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by John Ringo and Julie Cochrane

Published by Baen

Print edition available January 2009

Reviewed by Dale Arnold
Review posted 10/22/08

This is the third novel in a chain (Cally's War, Sister Time) existing within the universe originally created by John Ringo in his first novel "A Hymn Before Battle." These three novels focus on a resistance movement to free Earth and other species/planets from manipulative control by the alien Darhel. The Darhel set Earth up as cannon fodder in their quest to dominate galactic civilization and generally treat all other sapient species as pawns in their efforts. Although other species resented this attitude and formed a resistance movement, the movement consisted mainly of information gathering and a lot of complaining to the choir before humans showed up and took exception to being slaughtered in job lots while being lied to with such lack of skill it added further insult.

The Indowy aliens are the great artificers in the series and through this skill members of that species dominate the resistance. The Indowy civilization is organized on a clan structure resulting in those humans joining the resistance adopting a similar structure at least outwardly when dealing with other galactic civilizations. Hence, the family O'Neal in the person of war hero Mike O'Neal's father and daughter become a driving force in the human resistance arm known as the Bane Sidhe and adopt other humans into their clan. To complicate matters, because Mike O'Neal was involved in the above mentioned Darhel instigated cannon fodder military actions at a crucial time, he does not know that the rest of his family joined the resistance. Mike O'Neal believes they all died in an attack on Earth and references to his family members among the resistance stand in a similar symbolic function as remember the Alamo.

These three novels follow the protagonist Cally O'Neal as she performs her missions as a technologically enhanced assassin and spy. By the time we reach Honor of the Clan Cally has largely assumed administrative duties in the O'Neal Clan and resistance movement although action tends to continue even for administrators when your organization is hunted. Further in this novel the other galactic members of the resistance finally come to appreciate the human direct approach a little more given it results in saving several Indowy clans from ruin.

The book is in many ways reminiscent of the Heinlein novel Friday or Weber's Path of the Furry. A strong female protagonist operates beyond the edge of formal human society because the system is hopelessly broken and tries to set things right. She allows herself to be altered dramatically to fulfill the mission and must come to terms with alienation of self to retain her humanity even as events tempt her to extreme overreaction. The introspection is not at as high a level as many novels, but then again this is an action-adventure-political-thriller with the humans-against-a-overwhelming-foe type novel and stands well on its entertainment value. Several thematic elements of the background story are reminiscent of an Eric Frank Russell novel of humans against the odds and winning in an alien imposed hostile galaxy.

Given his other solo work the inclusion of Julie Cochrane in the writing team may account for some of the increased attention to the concerns about family relationships. Then again this may be a simplification of the collaboration. In any case relationships between humans and alien groups are explored in the plotline a little more than in other Ringo novels. As in the two previous novels in this chain aspects of adult sexuality merged with a backdrop of violence occurs in the novel making it inappropriate for younger readers. Of course younger readers may find this and similar novels anyway, but I would not buy this one at Christmas for the kiddies. To use a Heinlein standard; this is more Time Enough for Love than Citizen of the Galaxy.

This novel has extensive combat SF action of the small unit and resistance cell variation. Both sides of the conflict suffer anxiety over their choices given the humans sent to root out the Bane Sidhe really share a deep distaste for the Darhel. Even with a high level of sympathy for the resistance they proceed to attack for practical reasons regretting the necessity and storing up even more resentment against the Darhel. This sets up a brother against brother dynamic of personal tragedy that increases plot complexity and moves the story arc efficiently.

The mechanical arts of writing are well executed as one would expect in a novel where Ringo is involved. The preachy tone of the recent Ringo novel Last Centurion, which told the reader through exposition rather than showing by plot development, is missing in this novel. (Many interesting ideas in Last Centurion, just needed a bit different approach in my opinion.) Writer's voice is appropriate and point of view is well executed.

This novel would stand alone, although reading Cally's War and Sister Time first would add to the experience. Think of this as mind candy with an edge and certainly not Hugo material. All in all a fine enjoyable novel worth the cost of a Websubscription ARC purchase from the Baen website.

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