In Review: Ghosts of War

You'll enlist in this book and this series if you know what's good for you. Recommended.

Ghosts of War by Bennett R. Coles

Published by Titan Books, August 2, 2016. Paperback of 368 pages at $14.95. Also available as an ebook.

The cover: Lieutenant Katja Emmes is out of uniform but ready for action, holding a huge rifle against the backdrop of a futuristic city. Rain is falling from the sky, but it’s not effecting the protagonist in the least: her face is determined and her stance strong — she’s ready for any foe. This is a great illustration by Fred Gambino; it clearly shows the protagonist, shows her to be a part of the military given her clothing and weapon, and the city is wonderfully techy. The visual hints at things to come. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “The Terran military has defended the invading fleet, but the war is far from over. As a covert agent embeds himself on Earth, advanced Centauri technology enables him to pry into the military’s most secure files, accessing secrets that could lead to millions of deaths. Lieutenant Commander Thomas Kane, Lieutenant Katja Emmes, and Sublieutenant Jack Mallory again find themselves at the forefront of the planet’s defenses. Yet terrorism isn’t the only threat they face. Given what they’ve experienced, their greatest challenge may be defeating the memories of war.”  I read the previous book, Virtues of War, and really enjoyed it, so I’m really looking forward to reading this next installment. Overall grade: A+

The characters: Katja Emmes is not having an easy time adjusting to non-military life. She’s suffering from PTSD, and is constantly putting herself into situations where she gets into fights with civilians. The drugs that are supposed to be repressing her urges to do violence aren’t working and she’s mentally unsure she will be able to adapt to her new life. Not helping is the disdain she gets from her military father and her sister, a lawyer that defends soldiers that go on trial. She’s pulled into the spotlight because of her pedigree. She’s is comfortable among her peers from Virtues of War, Thomas Kane and Jack Mallory, but they’ve got their own problems. Kane, always hungry for promotion and fame, has landed himself as XO of a research ship that’s working on the creation of a dark bomb. He finds himself in conflict with the captain of the ship and a crew that’s constantly squabbling with each other. New to the ship is pilot Mallory, whose good nature continues to be a beacon of optimism, and he soon befriends Amanda Smith, a scientist, though she may like him in a way he’s unaware. Aside from the adaptations this trio must make, Kete Obadele and Charity “Breeze” Brisebois create the book’s tension. Obadele hails from Centauri, whose people were beaten back by Earth forces. He and several of his comrades have infiltrated Earth hellbent on revenge for what was done to their world. Coles gives Obadele an incredibly strong justification for wanting to be part of a terrorist group, leaving the reader at times wondering if perhaps Earth forces are in the wrong. Breeze is leading a Fleet Marshall Investigation, who has been ordered to find someone to take the public face of blame for the Astral Forces’ losses: Emmes and Kane are her two choices. This gives her a chance to put the screws to both characters and get some revenge on the pair for what’s been done to her previously. The descriptions I’ve related of these characters are only their starting points, as Coles winds them around each other and into a greater scheme that will have change all their lives dramatically. Where they end up and how they consider each other is completely surprising by the book’s close. Overall grade: A+ 

The settings: The three primary settings include Earth, the Neil Armstrong, and Centauri. Several cities of Earth are visited, showing everything from the homes of the privileged and those of the lower class. Given Emmes’s family, there are several flashy locations she goes to, though she seems to leave them in handcuffs or unconscious. The Neil Armstrong was my favorite location, with Coles giving it a very military feel, but one that’s playing second fiddle to scientists. It’s an accessible setting for any reader and is a place that more time could easily have been spent. Centauri is seen primarily in flashback, though there are a few pages showing it in its present state. Shown in the past, this idyllic settlement becomes a ferocious war zone, illustrating what led Obadele to becoming a terrorist. The settings of this book are vividly written and absolutely believable. Overall grade: A+

The action: This was a big surprise to me. The action in Virtues of War was outstanding combat, but this book goes into a different arena of action. Outside of occasional flashbacks from Emmes and Obadele, there is no combat action until the just before the end. When this action does come, it’s global and it’s terrific. What’s the rest of the book then, if it’s not military combat? It’s sensational characterization, with the characters trying to make their way through their new positions, and it’s riveting reading. Weaving in and out of their lives is Obadele, who has a new identity and is able to gain access to the characters. His threat builds wonderfully and who he becomes confidant to is as thrilling as any battle in space. Coles has made the characters’ situations slick reading. Overall grade: A+ 

The conclusion: A slam bang ending with several surprises, and chief among them is where each of the leads winds up. Without spoiling anything, the next book in this series cannot come soon enough. Overall grade: A+

The final line: I couldn’t stop reading this book. The tension between the characters runs consistently high, with no one a saint. Each character is wonderfully dynamic and the action in the climax spectacular. You’ll enlist in this book and this series if you know what’s good for you. Recommended. Overall grade: A+

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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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