Last year, an Army relative introduced me to Marko Kloos' military science-fiction FRONTLINES series. The saga follows Andrew Grayson, a young man from a dystopian overpopulated North American Commonwealth (NAC) who enlists to escape the poverty and violence of Boston and finds himself fighting not just the rival Sino-Russian Alliance (SRA) but also the genocidal aliens known as the Lankies. I burned through the previous books Terms of Enlistment and the briefly Hugo-nominated Lines of Departure (both of which I discussed here) as well as the interquel e-stories "Lucky 13" (in which Grayson's girlfriend Halley is the protagonist) and "Measures of Absolution" (following another member of Grayson's squad). In fact, I reread them multiple times (they're good gym and MARTA fodder) as I awaited Angles of Attack
And now it's here. Now it's time for the review...
The Lanky assault on the Formalhaut system foiled at the end of Lines of Departure it turns out left an alien invasion force stranded on another world in the system. After NAC and SRA forces extirpate them and evacuate the human survivors, protagonist Andrew Grayson and his new friend Dmitry, a Russian combat controller, have to slip back to the alien-invaded Earth system to find supplies for New Svalbard. They find a very unpleasant reception, both from their own people and the alien invaders.
*It's a fast read. I got the e-book around 8:30 AM on 4/21 (the release date) and had the first four chapters read in thirty minutes to an hour. I had a fair bit of school and client work to do, so I wasn't able to get back to the book until sometime around 4 or 5 PM. I finished the rest of the book in a lengthy pre-dinner Kindle marathon in probably less than two hours. I read much faster than most people so I imagine you all would need more time, but my point is, it's never boring.
*Many of the scenes, like when the human forces try to breach the Lanky blockade of the solar system, are quite suspenseful. One reason I finished the book so fast is that I simply could not put it down.
*We finally meet an SRA character, a sergeant named Dmitry. And Dmitry is absolutely hilarious. Kloos captures how someone who's a native Russian speaker and not totally well-versed in English would speak--and then he gives him the most delightfully smart-ass dialogue. I recite his words in my fake Russian accent and I always laugh. Four chapters in I tweeted Kloos himself about how good the book was so far and how I liked Dmitry and he said I hadn't seen anything yet. Here's the exchange if you'd like to see it. Kloos replies to my comments on Twitter and his Facebook page and that's awesome.
*A major part of Lines of Departure was a civil war between mutinous Homeworld Defense (they're kind of a National Guard to the regular North American military, fighting Earthside wars while other services fight the SRA and aliens in space) units pretty much exiled to New Svalbard and naval forces. Even though the Lanky invasion and the alliance with the SRA has put a stop to it, there's still a lot of bad blood between all concerned. Outside enemies forcing a new alliance doesn't make everybody friends, and bar fights ensue. And when Grayson and friends return to Earth, the government left behind (such as it is) doesn't forget either.
*Some characters consider making a decision I really, really think would be a bad one (I'll get more into that later), but given some discussion they have after their ship gets destroyed in in Terms of Enlistment, the fact they'd even consider it is foreshadowed.
*The climax of the book ties nicely in with the events of "Measures of Absolution" and ultimately back in with Terms of Enlistment.
*We finally get Halley's first name when all we had before was an initial and her always being referred to by her last name.
*We get a bit more description of the wider world, including the other political bodies on Earth.
*The physical description is a little bit sparse. When I write I use more description, but that might be a matter of personal preference. In particular when the characters from the previous book are reintroduced (I'm thinking mainly of Halley), there's not any physical description. In a tight first-person POV you don't have anything but the character's thoughts and realistically the character isn't going to be discussing his fiancee's appearance--especially given the circumstances--but throwing in little things like eye color, hair color, etc. wouldn't be info-dumpy. This also applies to the alien Lankies--in the first chapter, the only description I can recall is that they're big.
*It's not totally clear why a character/warship's sacrifice is effective against an Lanky starship when massive nuclear or kinetic bombardments, kamikaze runs that don't have 40 hours to build up acceleration, etc. aren't. I have an idea about why it works, given what we last heard the character doing before the climactic scene, but it could have been clearer.
*The ending is where I had the biggest problems. It was rather difficult to believe the nearby Territorial Army units would not have gotten involved, given just what was happening. I hope this gets explained in Chains of Command (the fourth book that Kloos is writing now, hopefully slated for the end of the year) pronto, and well. And the fact two characters even consider making a particular decision was another problem, despite the blatant failures of the TA and the NAC government.
One character at least is aware of the importance of what's likely to happen next and how the combined human forces are going to need his help, but the fact one decision will allow him to make a much more significant contribution to the defense of humankind against the Lankies (especially given who is likely to be in charge of the defense of Earth after the events of the climax as well as the Lanky presence in the solar system) and the other really won't is kind of obvious. People don't always make rational decisions, but it would have been better to see more of the gears turning in the character's head so we understand why. Given how the book ends hopefully this issue will end up getting resolved logically in Chains.
(EDIT: Kloos said they will be addressed. Excellent!)
*We learn a little bit about why Halley only goes by her surname--apparently she doesn't like her first name--but it would be better if there was more. I was hoping we might get more of her back-story, considering how we did get some in Lines of Departure.
*In the table of contents, "Epilogue" is misspelled. Hopefully 47North will fix that pronto--it should be easy with an e-book--and that it didn't go out in the print editions.
A good third volume. Definitely looking forward to Chains of Command. 8.75 out of 10.0