Thursday, 20 March 2014
Review: The Order Master
The Order Master by Brian Rush
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
(Disclaimer: I was a beta reader for this book, and know the author on social media. I received a free copy as a beta reader. The author also beta reads for me.)
What I most liked about this book is that it isn't constrained by convention. It's making use of the freedom that is indie publishing to not produce another clone of whatever's currently fashionable, to try something different, new and unexpected.
First of all, it's science fantasy. The aliens have advanced technology, but they also use magic - not "sufficiently advanced technology that's indistinguishable from magic" but actual magic. There are a few authors doing this blend of aliens and urban fantasy (Lindsay Buroker in [b:Torrent|18524705|Torrent (Rust & Relics, #1)|Lindsay Buroker|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1379807952s/18524705.jpg|26228603] and Ilona Andrews in [b:Clean Sweep|19090384|Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1)|Ilona Andrews|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1385939257s/19090384.jpg|21910727] being two I've read recently), but it's still unusual. It's a bold move, but I think it works.
Secondly, the story is, in many ways, morally uncomplicated. I need to put a lot of caveats around that, though. There's a torture scene, there's underage sex and a teenage girl who tries to seduce an adult man (having been abused by her father), and the main character is, technically, a serial killer. (However, he's killing evil aliens, and is unhappy about it.) Even the "good" aliens are manipulative and can be ruthless.
What I mean by "morally uncomplicated" is that there's not a lot of ambiguity about what the right choice is for the protagonist, even though there are drawbacks to it. That's fine; the story isn't about making a difficult choice, but about a risky alliance made against a clear threat. I did think that there could have been more ambiguity for longer about whether the "good" aliens were actually good, and that it would have added to the tension, but again, this is a choice the author is making regarding what his story is about. There's a group of aliens that are into power, torture and domination; there's another group of aliens that not only want to stop them but propose to do so by helping humans not be like that either. Put like that, why would you need to debate?
No, the story isn't about choices that are evenly balanced, but choices that involve risk and danger. It's old-fashioned heroism. At the same time, there's enough modern (or maybe postmodern) awareness of moral ambiguity and messiness in the book that readers may stumble over the clarity of the good/bad divide in a way that they wouldn't in a work that never alluded to that messiness. We only wonder about the black-and-white nature of the two sides at all because there are passages of philosophical, political and religious reflection that question traditional black-and-white ideas.
This isn't a book of philosophy, though, any more than it's about difficult moral choices. There's plenty of action, well described, and the plot moves along swiftly. It's also one of the best-edited books I've ever beta read. I spotted only a few minor errors, which I, of course, passed on to the author, and which I believe he's fixed. There are plenty of books coming out from traditional publishers that aren't this clean, and they aren't this original, either.
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