RogerBW's Blog

Hand of Mars, Glynn Stewart 10 June 2022

2015 SF, second of its series. Damien Montgomery and Alaura Stealey, two of the most powerful mages in human space, are sent to the planet Ardennes to deal with its escalating rebellion…

It's not great. But it's fun. I still have a nostalgic fondness for Jerry Pournelle's stories of planetary rebellion (in spite of the political stereotyping), and I got some of the same feeling here: we have smart people on all sides (though it's very clear where the author's sympathy lies), and nobody takes events on face value, because they all know that false flags are a possible thing.

All right, the story of heroism only works because Montgomery is a hugely powerful mage and has practically limitless civil authority over anyone who's still obeying laws at all and has a root key to every computer… but he never feels as though he's cruising on those abilities. Even a powerful mage can be stopped by a bullet through the head, or have his transport shot out of the sky, so our hero has to be at least a bit smart in selecting both his battles and his tactics within them. I rather like this setting in which you can indeed have a magician who can put up a wall of fire and walk through a hail of bullets (for a while), but the magic doesn't take over the story; people still use assault rifles and helicopter gunships.

It said many things about the life experience of Hands that Alaura Stealey was intimately familiar with how it felt when an electromagnetic pulse mine was used to disable an armored vehicle.

The writing is sometimes clunky and a copyediting pass to spot malphrasings and repeated words would have helped (hey, I'm available), but this is a decent story of action with multiple plotlines and even some genuinely interesting people. It takes what could be a stereotypical mil-SF tale and throws in disruptive elements in a way that pretty reliably makes the sort of thing I enjoy. (My experience is that things designed to appeal to me are usually commercial failures, so I'm glad there are more books in this series.)

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Previous in series: Interstellar Mage | Series: Starship's Mage | Next in series: Voice of Mars

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