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.