Pros: Fascinating setup and execution
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has had a couple of wild adventures. She convinced the alien Silsviss to enter the Confederation–over the dead bodies of many of her comrades. She was one of the first people to interact with a new sort of alien that no one understands. Now she’s been co-opted into giving endless briefings on those subjects when she’d much rather be out in the field. Meanwhile, Major Svensson has been recovering from injuries so severe that nearly his whole body had to be rebuilt from scratch. His doctor wants to field-test some of the new technology she used, and they’ve decided to go to Crucible, the planet where marine recruits train in live scenarios. They’ve convinced Torin to come along as the Major’s aide.
It should be a comparatively easy trip, but Torin knows nothing is ever so simple. The drill instructor for the platoon she’s assigned to has been behaving oddly. The scenario itself goes off the rails almost immediately, and soon the students find themselves coming under deadly-real fire from the supposedly safe drones. Before she knows it, Torin becomes the recruits’ only hope of getting off of Crucible in one piece.
The Heart of Valor is book three in Tanya Huff’s delightful Confederation series. Book one, Valor’s Choice, introduces us to Torin as she and her company are taken off of leave and sent on a diplomatic mission to a recently-discovered alien race. Book Two, The Better Part of Valor, sees Torin and a handful of new people checking out a mysterious alien ship that has appeared in the middle of nowhere, only to find themselves racing against time–as well as the enemy Others–just to survive the experience. In The Heart of Valor Torin goes back to her own training days and even finds herself dealing with her old drill instructor. At this point she has every expectation that whatever supposedly-easy run she’s sent on couldn’t possibly end well, and naturally she’s right.
One of the things I love about the setup is the way in which Tanya Huff uses the training scenarios. After all, even though the scenarios have gone wonky, all of the setups, resources, etc. are still available. It’s up to Torin and her compatriots to figure out what each scenario was meant to teach, and thus how it would have been arrayed, which challenges are meant to be overcome, and what resources might be available to them. Then of course they have to figure out what’s changed and what the planet will throw at them. This leads to interesting setups and sequences of events.
Torin is just a damn fun character. She has so much presence of character and so much style. She gets most of the best lines and all of the best scenes.
Staff Sergeant Beyhn took a long swallow of his beer and set it back down on the bar of the RT/SRM. “You run a good briefing,” he said. “Everyone seems to think so.”
Torin dropped her head into her hands. “God, help me. I’ll never see my unit again.”
This does not mean, however, that the secondary characters suffer from any lack of attention. One of Huff’s strengths is her ability to pack a book from cover to cover with well-drawn side characters of all types. This time she has a canvas of an entire platoon of recruits and their minders, and she does great things with that.
The Heart of Valor has a plotline where the reader definitely gets to see a little more than the characters do. In some books this can lead to frustration with the characters for missing what the reader sees, but I didn’t find that to be the case here. I felt that the characters drew appropriate conclusions from the information they had and didn’t ignore anything too obvious.
I have a real love for good military SF that I had all but forgotten about until I started reading Tanya Huff’s Confederation novels. Of course now I’m probably spoiled for the genre; Huff has such a deft touch with world-building and plot spinning that it’s hard for other authors to measure up.
“Does the military even have a position between going all out and casualty?” Dr. Sloan wondered–her thoughts apparently having been following the same paths.
“Yes, ma’am. We in the Corps refer to that position as being in the Navy.”