David Weber always satisfies with great SF stories and this one is no exception. As exciting as it was, it must’ve been very frustrating to early readers to have to wait ten years for a sequel; as it was, I only recently found this title.
The Earth is visited by an alien race called the Shongairi who come only to conquer. There is no discussion, no attempt to trade or exchange information; there is only an immediate world-wide bombardment which effectively killed three-quarters of the entire world’s population. The Shongairi belong to a confederation called The Hegemony which comprises thousands of other species. Most of the Hegemony are descended from herbivores with a few species, such as the Shongairi, being omnivores. Carnivores tend to blow themselves up at a certain level of technology and don’t usually make it far enough to quality for membership. This tends to color how the Hegemony view new species. The Shongairi are tolerated but not trusted as they are the most aggressive species in the Hegemony. And the Shongairi are looking to conquer a species to make them slave-soldiers. They are expected to follow certain rules which are in place to protect species at certain points in their evolution. The Earth should have been exempt from interference but since humans have demonstrated a distressing level of aggressiveness, the Hegemony have given tacit approval and intend to ignore whatever the Shongairi do to Earth. The Shongairi have estimated that humans will be excellent slave-soldiers because of that aggressiveness and they expect their demonstrably superior weaponry will compel the remaining quarter of the population to immediately capitulate. They don’t really understand humanity; they judge based on their own preconceptions and past history of dealing with herbivores. They really don’t understand what they’ve bitten into…
The story focuses primarily on two individuals, both Americans but separated by half a world. Dave Dvorak is a former Marine now managing a shooting range and living quietly in S. Carolina with his family. Stephen Buchevsky is a US Army Master Sergeant in Afghanistan waiting for orders to return home when the Shongairi strike.
Dave reacts immediately to the invasion by moving his entire family to a fortified cabin hidden in the mountains. His reputation and his preparedness draws others to him and he eventually finds himself at the epicenter of a resistance movement. And resistance is something the Shongairi never anticipated. They are actually confused by the humans continuing to resist. When they are attacked, they reply in kind and ten-fold; often destroying entire towns to punish the resistance. They continue to be confounded when the tactics only increase the resistance fighters’ resolve. Their best exopsychologists are scrambling to provide an explanation for the inexplicable humans. They are also easily duped when they confront a human and demand surrender only to release said human and be surprised to learn the human lied! Governor Howell of North Carolina is smart enough to figure out how to use these blind spots to good advantage. He manages to keep North Carolina mostly intact and undamaged while manipulating the aliens and supporting the resistance. But he’s the only one; most parts of the world have degenerated into small enclaves fighting for survival or being swallowed up by self-proclaimed warlords.
Stephen Buchevsky in Afghanistan has given up all hope of returning home and is sure his family didn’t survive. But he has no intention of lying down or giving up. He throws in with local pockets of resistance to lend his expertise and the Shongairi are, again, surprised by the level of resistance in what they believed to be a third-world country. Stephen falls in with a local warlord named Mircea Basarab who is also quite effective in guerilla tactics. But Basarab has more than that up his sleeve; what he is may be the Earth’s salvation but only if Stephen can bring himself to trust Basarab.
This is exactly the sort of story that most appeals to me: good old American boys and girls fighting back against overwhelming odds and winning because of good old American spirit. And Weber does it well; though he could have been a bit more even-handed with female characters.
What I enjoyed most was the aliens’ point-of-view. They were so sure they knew what they were getting into even though their last visit was in the middle ages. They were so sure they could predict our level of technology and they were so sure they knew how we’d react to their superiority. It was actually smirk-worthy to see them flounder about wondering why these things were happening to them. And it was amusing to see them ponder how to spin the debacle when the rest of the Hegemony learns of their miscalculations.
I simply cannot tell you the really great parts as they would be significant spoilers. Read this book before you read the next review of the sequel…please. The plot was good and the characters interesting; the story is everything. Weber spares no detail in describing his worldbuilding or in the action sequences. It was a great joy to read. ~~ Catherine Book
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