Friday, July 25, 2008

BOOKS: Valor's Trial - Tanya Huff

And so, the Confederation tetralogy of novels comes to an end. Or at least, Valor's Trial by Tanya Huff ends with Gunny Sergeant Torin Kerr no longer in the Marines and on the way to a happier place with beau Craig Ryder.

To me, this is another solid effort by the Canadian writer of other material such as the Vicky Nelson vampire books (Made into a TV series last year). It's a fitting end, with some plodding moments that made my enthusiasm for super-marine Kerr wain a bit.

The first chapter, some 28 pages of it, gets through the task of introducing Kerr and Ryder, getting Kerr TO the front-lines for the first time in the quartet of books, and having the war end for Kerr in a BIG BOOM! No, she doesn't end up in yet another hospital.

She ends up somewhere far, far away in an automated prison facility.

That certainly brings up issues. The Others, the usually unseen enemy, don't take prisoners. Although they seem to have taken exception for the legendary conqueror of the Silsviss and survivor of two encounters with the omnipotent Big Yellow (aka Little Grey). But it turns out she's not so exceptional. Others have been taken prisoner too. Some from before Kerr lost conscious in the BIG BOOM! And some are familiar faces from the first three books.

Unfortunately, for a prison without visible guards, conditions aren't all that good. A "Lord of the Flies" situation has developed where rank has given away to physical superiority. And the new 'colonel' of the prison gang is not a good man. Kerr promptly kills the NCO-turned-faux-colonel plus a bunch of henchmen, and restores proper military rank and file order, with her pointedly not at the top. Unfortunately, the new leader, an ineffectual Major, seems happy to stay put with his now less merriless band of inmates.

Kerr sets off to find an escape. She finds other prison groups of Marines and absorbs some old friends and new not-so-pals along the way. Her own merry band of wanna-escapees are sent on their way by the ruling officers, anxious to be rid of a rabble-rouser from their drone-like midsts.

At this point, the book slows down substantially. The next chapters detail slogging through tunnels and levels of the prison complex, like going through Castle Wolfenstein without benefit of guns or Nazis to shoot. It lasts seemingly forever and ends with a tussle, not a battle.

The tussle is between Kerr and one of the Others, an insectoid race first encountered back on Big Yellow. As quick as the tussle starts, it ends. The Others aren't just a single race, but one of several, just like the Confederation Marines. Quick as you can say deus ex machina (the ONE piece of functioning hardware the escaping Marines possess is a working translator), the enemies turn into frenemies, willing to work towards the common goal of escaping. The Others, hereafter to be referred to as The Primacy, have an adventuresome group of itchy escapees of their own. And they're willing to temporarily team-up to get out of the hell-hole.

Which they do. Into the fire. Literally.

The chapters detailing the continuing escape while the two groups slowly coalesce into one ratchet up the entertainment value a fair bit. Simultaneously, the next deus ex machina is unfolding, as Ryder and Presit, the not-beloved journalist, are more or less on the way to meeting up with Kerr. Not that they know so. Afterall, Kerr's categorically dead at this point. They are operating on Ryder's belief. It's all very Edgar Rice Burroughs-like.

Not surprisingly, everybody ends up where they have to be. The bad guys (hint: think yellow and grey) reveal themselves and their hand in the ongoing war between the Confederation and the Primacy. And the series grinds to a quite decent stopping point.

I applaud Huff for writing a coherent universe that makes sense out of a variety of alien life forms. Each of the various Confederation species seemed to have distinct attributes that contributed to the success of the Marine Corps, as well as liabilities that had to be conquered.

Well done!

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