In Review: Virtues of War

An incredibly entertaining novel that earns an A+ not just for its battle scenes, but its outstanding characters.

Virtues of War by Bennett R. Coles

Published by Titan Books, June 26, 2015. Paperback of 484 pages at £7.99.

The cover: The top half of the book clearly shows the illustration created by Fred Gambino: Ktaja Emmes suited up and dropping down to a planet, while behind her several other ships can be seen making the same plunge, with two falling victim to enemy fire. The bottom half, which was used to accompany this review, shows the large title of the book, a quote from Steven Erikson, and the author’s name at the very bottom. I like the artwork by Gambino which expertly captures the flavor of the novel from Emmes’s perspective. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “Lieutenant Ktaja Emmes is assigned to the fast-attack craft Rapier, joining a mission to investigate weapons smuggling activity between the Terran colonies of Sirius and Centauria. If true, this act of rebellion could escalate rapidly, and lead to all-out war. When combat does erupt, its ferocity stuns the Terran forces, and pushes them to their limits. It tests the abilities of Lieutenant Emmes, as well, along with Sublieutenant Jack Mallory and Lieutenant Commander Thomas Kane, commanding officer of the Rapier. But failure is not acceptable.” Based on this summary I’m expecting to get a war novel told from three different perspectives. The back of the cover features praise from William C. Dietz, and I’ve enjoyed reading his science fiction military novels, so I’m hoping for as much pleasure in reading this book from Coles. Overall grade: A

The characters: Reading a military science fiction novel, I expected there to be certain standard character types that Coles would be using. He does start with specific types and then moved far beyond what I expected, having the leads become outstanding characters. Ktaja Emmes is a self-proclaimed jarheard, better comfortable fighting than sitting. She’s extremely quick witted in a battle, but is always second guessing her decisions after combat. She is labeled a homosexual by her detractors because of her aggressive look, but verbal slander is all these individuals have against her because she is exactly the type of soldier one would want by their side or leading them. As the novel progresses, Ktaja becomes the strongest character, whose loyalties toward her unit could threaten her understanding of the larger picture. The final line at the end of Chapter 6 was perfect. Thomas Kane, her CO of the Rapier, is a very divided character. He knows his ship to a tee, but is concerned about making the right decision to get a promotion. He knows if he doesn’t get aggressive and stand out, he’ll never ascend in rank. An incident occurs to change his standing, but it may not have been to his benefit. Additionally, his relationships with certain crew members could jeopardize his future. This was the protagonist that had me constantly shifting my opinion: one chapter I’m loving this character, the next I’m hating him. It’s a sign of good writing when a reader is constantly calling into question his or her understanding of a character. Charity “Breeze” Brisebois is Astral Inteligence aboard the Rapier and she has issues with Ktaja right after the Lieutenant’s first mission. Breeze feels that her opinion should matter more than a grunt’s because she knows things that they don’t, but she has no field experience. She, along with the other two characters, quickly rises in rank, and as she does her true character comes to life. Her perspectives of what occurs in this novel are enlightening. The final protagonist is Jack Mallory, a pilot, though not of a fighter, but of an Anti-Stealth Warfare (ASW) craft. He’s the low man on the pole, rank-wise, but he’s incredibly bright and eager to please. He finds himself in situations he was not trained for and he does exceedingly well. His voice mirrored mine in several situations, as I know nothing of military life, jargon, etc., yet he does the best of his abilities to succeed. He was my favorite character of the novel. The enemies of the book are the human colonists of Sirius and Centauria. The vast majority of these antagonists are part of the nameless masses on the ground and in space trying to kill the Terran forces. Only character reappears a few times in the novel, and when this individual does the amount of disgust he or she (I’m trying not to spoil) creates is incredibly strong. Coles has masterfully created an array of multi-dimensional characters that any reader would enjoy. Overall grade: A+

The settings: There are essentially three settings for this novel: the interiors of ships, deep space, and planet surfaces. The interiors of the ships are described well, with them being very different based on the ship’s purposes: the close quarters of the Rapier demonstrates how they’re necessary to allow the ship to move so quickly, while the Normandy is a monster of a vessel, with lots of space to accommodate its vast number of troops, vehicles, and weapons. The interior of altogether different ship is very cool, but no spoilers. There’s a lot of movement through space seen through the eyes of all who are fighting on the battleships and those in the single fighters. The fighting on the ground occurs in farming communities, cities, and fields. Every aspect of the terrain is explained well enough to allow non-coms to understand how it figures into the frays. Overall grade: A+ 

The action: This aspect of the novel had to be well written in order to make this a good war story, and it is. From the battles on the grounds, to the battles in space, every possible type of engagement is covered and they are spectacular. I was riveted from the get-go. One reason why the action is so strong is the perspectives given to the engagements: Emmes is on the ground, Kane in the commander’s seat, and Mallory in his single fighter craft. Had the book only focused on one character’s point of view, it would not have been as exciting. Writing the book in this way, Coles can better show how different entanglements can affect conflicts in other locations. There are plenty of battles where things go right, and several where they go wrong. All are absolutely exciting. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: Completely satisfying with all the characters changed. Not every character gets what they wanted from the beginning of the book, but where they end up is terrific. Overall grade: A+

The final line: I eagerly await more from these characters and Bennett R. Coles. This is an incredibly entertaining novel that earns an A+ not just for its battle scenes, but its outstanding characters. This is the third book in the saga of these characters; this was my first and I easily fell into its universe and conflicts. Now I have to read the previous two. Recommended. Overall grade: A+

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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