David Drake has a well-earned reputation for war-heavy shoot-em-ups, high on military action, and maybe light on deeper meaning. I’ve read a lot of them. They’re fun.
But this book, written in part in an effort to exorcise the author’s own demons after his service in Vietnam, is on a whole different level. The story follows a company of troops who are used up. They’ve seen too much combat to really be effective any more, and each soldier is carrying their own scars. In it’s infinite wisdom, the bureaucracy assigns them to protect a group of civilian colonists on possibly the most hostile planet ever to be colonized. As you can guess, things do not go smoothly.
What captures the reader in this book isn’t the plot, though it is fast-paced and entertaining, but the people. The soldiers are real. They are experienced, competent, weary, and often dancing on the razor’s edge between ferocity and insanity. You can see how the horrors these veterans have been through are still with them and how they dominate every decision they make, from the officers down to the lowest foot-soldier. The pain these people carry with them and the way they either bury it or let it run is so real, so visceral, and so obviously felt in the heart of the author that the reader can’t look away even when they want to.
I won’t tell you this book is fun. But I’ll tell you this book is worth it. It won’t leave you; ever. I’ve never served in the armed forces, but after reading this I can’t help but empathize with what our troops have gone through and what they may be bringing home with them.