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Review: Seize What's Held Dear, by Karl Gallagher
The tyrannical Censor tried attacking the Concord.
When they couldn't attack them directly, the Censor would "teach them a lesson"-- orbital nuclear bombardment of their homeworld, Fiera.
But the nukes didn't destroy Fiera. They only pissed off the Fierans.
Now, it's time for payback.
Deal alert: On the date of this review, Seize What's Held Dear is only $2.99 on Kindle!
Our story opens with the end of the last book. In the Concord homeworld of Fiera, within the bubble, a dozen cities nuked by the Censor forces, people who saw 1984 as a handbook. Over ten million are dead. The Fierans are burning for revenge-- so much so they make a new Revenge party. Their platform: find every planet in the Censor and exterminate the inhabitants.
That's a problem when the first planet within reach is under the Censor's lash, and the inhabitants hate the bastards just as much as the Fierans do.
The first problem of the book isn't even striking back against the Censor, but making sure the new Revenge party doesn't take over. The Fierans are pisses, and they all want a piece of Censor prisoners ... with crowbars. And there are some POWs who are too stupid to know what's good for them.
Then there's the problem of fighting the Censor on the ground.
In one sense, this book can be summed up as "One damn thing after another." In another sense... imagine if the United States had invaded Poland under the Soviets, and asked for volunteers to fight the Soviet troops. The problem then becomes keeping the volunteers from becoming too eager.
The plot moves along in a series of snapshots. Karl doesn't go into the nuts and bolts of every little detail. At first glance, it may look like "one damn thing after another," but everything fits together like the pieces of a puzzle. Reading the books back to back will be a help because every event in the novel builds upon those of the previous book.
In terms of Military SF... It's Karl Gallagher doing space battles. He is literally a rocket scientist. This is his wheelhouse. He owns this wheelhouse. David Weber should be taking notes and hire Karl as his consultant, if not his ghostwriter.
Also, the last time I saw someone take this much care into discussing linguistics, he was John C. Wright.
This volume is largely carried by Marcus Landry and his wife Wynny.
Like most of the crew of the Landry trade ship Azure Tam, since Marcus has the most experience with Corwynt and the Censor, he's propelled into a position of authority, whether he likes it or not. Sometimes, he's the one of the highest rank, and sometimes he's just the only one who gets the job because no one else wants it. He gets around, usually while being shoved or pulled into one position or another.
And Wynny is also serves multiple hats in the story, one of them literal. As a sociable woman with a wide array of contacts, she becomes intelligence for the Fierans. After solving the murder mystery in the second novel, she is propelled into the legal side of things. This ends up with an interesting case that concludes with some off Perry Mason judo legalisms, with a bizzarely romantic conclusions.
And it's fun when Karl ties both of their job hopping to the Corwynti culture. Heh heh heh. Culture shock is a bear.
But no one is ignored. The linguist of the first novel takes on a large part in the wider world. The Azure Tam is already set up for its own story.
Even one of the ship mates in the first book has a cameo in the novel... as part of the revenge party.
Let's just say that Karl sets up characters so well, and so easily, with so little screen time, he manages a great sucker punch with a character who was in the book maybe 10 pages.
I am blown away by just how little of this book is action. Technically, a lot of it isn't even plot, but applied world building. But damn this world is so well built, it's just fun to be carried along on the day-to-day events and watching how things work. Everything we've learned about the world in the first two books come into play: how the Censor works, how life in "the bubble" works, and how life in the harsh world of Corwynti works.
I even like the small detail of "this is black market meat" and people whip out a Geiger counter.
Also "History books don't have sex scenes." Heh.... You'll have to read it to get that joke. It's a long story, but has a nice punchline.
Also, when I said that much of the plot is applied world building? Part of that is culture shock going both ways. The Corwynti have no concept of voting (they bust understand it as a brawl), and the Fierans have no way to count how many people live on the planet, because census takers are traditionally shot. The solution? The movies.
The cultural misunderstandings also impact the plot. The Censor keeps seeing their enemy through the lens of their own corruption. It feels like [easyazon_link identifier="B001Q9J4PQ" locale="US" tag="upstreamreviews-20"]Tom Clancy's The Bear and the Dragon[/easyazon_link], where the Chinese communists can't understand the United States, because they saw things only through their own worldview. It becomes even more impossible when they're lost in the wildness of mirrors that is intelligence analysis. Let's just say that this is [easyazon_link identifier="0385720386" locale="US" tag="upstreamreviews-20"]Victor Davis Hanson's Carnage and Culture[/easyazon_link] in action.
Oh yes, and the Tokyo Rose bit was awesome.
Much of this is pragmatics. "How can we get X thing to work." What's left is libertarian. How libertarian? There is a fleet of fighters that is all privately owned and paid for by the local militia. You can't kick someone off of their own ship.
The worst content of the book involves Corwynti justice for treason and sabotage... which involves stripping an entire clan naked and shoving them into a pre-chummed sea. If you're not a fan of the death penalty, you might want to skip that part.
Who is it for?
This section is for the reviewer to compare the reviewed novel with other comparable novels.
Honestly, there isn't anyone who is as good as Karl Gallagher at what he does.
Imagine all of the the cultural imperatives and world building that David Weber did in Honor of the Queen with his "Grayson" culture. Then take all of the logistics of a John Ringo novel. Add to that all of the space combat of the Baen library. He can balance intelligence, civilian political control and military strategy and tactics all at the same time.
Karl fits all of that into Seize What's Held Dear.