Review: “Valor’s Trial,” Tanya Huff

Pros: Great look at alien races
Cons: Slower than the other installments
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has finally been returned to her old platoon. She ships out almost immediately to the site of an attack by the Others, only to get caught in the effects of a new and horrific weapon. The marines declare her to be dead–but Craig and Torin’s father refuse to believe she could be gone. Craig decides to look into the mess with the aid of the duo’s least favorite reporter, only to discover that all is not as it seems.

Of course, Torin did survive. She has found herself in an underground prison, despite the fact that as far as anyone knows, the Others simply don’t take prisoners. She’s there with hundreds of other marines, some of whom have gone bad, and it seems as though most of the rest of them have given up–leading Torin to believe they’re being drugged. Torin finds a few of her old friends in the tunnels, as well as some new ones, and sets out to mount an escape. Can she find a way out? If she does, who will manage to make it out with her? Torin’s escapades have repercussions not just for her, but for the entire Confederation.

 

Valor’s Trial is the fourth novel from Tanya Huff’s Confederation series. I read book five, The Truth of Valor, first and had to go back and read the entire series. Now that I’m done with the current books, I can only hope that Ms. Huff continues to publish more.

Valor’s Trial is a slower book than its predecessors with less initial complexity and thus fewer twists and turns. It has enough depth to its story of prisoners of war that it neatly deals with tropes (such as the bully who’s taken over one group of beaten-down marines) by layering on additional groups of prisoners with entirely different dynamics. It also adds depth by forcing Torin to deal with the bully’s surviving underlings, which isn’t a black-and-white situation.

One thing that has seriously impressed me throughout the series is the author’s treatment of aliens in her world-building. Aliens have stereotypes but come in a wide variety of individuals. Alien syntax differences vary amongst members of the same species, nicely taking into account the fact that different people learn a new language to differing levels of proficiency. Syntax errors also tend to worsen under stress–a truly nice detail! Humans have varying accents too, something that most authors lose when concentrating on how different aliens sound. Some of the aliens even have dialects and accents of their own that vary from that of other members of their species, and at least one race is specifically mentioned as having more than one language in one of the books.

Huff’s Confederation novels have served to remind me of how much I enjoy good military SF. Her particular take on it is heroic and funny but also dark and poignant. It’s probably spoiled me for most of the rest of the genre, and I could easily read another ten books in the series! Valor’s Trial delves further into some of the ongoing plots of the series while providing its own fascinating story. The early part of the book starts a bit slowly, but things definitely get interesting. I don’t want to say too much about how things pick up in order to avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of adventure, excitement, and wild plot reveals to keep things hopping!

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