RogerBW's Blog

The Odin Mission, James Holland 08 August 2015

2008 war story, first in Holland's Sergeant Jack Tanner series. In April of 1940, British forces in Norway make a fighting retreat in the face of the oncoming German invasion. Jack Tanner, of the King's Own Yorkshire Rangers, must also deal with poor officers, being cut off from friendly troops, and a civilian who has to be smuggled out of the country.

This is a book that wears its inspiration on its sleeve: Sharpe, of course, for the ill-trained and under-equipped unit that somehow pulls through, but also a tradition of military road stories going all the way back to the Anabasis.

It does get a bit infodumpy at times. When you can casually throw in a paragraph like this:

Zellner had pondered these factors for a few moments. He was twenty-four, an Austrian from Innsbruck, and had been with the 3rd Gebirgsjager Division since Austrian and German unification following the Anschluss two years before, and with the Austrian 5th Gebirgsjager Division before that. He had trained with unflinching dedication, proud not only to be part of such an obviously elite unit but of his own performance. He understood the importance of leading by example, and had been determined that he should be fitter than any of his men; that he should be a better mountaineer; and that his survival skills in sub-freezing conditions were second to none. In this he had succeeded and he had arrived in Norway confident that he and his men would be a match for any enemy troops they confronted.

it's clear that you want the reader to know you've done your research. Senior officers explain the tactical situation to each other, even though they would both know it. Yeah, it's a standard problem in this sort of thing, but it's still a problem.

Characters are as minimal as one would expect: one soldier is particularly inexperienced, one was a safe-blower in London and that's why he knows explosives, and Tanner himself is a gamekeeper's son with

secrets of his own; dark secrets he had never spoken about to a living soul since he had joined the Army as a sixteen-year-old boy soldier.

That background is the reason given for his being superbly good at silent movement and sniping; he's had unofficial scope mountings added to his rifle (I'm prepared to believe this could be done if one were careful), but there's a question here about what GURPS would call "power level". Is this meant to be a mud-and-blood grittily realistic drama about ordinary people being pushed to the limits of their ability? Or is it meant to be action-film or Warlord Comics heroic? Because if it's the former, someone who can kill or wound ten enemy soldiers in a single attack from a sniping position, without being hit in return, seems a bit excessive; if it's the latter, someone should have told the Germans. The only challenge that the enemy presents to Tanner is one of numbers; individually these élite Gebirgsjägers don't come over as significantly more competent than his own Territorial troops.

Oh, and of course there's

a young woman - a pretty girl with an oval face, pale eyes, dark eyebrows and straw-coloured hair

but this is a series book so we can't be having any of that thank you very much. (And yes, she's threatened with sexual violence in order to motivate our hero.)

Pacing is oddly repetitive: there's a battle, Tanner and his men get away and take shelter in a farmhouse, and we cut to Germans talking about what they'll do next or the British discussing the next phase of the retreat. It doesn't really seem to build momentum, though there's a big set-piece battle near the end.

There are small errors which an editor should have caught:

Tanner lit two German cigarettes from one of the orange Niderehe packets he had taken from the prisoners the day before, and passed it to Sykes.

and a general feeling of sloppiness about the writing which I suppose shouldn't surprise me these days, but I still find it discouraging.

I wouldn't object to reading another of these if it were to come my way, but I'm not going to seek them out. Followed by Darkest Hour.

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 01:34pm on 08 August 2015

    I assume you're aware of Sergeant York's exploits? It makes your criticism of the characters sniping pale in to trivial skill territory.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 07:01pm on 08 August 2015

    Yes. But he did it once, and got pulled off the front lines and given medals for it.

    I know this sort of thing is possible, but it's remarkably rare, and there are plenty more battles against similar odds in this book.

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