I remember once – back in 1988 (yes a flash back). I was in a cavalry platoon on a pretty intense training exercise. It was late at night. We’d been going full on for weeks. I waited in my Hummer, the engine running, night vision goggles pushed up on my head. We were watching for an enemy armored force to attack the flanks of an infantry battalion for which we were providing a screen. Tension that night was high, my vehicle commander was nervous. He kept nagging the machine gunner to keep his eyes open, his head on a swivel. We heard the enemy tank engines echoing through the night. Close. My heart was pounding. My breathing was rapid puffs of white in the frozen night. But we were ready.
Or so we thought.
When the first tank crashed through the pines mere feet away from us and the gunner screamed in terror, I realized just how wrong we were.
This book is like that.
I had read some reviews about this book and I know a little about the historical events and times that provide the foundation for some of the main characters. I thought I knew what I was in for, what lay ahead of me. But, I was wrong.
This book shattered all of my expectations. I expected a good book, knowing Perseid Press and the kind of work that they put out, but I was not prepared for this kind of quality. Andrew Weston has a way of putting you in the moment, mist swirling around you, spent brass rattling into the ground near your feet, swords slashing your companions to death as they scream incoherent terror into the press.
Despite being a sci-fi novel, this book is so firmly grounded in what is real that suspension-of-disbelief comes early and never lets you go. You never struggle with the reality of this piece. That dance with reality is the foundation of the book, of any science fiction story, and it is extremely strong.
From there it gets better. The author’s mastery of tactical doctrine and the feelings, fears, madness and stresses associated with combat gets your heart pumping and eyes shifting back and forth as you look for where the killing blow is going to come from. Excellent. Excellent. Excellent.
George Patton said, “Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood.”
Ignoring for the moment the anachronism associated with the term “manhood”, this story reinforces the importance of honor and duty expressed so eloquently by the general and raises it to new levels. Each of the characters enters into the story, sworn to their individual nations and situations. They are each swept away, without their consent, into a world where they must decide if honor and duty is bigger than their individual oaths, larger than their sworn oaths of allegiance. It makes the traditional hero bigger, more virile and relevant to the existential nature of humanity and it forges it in the crucible of battle. To whom does one owe duty? That is the question. This book asks it and answers it in the most brutal way possible – at the end of a sword (or other implement of war).
If you like science fiction and you like heroes and understand the necessity of heroes in our fiction. If you like excellent writing craft and a story that is deep and intelligent. This book is the one for you. And if you don’t have a love of heroic fiction, perhaps this fine book will open you up just a little bit to the possibility that a book about sacrifice and selfless service is a grand notion that can very easily sweep you away.
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