Review: The Light Brigade

Posted: August 27, 2019 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Kameron Hurley, Military SF, Science Fiction
The Light Brigade

Every once in a while I go to the library looking for books. It seems somewhat ludicrous that between all of the books that I really want to read, and all of the others that publishers/agents/etc send to us, that I could ever find time to read something I found at a library. And yet, I do. Because I’ve found that I’ll still occasionally find something that pushes my buttons. In my profile for the site, I mention that I have no patience for “plots that don’t grab by the throat, the heart, or the funny bone”. Yeah. I judge. So anyways, I was walking through the library this one fine day, saw this book, and thought the cover art was pretty intriguing. So I picked it up. Then I opened the cover, flipped through the first couple sheets, and came across a nearly blank page with a single statement printed near the top:

“Don’t just fight the darkness. Bring the light.”

Instantly I found that both my heart and my throat had been grabbed. My decision had been made and another book added to my TBR list.

THE LIGHT BRIGADE (Amazon) is a stand-alone novel developed from the concept within a short story of the same name that had been included in the author’s most recent short story collection, MEET ME IN THE FUTURE (EBR Review). In this instance, cover art was both what had kept me away from her earlier work, and what led me to pick up this one. I don’t think I could tell you now what exactly led me away from her earlier stuff. It just did. And now I feel bad.

The main character, referred to throughout most of the story only as “Dietz”, is a common citizen until the terrorists of Mars use their technology to wipe Sao Paulo, Brazil off the map of the Earth in an event called The Blink. In that moment, Dietz lost family, friends, and lover alike. With very little hesitation, Dietz signs up for the military with the single aim to wreak as much violent revenge on those Martian terrorists as possible. But very soon, the technology that allows the military to transport their personnel across thousands of miles near instantaneously — by turning them into light for the duration of the trip — begins to have negative mental and physical effects on Dietz, and from there begins a slippery slope toward the precipitous cliff of insanity.

This is a significantly complicated time travel story told within the construct of military science fiction. From the get go, I felt like author had me captivated. Character motivation is at the forefront. the pieces of military life and structure and discipline are well built. Everything I expected to find in the tale from that perspective was there. Some of the biggest character moments of the book, for me, came during the military training portion of the story, where Dietz develops the relationships that will be used and abused as the story proceeds.

The beginning portion of the story is definitely the strong part. The narrative that the author set up there was enough for me to get through the mild confusion that is woven into the bed of the story by the inherent nature of jumping forward and back in time. Although there were enough clues and pieces of story that are relayed through Dietz’s character that helped to make the connections I needed to see the story through, the third fourth or so of the book did almost feel a bit… unhinged. Perhaps on purpose? Thankfully, everything wrapped up nicely (but not necessarily happily), with a solid character ending that was, if not developed overly well throughout the story, at the very least brought the story to a conclusion that hit me in the feels. And I like it when a story does that.

I realized fairly early on that the author takes great pains to not relay Dietz’s gender to the reader. I thought that an interesting choice to make. There were several times that I found myself parsing through the prose, trying to figure out from context only implied by the words whether the character was male or female, but never had any luck. In that respect, I think that the choice backfired a little, because the exercise took me out of the story multiple times and made me actually think about the words instead of enjoying the story. This fact might have bothered me a little more if I hadn’t enjoyed the reading experience so much.

Also, there was a concept concerning time travel that the author didn’t develop enough for me. That being “why do people who travel back in time make the choices they need to in order to keep ‘the present’ consistent” and “why do people that go forward in time not change anything in ‘the present’ to avoid an apocalyptic future”? She just kind of glossed over that part, and although she seems to have spent plenty of time harping on the corruptive and evil nature of large corporations and governments, I didn’t really understand why she wouldn’t have also spent time in the book to handle the plot-hole-ish nature of this concept. Perhaps it has something to do with relaying her favorite socio-political concepts of choice, as so many authors are fond of doing these days, but I tend to gloss over those points rather readily until they make a major impact upon the story… and then I actively despise them. So, this one obviously didn’t hit that point for me, but I was aware of them.

I really had a fun time reading this one, and other than the mild wondering it had me doing over the main character’s gender (which I won’t spoil for you here, per the author’s obvious wishes), each of the minor issues I had with the story only came after reflecting on it for a bit. Even then, none of the negative aspects of the story impacted the rest of the story sufficiently for me to drop my rating any. At the time that I closed the last page, I was absolutely certain that I’d never again miss anything Kameron Hurley ever wrote. Although I’m not quite that high on her at this point, I’m still going to add her to my list of must-read authors. Lots of good story in this one, and I wouldn’t want to miss out on anything else she has for us coming up in the future.

You shouldn’t either.

  • Recommended Age: 18+, mostly for violence and profanity
  • Language: Strong language frequent and throughout
  • Violence: Bloody, violent, and in-your-face
  • Sex: Several references and a couple quick scenes

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