Woe to the Victor - Book Review
by Nathan H. Green
I received this as an ebook from Book Sirens in exchange for a fair review.
Woe to the Victor is an engrossing, hard sci-fi, galactic war novel with quick-paced and exciting action scenes, relatable characters, and realistic science.
Earth’s been destroyed, but the fight’s not over!
It’s Earth’s last day and Captain Lewis Black drifts though space, watching it burn.
The pilots under his command are dead. The war with the Maaravi is lost. Air hisses into space from around the stump of his severed arm.
In the distance a Maaravi ship approaches. Whether to torture him for information, capture him as a prisoner, or take him as a trophy, he’ll have one last chance to hurt them.
Natasha Palmer, lead engineer on the failed Reaper missile program, knows humanity’s last, desperate, plan won’t work. She’s got one chance to change that, but it will mean a leap of faith beyond all others.
Humanity is vanquished, but some battles bring only woe to the victor.
First of all, that cover. Gorgeous!
If you love space opera that leans heavily into hard sci-fi, this is your book. The author has a background in aerospace engineering, and it’s clear this played a role in how the space and technical aspects played out. While I had absolutely no idea how accurate this stuff was (as I am not an engineer by any means), it seemed believable to me, as a lot of attention was placed on the constrictions of space and how to overcome these challenges. Yet, it also wasn’t too much a hard sci-fi that it got bogged down with a bunch of tech terms or descriptions of how engines work. It was a great balance of science and fiction.
When it comes to the plot, in truth I’ve seen this before. In fact, Armada, We All Died at Breakaway Station, and even In the Orbit of Sirens to some extent, all of which I read this year, are all variations of the same premise, but that doesn’t mean this book is generic. A light premise/plot can be overweighted by great characters and action, which is just what this book does. If you’re a fan of alien invasion stories, this is a great variation.
In terms of the characters, the main character, Lewis Black, wasn’t my favourite, though I did appreciate his moral dilemma and his motivations and actions made sense. Natasha, the engineer, was a bit of a tagalong until the end, but that was also part of her growth. Sophie, the little girl stowaway, was written realistically for a kid that age and I loved that her cat’s name was Reginald. The AI was fun and also realistically depicted, and the more villainous characters amongst the humans weren’t stereotypical or hyperbolic, with actions that made sense to their personas. I will say though, that while I loved the number of female characters in the novel, the gendered language (manned, mankind, man’s last stand, etc) was a bit distracting. It wasn’t like one or two times, but persistent. I realize not everyone has the background in language studies that I do, and that’s fine, but the editor should have changed them to gender-neutral terms. I don’t dock stars or even my opinion of a book because of this (at least not when the female characters are so well-done as in this novel) but I do bring it up when I see it because if we just accept something we can’t change anything.
Anyway, the space battles and other action scenes were engrossing and exciting, and plentiful, but one thing I found lacking was the aliens themselves. Alien culture is my favourite aspect of sci-fi so I was hoping for some really cool alien culture stuff to tie into the badass action scenes, but while the Maraavi look cool, they, as a people, fell flat. They are very human-like (I’m assuming convergent evolution, but it's not explained) to the extent that the only differences appear to be on the surface, and even then it’s minimal. Of course, had they been extremely different - gelatinous blobs, gigantic mechs, insects, even lizards - certain aspects of the story wouldn’t likely have worked. As such, the human-like aliens were not a problem, as this is not an alien culture novel. So, if aliens are your jam, you might not like this book as much as others like Tanya Huff's Confederation series or A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. But if cool space battles, unique ships, sentient AI, realistic space mechanics, and fun characters are your jam, you will be just jellified over this one.
Highly recommended. Thank you again to Book Sirens for the e-book!