RogerBW's Blog

Dead Man's Debt, Elliott Kay 15 September 2022

2016 space-navy SF, third of its series. The war drags on, and Archangel's government tries to hold on militarily while it makes diplomatic and undercover pushes. For both of which, reluctant hero Tanner Malone is the right tool…

Well, this gets quite cunning. The enemy has used Malone as the face of their propaganda ("look, this bloody-handed butcher is coming for you")… which means that he can change the tenor of a situation merely by being present. And Our Side's leadership has noticed this. Not that they thought to ask him about it – I mean, he's a serving enlisted man, nobody cares about his opinions.

So this book ends up breaking one of the most hallowed principles of mil-SF, that being in the military is Good and always the best possible thing that anyone can do. Tanner is quite determined that once he's allowed to leave ("for the duration of the war", of course) he's going to get out and have an actual life and not come back – and while many other people disagree with him, he still has some agency of his own.

Of course there is still fighting, in space and on the ground, including a chaotic three-sided affair after Tanner's obsessiveness finally pays off and he tracks down the person he's been after since book one. But there is a welcome acknowledgement that fighting is really not good for the mental health of the people who do it, even if they manage to avoid death or crippling injuries. And that sooner or later claiming you're the good guys while funding black ops does come back to bite you.

All right, perhaps Tanner is just a bit too present at all the important events, a bit too capable at whatever he needs to do. There's certainly some wish-fulfilment here. But this was an excellent conclusion to the trilogy. (Not to the series; all the main plot threads are wrapped up, but book four is a side story from another viewpoint, and book five carries on with Tanner's life after the war.)

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Previous in series: Rich Man's War | Series: Poor Man's Fight | Next in series: No Medals For Secrets

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