One of the main issues Herbert had to surmount to craft Dune, and admittedly this could be a bit of the old horse before the cart, was to find a plausible SF setting where hand-to-hand combat was not only useful, but greatly so, as opposed to a society of soldiers lax because of weapons better at fighting than they are. Herbert wanted the human body, spirit, and mind to be the focus of his novels. He crafted technology, the shields being the most useful but also the ban on thinking machines, around concepts that made his needs possible.
John Ringo does not quite have the same sort of goals in mind, but he needs to establish why a high tech society would end up in battles based on skirmishes somewhere between 1066 Hastings and last Tuesday's impromptu Warmhammer40k game. He deals away with firearms with one fell swoop by making a government afraid of citizens having a right to bear arms. He deals away with high-tech warmachines by having the power needed to run them diverted to a systematic, protracted battle of intelligence and high powered weaponry v. shields. He, finally, gets rid of most AI by the Herbert method. There was this fight, see, and it went awry.
Ringo's style of writing is again present. I can think of no way to explain but to say it is "John Ringo's style of writing". It is blustery in places, too lean in others, sparking with Ringo's own fandom of others, flip-flopping between excellent and poor (and downright weird) dialogue, contains a healthy sexual appetite, puts forth a notably conservative political stance, and is rounded off with a big friendly dose of a writer enjoying writing his story. I have tried summing it up elsewhere as of the same sort of energy as serious fan fiction. Flawed, yes, but filled with a energetic sense of itself.
Much like it's predecessor, There Will Be Dragons, the heart of this novel moves around the concept of gamers and reenactors having the tools to defend humanity and all civilization. The genetic experiments of a two millenia distant future have birthed dragons, wyverns, merfolk, elves, anthropomorphic animals, and orcs. While high tech is present, and readily evident, it tends to show up in whichever way it can be most effective to moving the story along.
Secondly, like its predecessor, a fair chunk of the story seems conveniently sped up. Now, two years or so after the Fall, much of society has been rebuilt. Since the society had some of the tools at their disposal already, it would not take them a century to rebuild.
This novel continues, finally, the trend of Herzer Herrick being the main focus. Edmund, Daneh, and Rachel are all present but mostly backdrop for getting whatever Herzer is up to accomplished. Shieda and the Free Council Members make a very small appearance. The New Destiny crowd shows up less than their subordinates. This, though, does introduce a few new concepts to the evil side. It shows the "ranks" to a degree and helps flesh out some of their workers and agendas. The orcas and other dastardly villains are well played in this story, even while their masters are still playing from the "Fascist dictator faux pas" manual.
It also puts forth Joel, a spy turned fisherman turned spy turned sailor. He is a strong character with good internal dialogue. A fair amount of which is quasi-in-joke, making fun of the series. While less Authurian than Edmund and not as human as Daneh/Rachel, Joel is a more fitting character to the world and entertaining to read. This is a book that references the whole "crunchy and taste good with ketchup" joke (why one should not mess with dragons) during a couple wyvern feeding scenes and has its own version of the evil bunny from Sluggy Freelance. This bunny, mind you, ends up with a bunny sized flamethower and has a long standing mission to kill all telemarketers, who are now an extinct race (with the customary "aha" meant to fall there). By the way, I kind of hate that bunny, while kind of admiring his place in the story. I am conflicted. This is a series that is at it's core about gamers and geeks and all or our weird bits and the way we sort of fantasize about saving the world.
The novel fixes the overfocus on training from the last. The training exercises in this one are stitched together a little more organic and enhance the story instead of feeling like a divergence left to go long. The story never stops, never feels like the book has entered into an extended appendix dropped off in the middle.The characters respond more humanly, while still achieving their goals. The adaptation of a "Dragon Carrying Ship" (think: aircraft carrier) into an offensive naval unit has several weird implications that Ringo delights in exploring. The quick evolution of aircraft carrier tactics seems a little too brief, but it keeps the story flowing. Ringo seems to have found an extra dose of heart in describing the sea peoples and their cultures. There is a sense of love, here, that in retrospect was not as sharp in the first book (maybe minus the one scene at the tomb).
Is Ringo from Florida? His love of sea movements makes me think this is so. Looking it up, he seems to be a Miami guy who studied Marine biology at one point in time. It shows. Maybe he could write a series of stories about underwater battles. I'd read it.
If anything holds the novel back, it is the movement of Herzer's conflict from "boy who did not stand up for someone once" to "guy who has seen combat" early on in the novel. The change is quite noticeable. Herzer of the previous novel worked hard to correct his mistakes, he was somewhere between superman and a bumbling teen. In this novel, he switches from being warmhearted and a living center of the story to as cold hearted as he needs to be to push the scene forward. The shift is understandable, but somewhat undermines the character, making him seem more fickle than he is meant to be taken as. As the novel progresses, the shift flows much better. He becomes less a split-personality and develops more of the warmhearted machissimo of Barsoom's John Carter.
Pressing ahead, soon, to the third, so the novel did it's job. It is better than the first. I would say that it is somewhere between an Eh and a Good with a little more toward the latter (my rating system).
I read Ringo's afterward, which brought two things I mentioned into focus. First, he did admit to loving the writing this time around. He apparently is a diver, something I should have guessed but forgot. Secondly, he also points out that the sort of leaps and bounds taken with the dragon-carrier are too brief and too wide.
Just wanted to add that two my statements were accounted for by the author himself.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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