Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review: Valor's Choice by Tanya Huff

Valor's Choice by Tanya Huff
Series: Confederation #1
Genre: Sci-Fi
Add on Goodreads

In the distant future, humans and several other races have been granted membership in the Confederation - at a price. They must act as soldier/protectors of the far more civilized races who have long since turned away from war... — Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr was a battle-hardened professional. So when she and those in her platoon who'd survived the last deadly encounter with the Others were yanked from a well-deserved leave for what was supposed to be "easy" duty as the honor guard for a diplomatic mission to the non-Confederation world of the Silsviss, she was ready for anything.

At first it seemed that all she'd have to contend with was bored troops getting into mischief, and breaking in the new Second Lieutenant who had been given command of her men.

Sure, there'd been rumors of the Others - the sworn enemies of the Confederation - being spotted in this sector of space. But there were always rumors. The key thing was to recruit the Silsviss into the Confederation before the Others either attacked or claimed this lizardlike race of warriors for their own side. And everything seemed to be going perfectly. Maybe too perfectly...

A writer and philosopher of the late twentieth century once said, "Space is big."

You know how, sometimes, you know exactly what kind of book you want to read? You can pick it out from a stack of books because there's just that something specific you're looking for. That wasn't this book for me. In fact, by the time I picked it up, I couldn't even remember what made me think I'd like it. Then there's those books that you didn't know you wanted. The one that completely takes you by surprise at how perfectly it hits all the notes for you.

Now, that is this book. I started reading it at the end of a Babylon 5 rewatching binge. (Not really a 'binge' but there's nothing else to call it.) And, much to my surprise, this is exactly what I wanted at the time.

Right from the prologue, I was sold on the book. I've never been one to skip prologues (except for that one from The Princess Bride - but I didn't actually finish the book, so…) but I've also never had one capture my attention the way this one does. It gives you a brief overview - all of two pages long - about the Confederation and how the younger, more 'hotheaded' races (Human, Taykan and Krai) were almost begged into joining because of an upcoming war.

If space is big and mostly uninhabited, it should be safe to assume that any life-forms who really didn't get along could avoid spending time in each other's company.
Unfortunately, the fact that said life-forms could avoid each other doesn't necessarily mean that they would.

Well, we're still smack-dab in that war. Which is one of the things I love about this book. There's no setup. There's no wandering around while whole planets prepare for war. Nope. The war with the Others is already on and going strong.

It does serve as a basis for the plot though, because our combat trained unit - just coming off what sounds to be a rather deadly mission - is sent to play bodyguards to a bunch of diplomats trying to recruit the Silsviss into their fight. And that's pretty much the plot for the whole first half of the book. How does that not get boring? Two reasons: Characters and Writing Style

Its member races had achieved an interstellar presence only after they'd overcome the urge to destroy themselves or any strangers they ran into. Evidence suggested that the Others had flung themselves into space without reaching this level of maturity.

I love the characters in this book. A strong leading lady to tell the story (sorry, Staff, for calling you a lady - I'm not sure she'd like that) can be majorly hit or miss for me. I dislike the character's whose sole purpose is to be strong. I dislike the character's that are claimed in narrative to be strong, but they're really not (or that try to convince everyone that they are). Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr is neither. What she is those is very difficult for me to describe. We're first introduced to her during a post-hookup haze. Seems like she just slept with a di'Taykan (those of the pastel, moving hair and pointy ears). Also just so happens that they have very…strong pheromones and because of this, usually wear 'maskers' around other races. (At least if getting their bones jumped would be counter productive to minor little things like surviving.)

The other characters are all different and yet all mesh together so well. It really feels like there's a comfort level among these people that only comes from watching each others backs in dangerous situations and living practically on top one another. Which brings me to two other points about these characters that I love. The first is that this is a very mixed race platoon. You've got Human and Taykan and Krai (who seem to look a little like Apes) and you've got some pretty darn good cultural diversity among the Human's too. (And this this a sign of the type of sci-fi I'm usually exposed to that it feels so good to not read a book all about white Humans?)

Secondly, gender is a non-issue. There are mixed gender and race squads in the platoon and they all share room/rooms. There's none of that 'women bunk separately'. And I gotta admit, there's a part of me that wants to hug this book just because of that.

Feeling just a little overwhelmed, many of the original species spent their spare time sighing and reminiscing about the good old days.

The writing style is kind of irreverent. There's plenty of humor - usually in the form of turns of phrase, puns and bad jokes. Or the one guy that seems to have a GED in 'ancient earth linguistics' and confuses plenty of people by using terms like 'piece of cake'.

There are also some really great pop culture references. First, you've got the first quote I used - which I will totally admit, I had to look up who said that. Then there's my favorite when a couple of Marines can't quite remember if it was Babylon Space 5 or Deep Babylon 9. While the book does take a darker and bloodier turn once the action starts (and they killed one of my favorite characters) it kept my attention and it was never without hope. (Which is totally what sci-fi needs more of. Hope.)