Book Review: Steel World (Undying Mercenary Series Book 1)

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Hey Space Cadets, how’re you doing?  I’m okay, working on finalizing the edits on two projects and starting to write another. Meanwhile, I’m still reading and wanted to share what I’ve enjoyed lately. Here is the next installment in my series of book reviews.  I’ve just finished the final book of The Sleeping Legion Series which has been titled Insurgency:  Spartika I also have a short story that was accepted into
The Expanded Universe Anthology.  Finally, I have two recent publications to recommend to you. If you haven’t read it, Operation Breakout and a Four Horsemen Anthology, For a Few Credits More are available on Amazon.

But enough about me, onto this specific review.  Now let’s get to it! 

 

Title:  Steel World (Undying Mercenary Series Book 1)

Author:  B.V. Larson

Narrator:  Mark Boyette

Price:  USD 3.99 (Kindle Edition), $1.99 (Audiobook Add-On)

Obtained:  I bought this novel from Amazon.

Pages:  347

Steel World

Rating:  5/5 Grenades

5 Grenade

Summary:

First, let me say that none of what I’ll say in this section couldn’t be found on the back copy of the novel.  Heck, I cribbed this summary from the back, and then I add my own twist!  And not even much of one, since most of the books I read have kick butt descriptions (aka blurbs).  If the blurb doesn’t catch my eye, then I tend to skip the book unless a friend recommends it.  Generally speaking, my goal is to provide a spoiler-free review, so here goes nothing!

 

This book is set in the beginning of the 22nd Century, in a world where Earth has been brought into the Galactic Union at the point of a bayonet. Earth sent probes out, trying to explore the stars and included welcoming messages. Unfortunately, the legalistic and deadly Galactic Union noticed.

The Galactics arrived with their battle fleet in 2052.  Rather than being exterminated under a barrage of hell-burners, Earth joined their vast Empire. Swearing allegiance to distant alien overlords wasn’t the only requirement for survival.  Earth had to have something of value to trade, something that neighboring planets would pay their hard-earned credits to buy.  As most of the local worlds were too civilized to have a proper army, the only valuable service Earth could provide came in the form of soldiers.  Someone had to do their dirty work for them, their fighting and dying.  Humanity fit the bill, so Earth got to continue living.

 

Into that mess was born James McGill, a non-conforming college drop out joins the Legion Varius.  He was too bull headed for the cool legions, so he had few options.  He ended up serving with those less picky about whom they recruited.  During the process of adapting to his new world, he shakes up the galaxy.
If you like military science fiction, you should read this series.  Plenty of explosions, with authentically gritty combat.  If this sounds like your flavor of badassery, then you’ve come to the right place!  This novel is a brilliant start to the Undying Mercenary Series and will have you hooked from the very first page.  If you enjoyed Richard Fox’s Ember Wars Series, buy this book.

 

 

Characters: 

In this novel, we meet an extensive cast of people, but the main point of view is from Recruit James McGill.  While McGill is the main character, Legion Varus felt like prominent enough secondary characters to mention.  None of the people felt flat, and you could definitely relate to them. You definitely won’t have anything to complain about in this regards, these were real people and not cardboard cutouts.  But let’s move past the platitudes and talk specifics. There were two prominent characters in this novel, so I’ll break them down for you.

 

James McGill: He’s a highly motivated slacker, who went to college just to get his parents off his back.  He’d rather play video games and hang out with his friends than work.  Until one-day reality takes a crap on his lawn, his college loans were denied.  Suddenly the 20-year-old slacker is forced to grow up and get a real job.  He’s played the Legion video games, done well and figures it’s his chance at a better life.  Except the glamourous legions don’t want him.  Instead, he joins Legion Varus, the land of rebels and misfits. I can’t say more in a spoiler-free review, but he seemed like a stand-up fellow at his core.  A lovable slacker, with a core of iron which was loyal to his fellow squad mates. If you were in a firefight, you’d definitely want this guy on your side.  However, if you were his garrison sergeant, you’d go prematurely grey!

 

Legion Varus.: This is a legion that’s less parade ground, more fight club.  They’re the type of gritty fighters that get the job done, but not always in a conventional way.  An outfit of misfits and rebels, and broken souls seeking redemption.  I’ve listed the legion as a character because you really get the impression that if James had been in any other legion, the story would’ve played out differently.  All of the warriors of this legion felt flushed out and three-dimensional.  They added to what is clearly a vast and expansive universe.  Legion Varus was a lot of fun to get to know and reminded me of how different the Army was while on wartime footing from the peacetime Army I’d enlisted into.  The author pulled off that distinction with this crew!

 

In conclusion, I felt like I could relate to the characters in this book.  They were real people, and I would love to hang out and drink a beer with them.  Some of them you hated, some you loved, but they were all real.  Overall, I give these characters 5 out of 5 Grenades and can’t wait to see where the author takes this character throughout this new series!

