In Review: The Accidental War

The first book in a new series is a huge disappointment.

The Accidental War by Walter Jon Williams

Published by Harper Voyager on September 4, 2018. Oversized paperback of 478 pages at $16.99. Also available in digital audio for $24.99.

The cover: A warship is receiving fire from several small ships that are swarming about it. Explosions are appearing in several places on the massive vessel, showing that it might fall to the tiny attackers. The battle is taking place above a green world. This is a very exciting image from and it promises that this book has a lot of action in space. This frontpiece increases my desire to read this book. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “It’s been seven years since the end of the Naxid War. Sidelined for their unorthodox tactics by a rigid, tradition-bound military establishment, Captain Gareth Martinez and Captain and Lady Sula are stewing in exile, frustrated and impatient to exercise the effective and lethal skills they were born to use in fighting the enemy. Yet after the ramshackle empire left by the Shaa conquerors is shaken by a series of hammer blows that threaten the foundations of the commonwealth, the result is a war that no one planned, no one expected, and no one knows how to end. Now, Martinez, Sula, and their confederate Nikki Severin must escape the clutches of their enemies, rally the disorganized elements of the fleet, and somehow restore the fragile peace — or face annihilation at the hands of a vastly superior force.” I love science fiction novels where wars appear out of nowhere and those that were outcasts are the ones who have to stop it. This book sounds right up my alley and I’m looking forward to reading this. Overall grade: A

The characters: Gareth Martinez craves power and respect, as all characters do in this book. He bides his time racing ships against others, and since he’s not from one of the ancient families of the universe, he and his team is looked upon as a group of lucky misfits who are tolerated. He loves his family, to a flaw, which I found endearing. When he is slowly drawn into the conflict, he takes charge to help other humans. He is capable of action and tough decisions when the situation arises. Lady Sula has a mysterious past that’s only touched upon and this was her character’s strength, as the reader doesn’t know what she’s capable of. How she gets involved with the government was interesting, but once in office the story moves at a dirge-like pace. As with Martinez, when the conflict arises she springs into action, though that action is unsurprising. There are other characters in the novel, enough to warrant almost eight full pages of dramatis personae at the beginning of the novel, but they are forgettable, stock characters. Focusing on Martinez and Sula and whom they are currently engaging with is much more worthwhile for the reader. Overall grade: D+

The settings: Several characters have their homes spotlighted, where their wealth and power, and lack thereof, come to light. The senate is exactly how one would picture it. There are a few battleships where there reader goes in to witness a few minor battles, and these were described well. The bar where the major conflict of the book occurs was very easy to picture, as is Lady Sula’s living quarters. The rest of the book’s locations I cannot recall. Overall grade: C

The action: This is where the book utterly falls apart. Nothing but political machinations occur for the first 300 pages. It’s like all the senate scenes from the Star Wars prequels. When action does occur, it’s sparse and quick: a mob attacks a bar and the people have to escape, a skirmish or two in space that’s less than a full chapter, and a group of rebels take a passenger ship from government forces that have claimed it as their own. There’s no war in this “accidental war.” There’s only build up for other novels. This lack of action, that the cover, the premise, and the title implied, darkened my mood as I read this book. Overall grade: D-

The conclusion: The rebels are gathering for more action in upcoming novels. I won’t be reading any further exploits as it took too long to get to any action in this novel. Overall grade: D+

The final line: I knew that this was the first book in a new series, but based on this one book I would not read any of the books that follow. For a book with War in the title this was just boring. I had not read any of the previous series or books set in this universe, so these characters were new to me. Being a novice with these characters did not hurt my understanding of what was occurring, which sadly wasn’t much. I’ve seen Williams’s name on many books and read how much enjoyment they’ve brought to others. This is not one of those books. A huge disappointment. Overall grade: D+

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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