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Welcome back our irregular reviewer Chris Smith as he tackles “To Sail A Darkling Sea” by John Ringo.
Well, here we are. Yeah, it’s really late, since the book was released months and months ago (Februrary-ish) but I finally cleared my extremely busy schedule to write the review. Work, work, work, that’s me.
(Dramatic pause, sheepish look)
Ok, I forgot that I told Jason I’d do it.
This is the second book in the ‘Black Tide’ series, John Ringo’s take on a zombie apocalypse. For those that haven’t read the first one, stop reading now and go read it. Really, Under A Graveyard Sky is a lot of fun, and you need the background to fully get what’s happening in ‘Sail.’
(Hey, Jason, this would be a good time to link to the first review, maybe with one of those cool embedded link things that makes this parenthetical the actual link.) (Ed. note: Yeah, yeah… I got this.)
‘Sail’ takes up a totally different aspect of the whole zombie genre, with our characters spending a lot of time on introspection and really getting to know the infected. What is this person’s motivation? How can we look at the human condition in the same way after the majority of humanity has been reduced to their base wants and desires? Are you really a good person if you don’t take the time to get to know the infected person in front of you before you slam a kukri into their eyeball? Can’t we just use the power of love and inclusiveness to conquer all?
Ok, that was tough to get through with a straight face. C’mon folks, it’s Ringo. The only good zombie is a dead zombie.
‘Sail’ picks up very close to the end of ‘Sky,’ with some overlap. The opening scene shows the beginning of the breakout aboard the Iwo Jima, and progresses from there to the Smith’s clearing the ship.
As the story progresses, we get to see the, now larger, Wolf Squadron in action, as well as the flotilla coming together as a unit. This is important, since it’s a four book series.
Don’t worry, there’s still prime Faith moments, as well as interaction between she and Sophia that anyone with two kids will recognize. (I have taken to calling my two daughters Faith and Sophia when they pester each other, and have read some of the more relatable passages from the books to them to illustrate my point.)
Here, though, we get to see more character development, as well as the addition of several key supporting roles. Where ‘Sky’ set the stage as to the personalities of the main characters, here they get to grow. Basically, what we see is two young girls becoming members of an active military unit, and Steve dealing with the weight of command. Faith has to learn how to be a junior Marine officer, and the conduct that requires, Sophia deals with the pressures of being a ship’s skipper, and the emotional and physical burdens that brings. Steve juggles the double load of sending his daughters into harm’s way, knowing they are capable of handling it, but also dealing with the consequences of their ‘personality quirks’ for lack of a better term, in a professional military manner.
The supporting characters are excellent, from the sleazy former movie producer Zumwald, to the ‘Old Salts’- Chief Petty Officer Kent Schmidt, US Navy (Ret), and Sergeant Major Raymond Barney of Her Majesty’s Light Horse (Ret). You’re going to love hating Zumwald, and you’re just going to love the two crusty guys. (If you’ve never seen the Yeoman tour guide at the tower of London, go watch him. Here’s a link: http://youtu.be/DeiW_bWZ2Is. He’s all I could think of reading Barney.)
Here’s one of the things that endears the series so far to me. I’m a former Air Force Brat, with no time in service. That puts me in the position of straddling the line between Active Duty and Civilian. There’s some things that I ‘get’ about the military lifestyle and being AD, but there’s a lot I don’t, simply because I never had to quite follow the same rules as the AD. However, the Black Tide series allows us to see that career and what it entails through the eyes of Faith and Sophia, two (sorta) Brats thrown into a full Active Duty situation. They were civvies, now they are Service. Their mistakes and mindset- and more importantly, how they evolve- give us non-service folks an insight into what it means to sign on that line.
Perfect case in point- Faith handles a harassment situation instinctively, and is subsequently corrected by a superior officer, [Marine Capt.] then THE superior officer, Steve. Steve is required to handle the situation as both a commander and father of a teenage girl. Seeing him wear both hats, and still react accordingly is eye-opening for a civilian. (Granted, this is an idealized version of what happens, however, it is a great example of how it SHOULD be done.) Later on, Steve confronts Faith’s superior. How he is written, as both a Commander and father, is handled adeptly.
‘To Sail’ is less world building, but more character and squadron development heavy. This is not a bad thing. There are plenty of great, funny, and hair-raising action sequences, but the infected are not the core focus of the book. This is not a bad thing. Like UAGS, the survivors are just that-survivors. No hand wringing for hours about a course of action that doesn’t offend the masses, just the desire and know-how to make decisions quickly, effectively, and lethally. We are allowed to see how this group begins to come together as an effective unit, and honestly, this is where we see the groundwork for its success in the future. There is hope for the future, simply because the right people are trying to bring it around. All in all, it sets the pace for the next book, bringing Wolf Squadron together as a functional unit, one that can keep the flame burning in the worst darkness human kind has ever experienced.
An excellent addition to the series, a fast read, and fun.
–Reviewed by Chris
There are books that come along every once in awhile and hit you with a proverbial mallet, screaming “I’m an amazing book!” Then there are the books that sneak up on you and you only realize afterwards just how good it was.
This book somehow does both, and yet I am still glad for it.
Variant (Robison Wells, HarperTeen) starts off typically enough. Benson Fisher teenage boy who has lived a life in foster care is moving to a private school on a full scholarship and is quite taken by the mysterious nature of things. However, he soon realizes that there is much more going on when he is informed that there are no teachers or adults at this school; in fact, there are only four rules one must follow. Other than that, the schoolkids are on their own.
There are three groups in the school: Society, the kids who follow the rules to the letter of the law; Havoc, the rebel kids who act more like a street gang than anything else; and Variant, the group which does not fit into any of the other groups. Benson is quickly grabbed by Society as they try to recruit him to their ranks. A scuffle shortly breaks out and soon he is fighting against both Society and Havoc, having joined Variant despite his early misgivings of the group. He then learns about point system, the uneasy truce between the three groups and the strange things that go on at the Maxfield Academy.
The story is extremely fast paced, with Benson dodging both Havoc and Society as he makes his desire to escape known. More and more of the kids begin to alienate him as they remind him that he’s never had it “so good”. Benson, though, becomes torn as he realizes that he has feelings for one of his classmates, which could interfere with his escape attempts.
Then everything changes as a whole new angle takes place.
This book… wow. Just wow. I was engaged by the author from the moment I started reading and, the further I was into the book, the better the writing became. The characters were very layered and meaningful, nobody seemed to be a cardboard cutout of a stereotypical teen (or if they were, the more you got to know them the deeper they became) and the absolute gut-wrenching twist at the end makes you wonder just who is who and what is what.
I couldn’t get enough of this. I kept babbling to others just how amazing this book is, and I am very glad I waited to review this book at the start of 2012. There’s nothing like having one of my new favorite five books to kick off a new year, right?
Best of all: this is a YA-appropriate teen book with plenty of action, suspense and mystery in it with quasi-romance — enough to fit both the teen boy and teen girl’s reading requirements.
Buy this book. Don’t loan it out, though, because your friends will steal it and you’ll have to buy a replacement copy.
—Reviewed by Jason