The inscription inside the front cover of my copy of Heart of Valor by Tanya Huff asks, "What is it about you and women with big guns?"
Nothing. As it happens, women with guns figure prominently on the cover of this book (But NOT the next one) in the Confederation series by Canadian-resident Huff, as well as The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski. In the Huff book, featured hero Torin Kerr is a Marine who's a woman. But fundamentally, she could be a man. Just Huff's choice. And The Blonde doesn't spend much time with a gun or dressed to kill. So I deny the charge that I am obsessed with women and big guns.
That out of the way, let me tell you that Heart of Valor is another romp through an exceedingly well-plotted out universe. Huff, who's work I find hit and miss (HIT-The Blood series, aka Vicky Nelson booksl; MISSES-Everything else), surprised me with this military series. It's a style David Weber and John Ringo have mined successfully--the marooned squad of military grunts just trying to stay alive, under the stewardship of a charismatic leader.
Kerr makes for an interesting Marine. She's preternaturally right, as all sergeants are. She's staved off an alien horde (Valor's Choice) and fought an alien spaceship to a standoff (Better Part of Valor) in earlier books. This time, both storylines come into play as she accompanies a recuperating major and a squad of almost-Marines to the training world of Crucible. Twenty days of learning the ropes there, and the almost-Marines will be full-fledged Marines. And the Major, along with his personal physician, will see if he's ready to come back to war. He'd been injured badly and had a body regrown, almost completely.
Trying to avoid endless questioning about her first adventure against the horde-like Silsviss, Kerr jumps at the chance to get away from HQ and babysit the Major, a rare CO worth the rank. It'll be a cakewalk, just like the honor guard was on the Silsviss' home planet and the bodyguard detail for a bunch of scientists investigating the alien spaceship, dubbed Big Yellow, was. Surviving those 'cakewalks' had gotten her promoted from Staff Sergeant to Gunnery Sergeant.
Not shockingly, this one goes south in a hurry too. In fact, Big Yellow plays a part again, making life difficult. Compound that with an apparent attempt by the Others (the alien threat that forces the Confederation to have a Marine corps) and Kerr's lucky to escape with most of her team and her hide intact. Hey, there's a fourth book in the series up next, so it's no surprise Huff doesn't kill off her series star.
There's a B Plot in this book. Kerr's boyfriend Craig Ryder and obnoxious journalist Presit track down the story of the century. Based on guesses made by Kerr and substantiated to a degree by facts dug up by Ryder and Presit, it appears Humanity might have been manipulated by the leaders of the Confederation, the so-called Elder Races. How else would knowledge of the escape pod from Big Yellow be completely obliterated, except for Kerr, Craig and Presit? How indeed? The answer isn't as easy as Kerr initially thinks, although it will cause a spasm across the whole Confederation.
Things DO wrap up quite nicely for the upcoming Trial of Valor. I am looking forward to yet another Huff hit.