“Had we not crawled deep inside those hellish tunnels, tracked down and then killed ALL of those filthy rats... who knows? The future of our species might be different now (...) We killed each other with discarded steel rods, knives, rocks – our fists, helmets and even teeth. A battle to the death it was, and a dirty one nonetheless."
Hans Jurgen Webber
War...war constantly changes. From the bow and arrow, through the revolver to the disruptor pistol, war perseveres and adapts. With new technologies, new horizons of warfare are discovered and with that new ways of thinking arise. One must constantly try to adapt and challenge themselves so that they are not left behind. In other words, one must always have a Plan. From a philosophical standpoint the reasons for a war change as well. Influence, territories, money there are plenty of reasons to wage a war but sometimes war is a necessity! A war for survival, a war to defend what you have rightfully earned, a war to secure your own future...would you not fight such a war? This is an idea @Aragmar has put forth since the beginning but it really hit home for me here.
"Treads of Vengeance" starts off by familiarizing us with the Jaern. A truly chilling introduction to their culture, which is very much appreciated. @Aragmar demonstrates yet another effective way to establish an effective villain. You do not need to show someone yelling and stomping around, or killing people left and right, barking orders, you simply show their societal norms and their natural environment. To me the Jaern represent the most terrifying type of enemy, not only because of what they do but rather what they are. They cannot be reasoned with, trying to dissuade them for their current path is as futile as persuading an animal to overcome its very nature. You cannot try to understand them, simply because there is nothing to understand. Which in turn means that there is no hope for peace. It is curious if they were destined to be on the other end of the scale, or if it was the result of a choice - a question I am curious to see if it will be explored, but in the end doesn't really matter - they are what they are. For wherever there is light, invariably a shadow is cast.
For the sake of the review, the book can roughly be separated into two parts: the preparation and build up to a large conflict and the conflict itself. With the first half we get a much appreciated brake from the battles so far...for the most part, but even then it is not for the sake of describing a battle, rather for the benefit of the characters themselves and to establish some aspects of universe going forward. There is a lot of great humor here as well, one that does not come through characters spouting jokes or one-liners, but one that comes from the characters because of who they are which for me is always the best way to go and insures that the humor is not in any way topical and will not age like a fine vinegar.
Through our favorite duo - the "sanctioned criminal" and "government lap cat" we learn more about the criminal underworld, with its own rules and leaders, whilst we enjoy the interaction between these two. As you can imagine the comedic moments write themselves here as an I-sec officer sets foot on an asteroid ruled by criminals.
And I have to talk about the first chapter. The commentary on contemporary issues is obvious but the resolution was almost therapeutic. If you are tired of "social justice issues", if you have ever sighed in exasperation as you see people relentlessly being attacked and harassed about something they haven't done, then you owe it to yourself to read this chapter. While fictional and real lawyers would have you believe that the law is up for interpretation a certain I-sec officer will dispel these illusions for you. In the Starshatter universe the law is fair, clear and absolute. No running and no dissuading. As it should. Some will probably call it tyrannical and you should ask yourself: what kind of person, with a Galaxy full possibilities, would be afraid of fair and inescapable laws. With humanity on the constant verge of potentially its last ever war, would you want to call the black white, or try to excuse the grey?
We also learn more about our illustrious captain. If you haven't realized...we don't know much about him do we? We know what motivates him but even that is shrouded in uncertainty. It is quite fascinating because I cannot say that @Aragmar's style changes while writing about this character and yet whenever we read about him, there is a difference, however intangible it may be. As far as I can tell we haven't really scratched the surface with him, like everything we know about him, whilst true, is a bit of a bravado, a front meant to fool. @Aragmar shows a little bit more about him with a curious glimpse into Anit'za's psyche...just enough so you can begin to understand him. And you are guaranteed to have a lot of fun and laughs in his company.
With Cat and Dozan we explore the universe's past and its future. Through a chilling recollection we dive into humanity's history and what transpired at the end of the Second World War. Effectively, not through citing facts, but rather short descriptions @Aragmar paints a truly grim picture. One that explains what made humans be they way they are. Where we see what humans are truly capable of and what drives someone who has long past gone beyond his breaking point. What has been sacrificed to give us a chance. And therein, again, lies the cruel irony: all that death not to save us, not to give us security, but to give us a fighting chance. We also learn you should never try to fight a veteran from the Starshatter universe. Just....just don't.
Then for the first time we experience vulnerability through the terran kids. Arguably only through Lilly have we seen how dire things are, how terrifying it is to grow up in this universe. Because we have, for the most part, seen just the great crew of Starshatter, humans seemed almost indomitable, like there is nothing they cannot stop or deal with, we see how naive we have been. The fact that kids have to learn the basics of combat from an early age is simultaneously inspiring and tragic. Inspiring for the indomitable spirit the human race exhibits, that none will roll over and die, none will simply give up as that is the greatest sin they can commit, whatever it takes to insure that they can not only survive but also have a life worth living. And yet, with all their technology and ingenuity, no parent can guarantee the safety or future of their kid, can ensure they have a peaceful childhood. All they can do is give them a fighting chance. That is something that truly shook me because here, on our Earth...I am not so sure and that terrifies me. Who would not wage war to secure the future of their children, to try and destroy those those who would come for them? There are those who would try to convince you that the children are not the future and are not worth it. @Aragmar swipes away this ridiculous notion and shows you that the children are the only future. That they are the light at the end of the tunnel. And the cruelty that life has offered them makes it all the more tragic. But fair or not, this is the life children are presented with, they will not complain but only try to help in whatever way they can. Tragic and at the same time inspirational figures, the children of Starshatter should be something we all aspire to be.
Then we have the absolute pleasure to witness the second round between Anit'za and Omasa and it is nothing like anything we have experienced so far. The scales exponentially grow as we no longer deal with squads but armies. And it has everything you would expect from a Starshatter battle: great combat scenes and smart tactical moves blended perfectly with descriptions of the weapons of war. Through each character we get to experience a different theatre of war. From the fight for space superiority, through vehicle combat to foot soldiers and infiltration units. And somehow, in the middle of all this, @Aragmar finds a way to smoothly highlight our heroes: Lilly's further spiral into depression, Anit'za's brilliance, Brynjar's complicated simplicity, Awesome's absurdity, Alric's grim determination and Vasilisa's dedication. It is all there and I don't want to spoil it but I have to talk about one particular chapter. I dare not say which it is, but I believe you will know the one. After I read it, I couldn't help but jump from my seat and walk around the house while yelling like a madman. For me this is the highlight when it comes to battles so far. A truly breathtaking, intense clash that encapsulates one of the many reasons I truly love this series. And everything ends with the true clash that John Williams should've been composing music about. Try as I might I cannot give the combat justice, I can only gush about how great it is while trying not to spoil it. Sadly everything ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, nothing drastic that would drive you crazy but it does make you want to go and pester @Aragmar to see when the next book will come out.
And here I am, dear reader, sitting in the mess hall of Starshatter, enjoying Anit'za's great cooking and waiting for the crew to reach their destination. Anxious and yet hopeful that I will see these characters that I have grown to love again. For that is rare and whenever it happens I always cherish it. I hope you have as well. There is plenty of room aboard.