BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When a hostile takeover of Earth’s rulership results in the wholesale killing of her family, Lady Catherine Carletto goes into hiding in the one place sure to teach her how to exact revenge: the Legion.
PROS: Balanced portrayal of the “strong female” character type; intense battle scenes; clever examination of the benefits of and fears surrounding artificial intelligence; great jumping on point for readers who haven’t read the Legion of the Damned series.
CONS: Feels rushed until protagonist exits basic training; protagonist benefits from convenient circumstances.
BOTTOM LINE: Military SF accessible to those not familiar with the subgenre featuring a likeable protagonist, a ruthless villain, and enough surprises and pounding action to propel the reader forward.
Here the question arises; whether it is better to be loved than feared or feared than loved. The answer is that it would be desirable to be both but, since that is difficult, it is much better to be feared…
~Niccolo Machiavelli (The Prince)
Author William C. Dietz takes readers back to the early days of his bestselling Legion of the Damned series to present one woman’s great fall and the hero’s journey she embarks upon to rise again and exact her revenge. When Princess Ophelia Ordanus decides to murder her brother, Earth’s ruling Emperor, her plans include the elimination of all of the Emperor’s close allies. This includes the Carletto family whose company has been instrumental in the field of cybernetics. Catherine “Cat” Carletto is a smart, beautiful young woman with her own education in the family business who has chosen a more vapid existence as a party-going socialite. Her life of privileged disaffection comes crashing down around her as she is informed of her parents’ demise and her own very imminent death. When synthetic assassins arrive at the site of the latest upper crust gathering, she realizes she must use her wits and do the unexpected in order to stay alive. It just so happens the Legion recruiting office is open and with no where else to turn, Cat Carletto dies and Legionnaire Andromeda McKee is born.
Artist Christian McGrath created the cover image that drew me to this book time and again upon frequent visits to the local brick and mortar bookstore. And time and again I put the book back down for one and only one reason; the jacket flap description that emphasized what I thought would be a long, drawn-out introduction establishing Cat as a rich, spoiled brat. I should have trusted that a bestselling author with his own personal military experience (Navy and Marine Corps) would know where the emphasis of a military science fiction book needed to be. After an opening in which he establishes Princess Ophelia will be a formidable villain, Dietz takes the reader on an adrenaline-fueled ride that transforms Catherine Carletto to Andromeda McKee.
The first third of this novel has an immediacy reflecting Dietz’s experience in television. McKee navigates from crisis to crisis in the same manner that a television show may attempt to gain a following by debuting several early episodes that contain a great deal of movement with minimal lulls in the action. The more introspective character moments come later once the audience is engaged. The up side of this is that it is apparent early on the author knows where he wants Andromeda McKee to be–on the battefield–and he is willing to utilize an economy of words to get her there. The down side is that it necessitates a few “lucky breaks” or incredible coincidences to propel the protagonist to the next stage of the journey.
Those familiar with military fiction will recognize the archetypical character templates introduced early on, particularly in the basic training sequence. There is a willingness to use those archetypes as a foundation upon which to build interesting characters. Make no mistake, the focus here lies squarely on Andromeda McKee. With the exception of a brief cut-away now and then to peer in on the enemy’s camp, it is McKee who the reader is meant to identify with and her character growth throughout the novel overshadows that of any of those she comes into contact with. Andromeda McKee is a female protagonist who exhibits the strength one would expect in military science fiction without having her conform to the “men with boobs” mold. McKee’s desire is to learn to kill, but in the process she is going to literally and figuratively get her ass kicked with a great deal of plausibility.
Once McKee is through basic training, the focus tightens and the reader is gifted with a short conflict followed by a much longer one in which much is revealed about who Lady Catherine Carletto was, and who Andromeda McKee wants to become. The battles are intense and the scenes occurring between the fighting carry an authenticity one would expect from military life. In addition to what might be considered ‘standard tropes’, Dietz weaves in a story about artificial intelligence and the way in which his future society has embraced A.I. and yet continues to fear the repercussions of this level of technological advancement. A.I. is what gives the soldiers their edge while at the same time Princess Ophelia is utilizing a very deadly form of artificial intelligence to track down and murder those who may oppose her. This added story element ratchets up the tension nicely.
The measure of a good book is when you feel compelled to finish the story, even forgoing sleep to get it done. Andromeda’s Fall is such a book.