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At the top of the galactic pecking order is the United Free, a civilization of awe-inspiring technological prowess so far in advance of other space-faring powers as to seem untouchable gods. Most of the known universe has fallen under their inscrutable sway. The rest is squabbled over by two empires: one ruled with an iron fist by OctoV, a tyrant who appears to his followers as a teenage boy but is in reality something very different, the other administered by the Uplifted, bizarre machinelike intelligences, and their no-longer-quite-human servants, cyborgs known as the Enlightened.
Sven Tveskoeg, an ex-sergeant demoted for insubordination and sentenced to death, is a vicious killer with a stubborn streak of loyalty. Sven possesses a fierce if untutored intelligence and a genetic makeup that is 98.2 percent human and 1.8 percent . . . something else. Perhaps that “something else” explains how quickly he heals from even the worst injuries or how he can communicate telepathically with the ferox, fearsome alien savages whose natural fighting abilities regularly outperform the advanced technology of their human enemies. Perhaps it is these unique abilities that bring Sven to the attention of OctoV.
Drafted into the Death’s Head, the elite enforcers of OctoV’s imperial will, Sven is given a new lease on life. Armed with a SIG diabolo–an intelligent gun–and an illegal symbiont called a kyp, Sven is sent to a faraway planet, the latest battleground between the Uplifted and OctoV. There he finds himself in the midst of a military disaster, one that will take all his courage–and all his firepower–to survive.
But an even deadlier struggle is taking place, a struggle that will draw the attention of the United Free. Sven knows he is a pawn, and pawns have a bad habit of being sacrificed.
But Sven is nobody’s sacrifice. And even a pawn can checkmate a king.
Review by Travis Starnes
It’s been a while since I hit a sci-fi series I wasn’t already reading, and this one seems like the beginning of a pretty good military sci-fi series. The book focuses on the journey of the main character from a barely functioning legionary to one of the most the elite of the empires military. While it is straight up military fiction and adventure fodder, it is interesting to have a book which is almost a study in character progression. Very unusual for a military fiction book.
When it comes to the building of the world, it’s hard not to draw comparisons with the world of Starship Troopers, what with the futuristic fascist thing going on. We have seen this kind of setting before, but Gunn does a good job not making it feel too much like a copy of previous books.
While following the Journey of Sven you can almost break the story into sections of his progression, which is both good and bad. While it does increase the feeling that you are taking a journey with the character, it is hard to get truly invested in one series of events. As you start getting invested in the world Sven inhabits in one part of the book you are done with a section and on to a new situation to read about. By the final section of the book, an epic battle where the main character is thrust into leading the fate of whether a city falls, you just aren’t connected with the events. Sure you are on board with Sven and the cast of characters he has arrayed around it but as a reader you have spent so little time in the city that its ultimate end just doesn’t seem that important. While it’s good I have been able to connect to Sven the writer should also make it possible for me to connect to the world Sven lives in.
As a main character Sven comes off as a little brusque and aggressive, but that seems to work in today’s world of the Anti-Hero being the protagonist in popular media. We do get some good character progression and his situation has changed pretty radically from page one. His personality and outlook are still pretty much unmoved, but it is early in the series and a book can’t do everything at once and tell a good story at one time, so I don’t hold that against it.
The secondary characters are where this book really shines. In many military fiction and sci-fi books the side characters tend to be little more then cut out one-dimensional characters playing off of some well-known stereotype. More than many other titles I have read, I find that these secondary characters really mattered and I cared what their story was about almost as much as Sven’s. The only downside to this supporting case is the same one I generally have with military fiction; there are just too many supporting characters. That is compounded by the fact that some of the sections of the book features characters that I really found interesting but that didn’t make it into subsequent sections. I really want to know what happened to these guys, and my only hope is they get brought back in a sequel.
Overall, it’s a good read and worth the purchase. Hopefully later books in the series keep it up.