BOOK REVIEW: Andromeda’s Fall by William C. Dietz

REVIEW SUMMARY: Andromeda’s Fall is an exciting place for readers to experience the bestselling military science fiction of author William C. Dietz.

MY RATING:

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.

MY REVIEW:

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.

18 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Andromeda’s Fall by William C. Dietz”

  1. >>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.

    That IS high praise, Carl. Very high praise indeed.

    1. In the limited experience I have had with military SF, it is the ones that get really intense and don’t let up until the end that suck me in and cause sleepless nights. I hit a point with this one where there was no going to bed regardless of how exhausted I was. I had to keep reading.

      1. Good review, Carl.

        How long did it take to get to that point? A more specific measure of a good book is how much of the book is like that–where you sacrifice to keep reading.

        I’m curious, why 3.5 stars? We all have our style of rating, but from your review, there doesn’t seem much wrong.

        1. You aren’t the first one to point out to me that I was probably unfair in my rating based on my enjoyment of the novel. I probably should have given it a 4 and maybe do need to change it.

          It is in part because I tempered my criticism of the early part of the book and its tendency to move the story forward very, very quickly with several convenient plot devices before it settled down to a more steady narrative. I did not feel the need to be overly critical about that because the remainder of the book was so good that it overshadowed a rushed beginning.

          And maybe that is the better way to word it. The beginning was not rough–the writing was good, there were some action-packed moments–it instead felt “rushed”.

          The novel is 350 pages long and I read the last 200+ pages in one sitting because I didn’t want to stop.

          1. I ask because, to me, three star range means a story dragged for roughly half the book, but the end was really good. I just gave a four star to a book that I blew through in a couple days, so when you gave this 3.5 I was wondering how long it lagged. 150 pages is still a lot to read, if you’re slow like me, before the story really impresses. I can see 3.5 being accurate in that way, depending on how little you enjoyed those first 150 pages.

            P.s. Sorry if none of that made any sense.

          2. @Tim: Don’t confuse cause and effect. Carl’s impression of the lagging contributed to his rating…but that doesn’t mean that a specific rating means a book was lagging. :)

            Star rating are just a gut feel of how well you enjoyed the book. I wouldn’t over-analyze them :)

  2. A great review, Carl. I have never read this kind of sci fi novel, and you have me interested in it. The strong female protagonist is very appealing. Not so sure about the military context.

    1. I didn’t think military SF would appeal to me either until I started reading it and found that I actually do enjoy it. Which really shouldn’t have been a great revelation given the kind of SF/action films that I enjoy.

  3. I haven’t read much military SF, but recently discovered Joe Haldeman. This is an exciting subgenre and I will be looking for Dietz at my library. I like that you point out that Cat Carletto is not simply a military man with boobs. I appreciate it when a man can write female characters like they are real people.

    1. I liked that aspect as well. Without spoiling the novel I thought Dietz does a really nice job of incorporating technology in such a way that it enhances the abilities of males and females in their military action without making them essentially superheroes. Dietz is also not afraid to show that characters die.

  4. This is a similar conversation my friend Jeff and I were having last night. I look at the 3.5 star image above and I see a book that isn’t that many colored stars away from being perfect, but then that is a visual cue vs. what it is really saying when you look at these over some kind of percentage out of say a perfect score.

    If I had judged this purely on my experience with the book it would have been a 4 star easy. Having an audience in mind as I was reviewing it made me pay a little more attention to what I believe the above average reader would find lacking in the opening vs. they way at least two thirds or more of the book turned out.

    If it helps at all I think the bulk of my review is definitely encouraging readers to pick up this book, though my score may be that one quick visual cue that blows the review all to heck. :)

    1. If you enjoy the genre Brit I suspect you’ll like this. I’m looking forward to the next one and am interested in checking out Dietz’s much longer Legion of the Damned series.

  5. I love Military Scifi, and read the first 4 Legion of the Damned novels. For some reason, I never finished the series. I may try and pick this one up. What I like about Dietz series, is that although they are interconnected, you can basically pick any one of them up and get a self contained story. Dietz also is one of of the few Military Scifi guys that does a good job incorporating Female characters into combat roles. I’m glad you reviewed this, and reminded me of this series.

    1. I was thinking about the ‘female characters into combat roles’ issue just last night and considering how timely a book like this is in relation to the recent changes in our own military. This book is in no way a “message” book in my opinion but instead acts as a novel that treats the role of women in combat as a very normal thing and makes the protagonist as vulnerable as every other character to experiencing the triumphs and tragedies of combat.

      Good to hear that about the other novels. My intention is to keep my eyes open for them on used bookstore trips.

  6. A couple years ago, you recommended Tanya Huff’s VALOR series and I read them. Very enjoyable! Now I’ll have to pick up Andromeda’s Fall by William C. Dietz after reading your fine review. Like you, I didn’t think military SF would appeal to me, but these books featuring strong female characters are compelling.

    1. I find them compelling too, George. I read the first Vorkosigan novel late last year and while it wasn’t exactly the same style of military SF and was more romance heavy in the way it was written I could easily see why there are so many passionate Bujold fans out there. I’m enjoying branching out and trying some different things while making a more concerted effort this year to read a good number of newly published titles.

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