REVIEW SUMMARY: An action-packed start to a new action/adventure series.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Combat-K, an illegally reformed military unit, takes on a revenge mission to recover the Fractured Emerald in exchange for the identity of the murderer of one ex-soldier’s family.
PROS: Relentlessly paced; non-stop action; nice plot twists near the end.
CONS: The action sometimes occurs at the expense of believability; main characterizations seem thrown in as an afterthought.
BOTTOM LINE: Carry a small support to bolster your suspension of disbelief and enjoy the fun, fast-paced, butt-kicking action.
Andy Remic‘s War Machine is the action-packed first book in the new Combat-K series. It’s the story of a military unit, illegally reformed, bent on a mission of revenge for its leader, Keenan, who suffered the loss of his family at the hands of a murderer. Following their brutal deaths and a disgraceful exit from the military, Keenan, now working as a private investigator, eventually sinks into the depths of disparity despair. An alien prince hires him to retrieve the Fractured Emerald from the planet Ket in exchange for the identity of his family’s killer. Keenan reforms his 3-man unit (which includes the smack-talking munitions expert Franco and Keenan’s tough ex-love-interest, Pippa) and makes a no-holds-barred trek to retrieve the Emerald.
Keenan meets many obstacles, of course: First he extracts Franco from a mental institution and Pippa from a prison planet; they pick up weapons on a lawless planet made up of one gigantic city (think Coruscant from the Star Wars prequels); they fight their way through an alien warrior race on Ket; and then move on to Teller’s World, a “machine-planet of no return” where the really freaky things start to happen. All the while they are staying one step ahead of Mr. Max, a hired mercenary who must stop them using all his deadly skills.
This vast assortment of mini-missions propels the story at a relentless pace, where one action-packed scene followed another. There was one break in that pacing about two-thirds of the way into the book, where we learn the sordid, pre-military pasts of our three stalwart heroes. This section did add some long overdue characterization, giving the characters some much-needed depth and complexity, but presenting it in one bulk (though interesting) lump seemed like an afterthought that only served to interrupt the otherwise steady pace. Perhaps that background information would have best been better delivered piecemeal throughout the story, explaining the main characters early on with no severe impact to how fast the story was told. By contrast, Kotinevitch, the lead antagonist determined to stop Combat-K at all costs, was nicely portrayed as an emotionless killer though she got relatively little face time. Cam, Keenan’s security PopBot, was another fun character to have along.
Remic’s narrative is delivered with confidence in his storytelling ability and that only enhances the action and enjoyment. This book is loads of fun. There are weapons aplenty and cool settings. But the goodness sometimes comes at the expense of immersion and believability.
It’s hard to tell how far in the future the story occurs. On the one hand, there are loads of cool technologies on display (space travel to other worlds being the most prominent) but then there are distracting mentions of such present-day things like the Monopoly game, television and Halloween. It was hard to imagine – and get immersed in – a future where such archaic holdovers still exist.
Another occasional cost is believability, mostly stemming from the book’s attempts to be part of the military sf subgenre. Although the team does have military training, this is different from most military sf I’ve read. Firstly, all the action after the prologue takes place outside any military knowledge. Keenan is on a personal mission of revenge here, not sanctioned by any government. (Actually, previous events have made it illegal for them to be together at all, so it’s important that the government doesn’t find out.) Also, instead of a large battalion, the team is small. With only three people, there’s not much death to go around – for the good guys, that is. To be clear, there is plenty of gruesome killing and graphic scenes of death; it just always happens to the other guys (aliens, guards and the hired hands of Kotinevitch). And nearly every single situation they encounter is an ultimate danger more dire than the last one. Seriously, how many death-defying situations can our heroes avoid before it gets to be unbelievable? In one scene, Keenan suffers three broken ribs but then (unless I missed some miraculous healing scene) happily goes along on his merry way to more life-threatening adventure.
Of course, a book like this is designed to be a roller-coaster of fun, and it does succeed on that score, right up to the ending that clearly sets up the next book, which I am now eager to read.
I recommend you carry a small support to bolster your suspension of disbelief when reading War Machine and read it in the spirit in which it is written: fun and fast-paced @$$-kicking action.