(I’m a Kindle Unlimited subscriber and read this book through KU)
Warden caught my attention with its gorgeous cover, and the book fulfilled what it promised: a novel with a terrific setting and all the action to match.
Gregg Vann’s colonisation novel centres around almost continuous action, punctuated mostly by battle plans sure to generate even more action, but despite this has a pace that feels dense and weighted, yet never boring. Indeed, it’s the kind of book I keep dishing out praise to because the backstory and set up are at least as engaging as the main story, if not more so. The author not only thought this story through right down to every fine detail, but finished with the kind of story it most likely takes a number of drafts to get right, because the selection of what to include and where was vital, and Gregg Vann has nailed this balance perfectly.
There’s a fair amount of ‘real’ science in this novel, (I’m actually not sure if it’s categorized as hard sci-fi, but it quite easily could be) yet the narrative never feels science-lesson showy (just as an example, we have a freezing planet plagued by storms and inhospitable terrain, yet never a mention of axial tilt, or a distance from the planet’s star) nor does it ever read like an encyclopaedia, even when historical documents are mentioned by the characters themselves. The history of Warden is as rich as what you’ll find in any real museum, with a page-turning take on the how, why, where and who of colonising a teracompatible planet. And let’s not forget the when, but I won’t spoil it.
Warden is driven largely by two characters (Tana and…actually I think I’d be spoiling it if I gave the other name here) who are wonderfully believable. There’s a ‘humanist’ agenda running through both characters, driven by their life experience, which would surely make most readers root for them (I’m talking about humanism in terms of equality and balance for all here, not in the religious sense of the term). This is the kind of book where two star reviews or below may well come from people who don’t like liberal politics or having anti-government stances brought into fiction at all, yet I would challenge any of this, because in the end just about every system of rule going comes into question through Warden and its characters. I never get tired of reading about characters searching for solutions to such massive problems when they’re presented the way this author does it.
So why isn’t this a five star review after all that? Well, sometimes the examination or rule and systems does get in the way. There’s one interrogation scene later in the novel which could have had a hell of a lot more impact had it not been for the weighty debates on who’s right about how to treat a population. Engaging though it all was, all this engagement came at the wrong time. The dialogue in this novel lets it down in places – a few too many battle/military clichés, and a tendency for characters to constantly use each others names. Perhaps the latter criticism links to the former – there is a tendency to use ranks and names like this for military exchanges, but they crept too much into ordinary conversation for me.
Warden also delivers little in the way of surprises. Apart from one neat revelation early on in the novel, there’s little else that turns the tide. Granted, there is another big reveal of sorts at around 40% , but a large part of it was guessable, and perhaps unavoidable because it couldn’t have come out of nowhere and worked (don’t authors just hate this problem?). That said, the characters who come in (and I’m really clutching at keeping this spoiler free now) create a set-up I’ve never seen before when it comes to climatic battles – not in the set-up or human dynamics, but in the curious mix of sci-fi and a more fantasy-like feel in what people are equipped with and how they have to operate, a risky combination that really works and doesn’t break the ‘rules’ the novel has set for itself. This combined with the use of a snow covered planet is creativity at it’s finest, nodding its head to Game of Thrones but a long way from copy, yet the story ultimately comes to a conclusion that felt inevitable. A satisfying ending yes, but not a surprise.
Read this book if: colonisation is your thing; you like kick-ass female leads; you like having your future-history served to you in great big chunks; you don’t mind feeling constantly cold (the freezing planet setting actually did have that effect on me in places); you want to read sometime big on detail but less heavy on plot twists and guessing games.
I look forward to more from this author.