definitely shouldn’t happen so I like that this author has chosen to spotlight that in his series. I’m also intrigued by the politician villain. I’d like to chuck a few of our politicians out into the Atlantic so I can see why this character could make for such a great villain.
I know! I thought it was a great way of spotlighting a blight on our humanity, without a lot of preaching.
As for the politicians… maybe we could put ours and yours together in the same leaky boat! Their antics would be funny if they didn’t impact on our lives in such a dire, dangerous way…:(
A sentient ship and a villain that we might “love to hate”? This series seems tailor-made for me! 🙂
Thanks for sharing!
It’s a delightful series and though this one is a bit more sombre there is generally a lot of humour as well as adventure within the books:)
I could see how that passion about children could drive a writer to create a story around it. For that, I tip my hat xxxx
Yes – and more than that, he actually manages to produce a gripping, emotional story that held me throughout. Many thanks for your kind shoutout regarding my regular rant about chatty blurbs:)
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