 

 

Plot: 

Like most of the military fiction, I love to read, this was an action-packed novel.  The story is set in the not too distant future, where Earth has joined the Galactic Union.  The grand premise of this series was that humanity called to the stars, but what answered wasn’t our friend.  Humanity is forced to serve, and our warlike nature forces us into the role of mercenaries for hire.  Into this trope, BV Larson takes a sudden twist with the idea of machines that re-grow your body for you after death.  You become immortal, getting to live for as long as there is a revival machine to remake you.  The action in this story was non-stop, pure escapism and enjoyment, under the banner of intergalactic science fiction.  We again get to see the world through a first-person point-of-view, which I’ve been reading more of.  I’ve come to appreciate this point of view, at least when it’s executed well.  And Larson delivered, and then some!  Because of Larson’s narrative techniques, we get to feel the chaos and confusion that combat and intergalactic intrigue brings. It was a good set-up and well-executed premise that held my interest from the first sentence.  It was easy to follow and didn’t require an extensive background in the genre to understand the story.  I never really felt like it lagged, the action literally went from the beginning to the end of this novel.

 

The authors balanced the action with the exposition and world-building, so the story never felt flat.  I never felt confused by the universe, and neither was my wife.  I read this book when it first came out, so this time I listened to the audiobook.  I wanted to have the story fresh in my head for this review, so I made my wife listen too.  She seemed to dig it, and never had to ask for explanations, even though this isn’t her primary genre.  This means one of two things, either Larson did an awesome job, or I’ve corrupted the civilian I married all those years ago.  I felt that Larson’s world was intuitive, and you could so easily immerse yourself his book. More of the world was being threaded together and woven into a tapestry of epic awesomeness, and I heartily approve! With the fast pacing, this action-packed adventure story never slowed down and left you wanting more.

 

As you can tell by the gushing, I’m still addicted to this universe.  Okay, I’m hooked on quite a few, but that’s the life of a serial book reader!  I can’t be faithful to just one world, does this mean I’m a polygamist reader? Anyway,  I couldn’t put it down, the plot was that compelling.  I really loved the premise, and more importantly, I enjoyed how the execution.  The pacing was excellent, and there was never a slow moment.  I couldn’t ask for anything more; a fun premise, perfect execution, and incredible pacing!  I again give this book 5 out of 5 Grenades!

 

 

World Building:

This is the first book in the Undying Mercenary Series, and I absolutely loved it.  This novel had a very flushed out and relatable world, for all it was set in the future.  It was consistent, made sense and sucked you in.  The tech Larson created, for all it seemed fantastical, made sense within the context of the world he created.  Like most military science fiction that I read, the author created visceral emotions that made you want to shot the dinos and suit up with Legion Varus.  The author inserted morsels about the larger universe, without slowing down the adventure of the Steel World!  The author fits in the universe history in such a way that left you wanting more, starting from the opening scene.  We learn the history of the wars with the occupants of Steel World, and what they look like.  I had no problem visualizing them, and Larson did it without pulling me out of the action.  It was just the right amount of exposition, seriously the author was a skilled craftsman carving a sculpture from the words on the page.  B.V. Larson described the world with plenty of details, and there wasn’t a scene where I couldn’t picture it.  They didn’t reinvent the wheel and built on the existing tropes of science fiction.  There were some unique twists on the standard tropes, the author used the standard ingredients to create a unique and tasty dish.  They just made it sexier!  Overall, the world building was well done, and I was sold on the way it happened.  It felt believable, and the characters fit within the universe Larson created.  It was a fun ride that made me wanna suit up…which is the goal of action/adventure authors!  Like most of the stories I read, this one didn’t take itself too seriously, which allowed you to focus on the fun which is why I read in the first place.  I give the world building 5 out of 5 Grenades.

 

 

Description: 

This novel was full of visualization, and you could definitely imagine yourself in this world.  The author explained things across the sensory spectrum; sights, sounds, smells and even how the world felt.  Even with the legionnaires wearing full body armor, al la HALO style, the author manages to describe the smell and feel of the planet where the action occurs.  That exposition never felt contrived, or like he was looking for a way to shoehorn it into the narrative.  Instead, it felt natural.  This is how it’s done, and I hope to get that good someday.  I could visualize the world, it was definitely a fully immersive experience reading/listening to this novel.  Unlike some books I’ve enjoyed, the lack of description of the various characters wasn’t as noticeable because Larson wove in subtle cues that allowed my subconscious to fill in the voids.  To be honest, until I sat down to write this review, I missed how skillfully he hid his lack of details.  It was done so that the reader could insert themselves into the narrative, and now that’s something I want to learn to do myself.  Larson’s descriptive use of language balanced perfectly against how and where he explained this new world, without slowing down the story.  This book was a hit in the non-human description categories, he really only went lite on how the people looked.  Again, I suspect this is so the reader could picture themselves as the various characters.  There wasn’t a single place where I couldn’t picture the scenery and the equipment, which added to the world that felt tangible and I enjoyed it.  The author’s description of their universe was evocative, and converted me into an uber fan!  In summary, I didn’t find any issues with the descriptions and was impressed by the literary skills of the author.  The action was gripping, and the story was fun.  I give him 5 out of 5 grenades in this category.

