RogerBW's Blog

The Nelson Touch, Christopher Nuttall 14 July 2015

2014 military SF, second in the Ark Royal series. The outdated and over-armoured carrier Ark Royal did what the newer ships couldn't, taking the war to the alien invaders and even capturing an enemy starship. Now it's time for a larger raid into alien space.

I'm glad to say that the distracting infelicities of language are largely gone from this second volume. As before, characterisation is simple at best: this one is a recovered alcoholic, that one is aristocratic, the other one is female. Yeah, I know, any sort of mil-fic isn't here to tell me details of personality.

Pacing is the problem, though: the first half or more of the book is mostly talk with the last third or so containing most of the action, on a single steady escalation which makes the book feel shorter than it is. There's a new viewpoint character to introduce; the previous four are kept, though Admiral Sir Theodore Smith is now in overall charge of the task force rather than just commanding one ship. His XO has moved up to captain of the ship, and Kurt Schneier is now the commander of the "Air Group" (though there doesn't seem to be an overall commander of space fighters in the multinational force). Major Charles Parnell of the Royal Marines has a much smaller role than before, being stationed aboard an American assault transport and participating in the planetary smash-and-grab raid. The new viewpoint is that of Charles Augustus, a rookie fighter pilot with a well-telegraphed secret. You'll know all there is to know about all of them within a couple of paragraphs.

(All women are beautiful, or shrews. Everyone agrees that reporters are evil, though no reporter appears on-stage this time.)

The aliens still refuse to talk to humans, which means the war has to go on. They have however been smart: they've learned about their vulnerabilities from the last engagement, and adapted human weapons much as the humans have adapted their weapons (arming all their fighters with the new plasma cannon, for example, even though they have a tendency to overheat and blow up).

Once you get to the action, it's not bad. Not as much of it as in the first book, but the flexible alien tactics make up for it; it doesn't get samey. Pity it's such a long wait, and pity (given the title) there's nothing Nelsonian about any of the fighting here.

Still, there's nothing really conclusive happening here, and there's a certain sensation of middle-volume blahs. The first volume only redeemed itself by its feeling of fun; this one's filling in time.

Followed by The Trafalgar Gambit.

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