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Ranks of Bronze Mass Market Paperback – July 31, 2001
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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David Drake has written workmanlike sci-fi for several decades and this fits that category. It is very readable but not "great" s-f literature.
In the last decade Drake has produced a series of books based on the Patrick O'Brien stories of a Napoleonic war British frigate. But transposed into space opera. In doing so he became a much better writer and I whole heartedly recommend his "With the Lightnings" and follow on novels.
Human warriors transported to other worlds has been done better. Notably the Destroyermen series by Taylor Anderson and, perhaps, the Lost Regiment series.
The characters have a lot of dimension to them and they react in very human ways to the situations that they face. They also grow over the course of the book. I often found myself wondering how I would react if I was in their place.
Unfortunately, there is nothing in this book that you can point at and think "Wow, everyone should read this book!" There really are no grand or unique ideas presented; however, if you're looking to kill some time, this is a fine book to pick up. This would also be a good book to get someone interested in the Roman Empire, military fiction, or science fiction. Cheers!
The Pros: Drake mostly gets details about the Ancient Roman military right, with a few exceptions (at one point Drake seems to be referring to the main character wearing a lorica musculata "clamshell" armour of bronze, while ignoring the fact that that form of armour would not be around for at least another 50 years from the time period depicted and was never made of bronze, only iron). The action sequences are detailed and the worlds built by Drake are somewhat interesting.
The Cons: The book tells us virtually nothing about any of the characters. The book literally opens with the first battle of the Romans for their new masters on some far away planets and we are informed that they were captured by the Persians and sold into space-slavery. That's about it for backstory. We know very little about the main character, and next to nothing about his subordinates. Sure, our hero goes from a scared 18 year old Tribune to a wise and capable leader in what is expected of the military fiction story arc, but that's about it. Does he have much in the way of family? Is anyone going to miss him? Etc. etc. And our primary villain is an elitist who sneers a lot but that's about it. As a result, it's hard to really care what happens to the characters. I don't empathize with them and as such, when one of them dies, the effect is more tedious than anything else.
The book is boring and repetitive as well. The characters are always 1) tired, 2) sore, 3) bruised/blistered/burnt/sprained, and in addition, down time between battles is pretty much non-existent. Drake spends his time going into excruciating detail about the nature of the ships so we know EXACTLY what the inner bowels of the space vessel look like, but other than some initial bewilderment or surprise, the characters seem to take the idea of moving through the stars more or less in stride. Likewise, while some of the characters (ok, maybe two or three) seem a little concerned that they will be spending the rest of their lives engaged in combat for their masters, no one else really seems to care. But then again other than our main character, two non-coms, the villain, and the alien prostitute, everyone else is just part of a mindless mass.
I could go on, but here is the gist:
The book consists of three two-dimensional characters spending hundreds of pages doing Military Things in very close detail, much of which is boring (digging earthworks, listening to lectures, etc). You won't care about them when they live, you won't care about them when they are wounded or die, you will watch them do Space Things with only a very cursory interest, and by the time you get to the end of the book you will have discovered that your questions haven't been answered, but at least you don't care anymore.