Thursday, October 13, 2011

"The Truth of Valor" by Tanya Huff

(cover image from

The Truth of Valor (2010) is the fifth in Tanya Huff's science fiction series starring tough-as-nails Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr of the Confederation, a multi-species galactic society.

I haven't written reviews of any of the others, so let me start with a little background. In this future, an advanced civilization ended up in a war with another multi-species society and, being ill-suited for warfare themselves, they recruited human beings - and later two other species - to fight it for them.

The first book in the series, Valor's Choice, begins centuries later, with the war still going strong. The whole series is light-weight military fiction, but quite entertaining. Tanya Huff always holds my interest, and in this particular case, I must also admit that I'm a sucker for multi-species galactic societies.

Her hero, a staff sergeant in the first book, is the perfect noncom. Never at a loss, she handles raw recruits and her superior officers with equal skill. And you really don't want to face her on the battlefield. Note that there are three different species fully integrated into this military, plus there are other - civilian - species in their society, and still more species who are their opponents. It's great fun.

Starting in the second volume, The Better Part of Valor, there's a mystery here, too. There's a reason for this centuries-old war, and it's not what they've always thought. All these things make quite an entertaining storyline.

But I'd assumed that the fourth book, Valor's Trial, would be the last. By the end of the book, the mystery had been solved, more or less, the war was over, and Torin was leaving the military. To be honest, I wasn't entirely pleased with that book, because Torin seemed to stop using her brain and her training.

Rather than devise a plan, she just moved straight ahead, mopping the floor with anyone and everyone who got in her way, hardly even needing troops. She'd always been pretty much perfect, but now she was nearly superhuman. OK, the book was still fun, but it seemed to be time to end the series.

And then this book was published. In The Truth of Valor, Torin is no longer in the military. Instead, she's joined her lover on a two-person salvage ship. But when they're attacked by pirates, her lover kidnapped by vicious sociopaths and Torin left for dead, she's back in action.

The problem this time is that there are no troops or superior officers to manage. Even more than in the last book, this is just Torin Kerr kicking butt. She does get three former-marines to join her, but even that hardly seems necessary. And there's no humor in it.

In the first books, there was at least some humor. As I say, Torin had to manage sometimes-green troops and manipulate her superior officers. And inter-species relationships are always good for a laugh or two. But this is the superwoman of the previous book with just... nothing else.

There's nothing added, either. I'm always up for pirates, but here, there are no insights into piracy, there's no plausible economic model for it, there's no organizing to fight it. Huff doesn't seem to have given this much thought. The pirates just seem to exist to make particularly nasty enemies.

I don't want to give you the wrong impression. This was still an enjoyable read. Tanya Huff always writes an entertaining story. But I've got to say that this is easily the least successful Torin Kerr novel. The things that made the series special are completely absent in this book.

If you're a fan of the series, you'll still want to read this one. But don't expect too much. Even though I enjoyed the book, I was disappointed. Tanya Huff can do better than this. The earlier books in the series were better than this.

I guess I think that Huff has worked herself into a corner. Torin's love interest was a mistake, at least if Huff planned to continue this series. Torin Kerr the gunnery sergeant was a great character. But Torin Kerr the ex-gunnery sergeant, not so much. This was enjoyable military fiction, but take the military out and it really loses something.

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