My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Brad R. Torgersen has taken some standard science fiction tropes (Earthlings under threat from insectoid aliens, young people signing up for war) and made them fresh through an unusual viewpoint—that of a military chaplain, or more accurately, a chaplain’s assistant—an accidental chaplain’s assistant, at that. Harrison Barlow is just a regular guy who likes to help people, and ends up assigned to the Chaplain’s Corps, even though he’s a nonbeliever who never had religious training of any kind. Faith and religion are often touched upon in fantasy, but not often in science fiction, and this insider/outsider perspective serves very well as Harry moves into adulthood surrounded by the questions of life and death, duty and fellowship, and humanity and personhood that accompany the folks at the front lines of armed conflict.
Never fear, there is no preaching here. The book is a novel full of action, not a philosophical treatise, so the reader is engaged by flashbacks to boot camp and enemy action and all the things that led to Harry’s current position as a man who brokers an alien peace. As always, peace is threatened. Is it a miracle when governments act beyond self-interest for the good of all? Is the sum of the law and the prophets to help people? Can a non-believer inspire others to faith? If you are doing the works, is faith necessary? These are some of the questions never asked directly in the book, but certainly occurring throughout the action. I read a review by a humanist who was satisfied, and as a believer I am satisfied, with the answers and questions I took away from the novel—the hallmark of a great story, like a great teacher, that leads you to the door of your own understanding and lets you go. Like David Drake’s Redliners, this is a book that goes beyond the standard military sci-fi.
(I received an egalley from Baen and Netgalley for review.)
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