A Few Good Men is a story with three key characters, of whom
one is dead and the other two at least marginally insane. If this sounds like
the latest selection at your local literary books club, it isn’t. On the other
hand, neither is the book as campy as the cover promises to a casual reader
unfamiliar with Baen Publishing cover styles. Instead, it’s that hard to
achieve combination of action and introspection, pitch-black darkness and
brightly shining light, world-shaking insight and lighthearted humor.
In other words, Sarah A. Hoyt has written a sci-fi novel set
400 years into the future that is perfectly true to life.
The main character/narrator, Lucius lots-of-middle-names
Keeva, is a study in contradictions. He calls himself a monster on Page One,
then proceeds to risk his life saving strangers. He kills with ruthless
precision, but feels guilty even for deaths he hadn’t caused. He had repeatedly
tried to kill himself, yet at some point declares he wants to live because he
just got some new reading material. With all the world-building, technology,
and plot twists introduced in the story, the internal forces driving the main
character are the greatest mystery of all.
Even though there are at times pages and pages between
(spectacular) action scenes, the story never drags because even when the pace
of events eases up, the tension does not. And no wonder. It is hard enough for
a man who spent fourteen years in solitary confinement to rediscover how to
live and function in the real world.
Add to that a horrific family secret and the fact that many powerful
people want him dead, and you can begin see the seemingly insurmountable level
of challenge that our hero would face throughout the story.
To be sure,
Lucius "Luce to friends" is far from helpless. Aside from being in great physical
condition and with an intellect to match, he does have assistance. He is aided
by Ben, a long-dead friend who lives as a ghost in his head (sorry, Dean Koontz
fans, this dead man talks- a lot!)
and the Remy family, the life-long household servants with secrets of their own, some darker
than others.
Somewhere between admiring the futuristic weaponry and contemplating the marvels of a
flying device that clips easily to one’s belt yet can carry a 300 lb man at
high speed, I started appreciating just how packed
this book really is. Aside from the obligatory but well executed world
building, we get history lessons, a crash course in propaganda, insights into
the nature of family, love and faith, and- more than once- fairly heavy
political discourse. No worries, though, not a John Galt speech in sight, and
one of those political discussions ends up in the sweetest- if also briefest-
romantic moment you’re likely to read in a while.
And that brings me to another point: A Few Good Men is a
story permeated with strong, even violent emotions, and readers can expect to
be tearing up one moment and uncontrollably giggling the next. Those familiar
with Sarah A. Hoyt’s work are used
to her propensity to drop in humor where no humor could possibly belong, and
here she takes it to another level, with both the horrors and the irreverence
magnified by the juxtaposition. This level of emotional impact is the one
quality that makes the book stand out in a crowded field of futuristic fiction.
Many more authors in the genre are capable of creating interesting worlds and
rocking action than can make us connect emotionally to the characters involved.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough, even to readers for whom if sci-fi
is not a preferred genre.
NOTE: This book is billed as Book 3 in Darkship Universe (a
sequel to Darkship Thieves/Renegades) and Book 1 in Earth Revolution Saga. It
can stand on its own, although the experience would be different (not better or
worse, just different) without knowing some of the characters and the backstory
going in- basically it’s a tradeoff between more depth and bigger reveals, but
enjoyable either way.
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