 

 

Narration:

This audiobook was excellently produced and was fun to listen to.  The narrator, Mark Boyette, did an amazing job with this book.  I’ve listened to other books he narrated, and they were all well done.  He doesn’t bore you, or make you zone out because of his monotone.  His performance didn’t feel robotic like a machine was reading the novel too me.  Instead, it felt like a friend was sitting with me reading an amazing story that he couldn’t put down.  And the accents he did made me smile, and laugh a few times.  It kept me engaged throughout the periods I was listening, which is all you can really ask for.  Overall, I loved the quality of his work and would recommend this narrator to other audiobook fans.  I give him a 5 out of 5 grenades for his performance.

 

 

 Overall:

I really loved this book, it was one of the first series I found when I bought my first Kindle all those years ago, and I’ve re-read it several times.  It was a lot of fun to read them, and I still enjoy it when I read it again.  Like all good, no great stories, it made you feel like you were in the trenches with the characters doing heroic deeds.  Isn’t that why we read in the first place?  Let’s be real, my fighting days are over, but I could forget that while I read this book.  I could be young and spry again, capable of chewing lead, spitting out bullets and walking through fire.  Isn’t that the essence of why we read military science fiction, so we could again reach for greatness and be gods among men?

 

Overall, Steel World definitely sucked me in and played with my emotions.  I found myself wanting to be a part of it all, well except for the times when everyone was dying of course.  It’s right up there with Terry Mixon’s Empire of Bones series and Anspach/Cole’s Galaxy’s Edge series.  Reading this book, I felt connected with the characters on an emotional level. This was my first B.V. Larson novel, and I’ve moved him into the “auto-buy” list.  I own the eBook and audiobook for all seven of his Undying Mercenary books.  Unlike some of the other books I’ve read recently, I’m not a fan of the covers for this series.  They seem a little dull and dated, but the story was so good I’m glad I looked past that.

 

Additionally, Larson did a great job describing the military culture.  It was spot on, just what I’d expect from someone who’d been there.  However, I don’t think the author served in the armed forces of any nation.  Not sure what research he did, but he did it well.  Bravo Mr. Larson, bravo.  Using a lot of common sense, Larson made sure to avoid some of the errors some science fiction authors did.  The troops run out of ammo, dumb luck happens, and good soldiers still die.  Further, the troops bust each other’s balls, and their interactions felt like what I remembered from my time in the infantry.  The females that were on the front lines used technology to overcome biology, so you didn’t have to deal with the modern day politics that currently surround this issue.  I loved how he side-stepped this tricky issue and skipped the need to preach to the reader.  I don’t know Larson’s politics, and I don’t care. Regardless of his belief system, you couldn’t tell them in his story because he followed the Golden Rule of Writing.  The story is king, and nothing else matters.

 

Speaking of the ground combat in these books, it was primal, immersive, and easy to visualize.  Everything you could possibly want from this genre.  The battle scenes were believable, gripping and I never felt like the author missed a chance to get creative with the tactics.  They weren’t super innovative, but it fits within the scope of the universe Larson built.  Such a detailed portrayal of the tactics is rare.  The characters were well written and helped flush out the larger world, which all lent itself to a perfectly executed plot.  Each individual element of this novel was executed perfectly, but it was in the union of the various aspects of the story that the universe really shined.

 

I realize I’ve gone full fanboy, but the author definitely raised the bar for military science fiction authors everywhere.  If you’ve noticed, I say that a lot but that’s intentional.  I choose to study authors who do it better than I could, hoping to learn from the seat of the masters.  Because, seriously, I was hooked from the first page!  He wove the action in such a compelling way that you wanted to jump into the armor myself.  This is a book I would happily recommend, and an author I will definitely read again.  Hell, I have read it multiple times already, so buy the novel!  I give this novel a 5 out of 5 grenades!  If it weren’t cheating, I’d give it 6 grenades!

 

 

If this book sounds like it’s right up your alley, check it out, you won’t regret it!  Well, unless it inspired you to serve in Legion Varus.  And you enlist, only to realize that you’re stationed on Steel World.  Then you’re put on the front lines, where you get to feed the dinos.  And then the other shoe drops, you, they revive you and repeat the process.  Except, instead of using this to win the battle, you get to be the prey in some weird rendition of Groundhog Day.  Well yeah, I guess this could be bad for you.  Or maybe you’ll be okay?  I mean, you could be the first Legionnaire to break the cycle and make it out alive?  On second thought, be warned, fanboy/fangirl syndrome just MIGHT kill you.  Be wary, you were warned and if you have to go out like that at least enjoy the view from the end times!

 

 

 

Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!

brown_bess

JR

 

–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are used on the Fair Use Doctrine.

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