Friday, March 11, 2016

James Review -- Into the Maelstrom: The Citizen Trilogy

This week I decided to review The Citizen Trilogy: Into the Maelstrom by David Drake and John Lambshead.

The story opens with the Brasilian research ship Reggie Kray discovering a substance, unbihexium, while exploring the Cutter Stream region of space. The substance had been theorized by the long fallen Third Human Civilization, also known as the current civilization of Earth, but had never been proven to exist until now. While an experiment nearly leads to disaster, it also reveals revolutionary traits of the new substance.

Meanwhile, the discontent is rapidly growing in Brasilia’s Cutter Stream colonies, and soon after seeing off his brother-in-law who is moving back to Brasilia, Allen Allenson, a veteran of the recent war between Brasilia and its rival Terra, travels to Paxton where representatives of the colonies are gathering to discuss a response to the Brasilian government’s recent actions, and while there, Allenson runs into Hawthorn, an old friend who vanished soon after the last war.

But while the debate over whether or not to declare independence rages, events elsewhere bring matters to a head. In the colonial Heilbron Worlds, clashes between radicals and Brasilian troops have led to the local militias besieging the Brasilian-held city of Oxford. Allenson is appointed Captain General of the Cutter Stream army and sent to command the siege, along with his nephew Todd as an aide, and Hawthorn as head of special projects such as intelligence-gathering and the general’s security, with his efforts to protect the general soon joined by Allenon’s wife Trinia.

Allenson swiftly reorganizes the disaster of a camp he finds on arrival and works to instill discipline in the army, With siege engines improvised by a rebel engineer, the colonial army manages to disrupt Oxford’s supply lines and the Brasilian army withdraws. But Allenson’s hopes that this victory will end the war are soon dashed as news of unbihexium and its abilities reaches him. The substance will revolutionize space travel, starship design, engineering and warfare, and with the only confirmed source in the Cutter Stream, Brasilia is more determined to hold the colonies than ever. Allenson prepares to defend Port Trent, the primary link between the Homeworlds and the Cutter Stream colonies but when the battle begins a series of unexpected moves by Brasilia’s forces turns the defense into a siege and then a desperate retreat by the Colonial army. And while Allenson is reporting to the colonial Assembly on Paxton, disaster strikes again as the Brasilian forces strike the base the colonial army fell back to, decimating the main rebel force. While struggling with the side-effects of the drugs he had been using to keep himself going while in the field, Allenson must build a new army, forge friendships with old enemies, and launch a desperate offensive with time running out for the colonial cause.

I give this book 7.5 out of 10. The setting is interesting and some of the technologies used in the setting are unique enough to make things different from most space stories. The story itself is, at its heart, the early phases of the American Revolution in space with Allenson as the counterpart of George Washington but there are enough changes to keep things from becoming too predictable. However, this also hurts the story as I feel that some of the changes are not for the better. There is no mention of any major engagements not involving Allenson. This means no equivalents to Lexington and Concord or Bunker Hill mentioned which makes me question the feasibility of the rebellion maintaining the morale to keep fighting through the disasters of Port Trent and its aftermath without early victories and proof they could hold their own in the field to bolster its spirit. And on a much less significant note I wish more effort had been put into naming the protagonist. Still despite the flaws the book was a lot of fun and I hope the third book is even better.

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