Review: Iron Truth

Posted: March 22, 2023 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: S.A. Tholin, Military SF, Science Fiction, Self-Published Science Fiction Competition

We’re long-standing proponents of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (EBR Archive) here at EBR. Even though we haven’t thrown our hat into the reviewer-ring in quite some time, we still believe in both the importance and efficacy of that contest, and have nothing but great things to say about it and those who continue to run it. Thankfully, there are those who believe that Science Fiction authors should also have those same kind of opportunities (Hugh Howey). Enter The Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC).

This book happens to be the winner of the first year of that contest.

And also? It’s awesome.

IRON TRUTH is the first book in The Primaterre series by S.A. Tholin. If I’m being completely honest, it’s a book that I likely wouldn’t have attempted to read if I’d known beforehand just how long the thing was. Science Fiction and I have a very love-hate relationship that lives and dies on the battlefield of its characters. Too much of sci-fi writerdom just don’t seem to care about them, and I simply can’t abide that. Thankfully, this one cares very much for them, and that is apparent from the start.

The tale begins with Joy Somerset as she boards a long-range colony starship along with her older brother (her only living relative) and tens of thousands of others, headed for a planet far from home where denizens of the planet earth are hoping to colonize another location in which to reside. With some mild trepidation and bundles of hope, she says a temporary goodbye to her brother, and slides into a stasis chamber, ready to dream away the years as they travel to their new home. Unfortunately, they never make it to that far-flung destination, and instead Joy wakes to find the ship damaged, crash-landed on an unknown, hostile desert planet that is more than ready to swallow the lives of her and any of the rest of the inhabitants of the ship that have survived the crash, if they will let it.

The second major PoV in the book is Commander Cassimer, leader of a small crew of Primaterre soldiers that have been handed classified orders to find a (different) missing starship that is believed to be somewhere on the same planet, called Cato. Very little goes to plan with their little foray. His team are seemingly at each other’s throats. He’s doing his best to stay pure and avoid the “demons” that the doctrine of the Primaterre protects against. He’s worried for what he will find. For those that may stand in their way. But he’s committed to his task with a singleness of mind that drives him ever faster toward his goal.

There are a large number of layers that make up this tale, and all of them are well-told through the perspective of our two main characters of interest. After the crash, Joy’s timeline takes a jump to where Cassimer and his team hit the planet. They cross paths relatively quickly, and the story jumps back and forth between these two in impressive manner. Joy’s perspective as a relatively benign scientist, suffering from a fairly severe set of health limitations, colors the world in a way completely different from that of Cassimer. The commander is a super soldier, pumped full of, and somewhat controlled by, a set of customizable chemicals that are supplied from his suit by order of the team doctor. So despite the fact that the majority of the tale is told from these two character’s perspectives, in close proximity to one another, each viewpoint is unique and engaging in their own way.

As the story progresses, layers of Cato’s history, its peoples, the Primaterre, its practices, its enemies, Commander Cassimer, his team, and the budding relationship between Cassimer and Joy (yup, there’s even a bit of eventual romance here), are each revealed in turn. Cassimer’s chapters have a very militaristic feel to them, and rightly so. Joy’s are inquisitive, scientific in nature, and shift in ways that she doesn’t expect after she’s introduced to Cassimer’s team and their goals. The universe has changed since Joy has been asleep, and the author does a great job of introducing us to these changes through her eyes. Enemies abound, ready to thwart seemingly every turn of the story. Between the efforts of the local population, the vicious RebEarth forces, and the existential threats of the planet itself, they make slow progress toward finding what they each desire. And what they find is both fantastic and horrific in turns. This one doesn’t pull any punches. It’s hard-hitting all the way through.

Although the story starts out a little rough, it didn’t take me very long to sink into the book and really become engaged. The author does a great job of fleshing out the planet where the story is taking place, and providing a detailed history to this universe that feels full. Between the various political factions of the Primaterre, the history of the RebEarthers and the bad blood between them and the Primaterre, and the details of Commander Cassimer’s history, it’s easy to fall into what the author has created and enjoy every bit of it.

Self-published science fiction done right. Adventure and mystery and horror and characters that make it all matter. Read this one.

If I have anything negative to say about the book, I might only mention its length. It’s a biggun. But at the same time, the story told within its pages fully support that length. Thus, I can’t complain overly much. Even though it took me a while to get through it, I never once felt like I was ready to be done. So even if you’re like me and tend to shy away from books that are longer, this one should be given the benefit of the doubt. It’s worth the read. Worth the time. It’s tale is one I’m not likely to forget any time soon. And did I mention? I’m really looking forward to getting into the next book in the series. Despite the fact that I got this one for my Kindle, I also bought the first two physical books in the series, and they’re sitting on my shelf at home.

Can’t wait to see what this author gets up to next. She absolutely has the chops to get picked up by a traditional publisher, and would deserve the exposure in every way.

  • Recommended Age: 15+ for violence and language
  • Language: Occasional f-words, infrequent otherwise
  • Violence: Lots of bloody, gory, visceral action here. Up-close and personal. Threat of rape.
  • Sex: Some brief sensuality

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