Good afternoon everyone. I know it has been a long time since we’ve chatted, over two months in fact. As it turns out, grad school occupies a big chunk of time. Who knew? I know my posts have vanished and there is a lot of content I’ve missed. Hell, I missed the entire mid term elections. My goal originally with this blog was two posts a week, obviously that won’t be achieved this year, and I have an annoying habit of completely dropping a project once I know the goal is relatively unobtainable. In an attempt to at least keep this thing alive, I present to you the book reviews of all three books I’ve finished in the last two months. Who knows, I might even manage to start making somewhat regular posts again.
How to Lose a War: More Foolish Plans and Great Military Blunders by Bill Fawcett
Starting with a little military history, we have How to Lose a War, a collection of essays breaking down disastrous military campaigns from ancient Greece to the modern day. Most conflicts get one chapter with bigger ones like the Napoleonic wars and WW2 getting several chapters from different perspectives. WW2 has a German and a Japanese chapter for example. Each chapter is written by a different author.
I’ll start by saying if you don’t like history this book probably won’t win you over. If you do like history you’ll probably enjoy it. If you’re indifferent towards history you’ll like the first couple chapters, probably get bored when the book turns to 1800s France and sadly put it down before the book closes with a really strong breakdown of Nazi internal policy and its consequences during WW2.
This book does focus, as you might guess from the name, on what went wrong at various times in history. Sometimes the mistakes are obvious(attempting a night attack, not having good maps, and getting lost until dawn or ordering stirrups for your cavalry that are too small to fit the standard issue boot of your army) sometimes they are less so(several pieces of the Spanish Armada). It occasionally gets murky whether or not it was a clear mistake that should have been foreseen at the time or really something we call a mistake now with the benefit of hindsight.
I did find it amazing just how many times in history an invading group has just taken it as a given that once they arrive the local population will greet them as liberators. This book certainly hammers home the idiom, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
One other thing I was happy about is this book spread out the criticism pretty well. Several chapters were devoted to US mistakes in Korea and Vietnam. England, Spain, France, Germany, and Russia all get highlighted. A couple African rebellions and wars I was completely unfamiliar with also get mentioned. The only spot the book really felt like it was piling on was against Napoleon. I’m certain he was a great general and had to build the empire somehow, but only reading about the fall certainly colors your whole perspective.
★★★☆☆ – Good lessons that shouldn’t be forgotten, but could use more depth in some areas and less in others. A reminder of my rating system
Sworn In Steel by Douglas Hulick
Second in the Tales of The Kin series and second in this review roundup we have Sworn in Steel. I greatly enjoyed book 1, Among Thieves, for its clever writing and setting. The second one is set in our same somewhat mystical , somewhat middle ages, and somewhat middle eastern city with our same main character picking up pretty quickly after the first book left off.
I won’t say too much more because that would reveal several key plot points of the first one, and the plot twists continue to be executed nicely in this one. Those plot twists really don’t come until the second half though. The first half is largely filled with things happening to our hero with very little interaction or initiation on his part. I was getting a little worried, but the second half is much better.
Not just does our hero retake the reigns, but does so in a manner that brings up lots of great questions about the nature of promises both to yourself and others. I know that sounds hokey but I’m having a hard time finding a better term. Oaths and expectations are a big theme throughout the book. When people have big expectations of you, what do you owe them in terms of leadership, honor, or faithfulness? Both books have had these themes, but they really start shining through in the second half of this book.
This series does have some of the best sword fight descriptions of any book I’ve ever read. I get the distinct impression the author actually knows quite a bit about fencing, and if he doesn’t he has successfully fooled me. These aren’t just two people swinging at each other. Feints, stances, parries, and lunges are all described, planned for, and executed artfully.
Obviously read the first one first, but even if you’re not a big fantasy fan you’ll still enjoy it because it’s mostly just a setting and not so much a central focus.
★★★★☆ – Slow start, but a resolution that’s worth the wait with great overarching questions. A reminder of my rating system
Eisenhorn Omnibus by Dan Abnett
Finally we come to the 850 page three book and two short story collection that is Eisenhorn. I’m reviewing it all as one book. The setting is the popular sci fi world known as Warhammer 40K. Humanity is beset on all sides by aliens, heretics, and demons. The noble inquisition and the powerful space marines are really all that stand in the way of us being wiped out. Eisenhorn is a member of the inquisition and all three books follow him over the course of several hundred years.
This was the second thing I’ve read in the 40K universe and I’m quite glad it wasn’t the first. There is quite the lexicon you’re expected to already have committed to memory before opening to page one. On a related note the author often switches between first and last names of characters, and given the number of characters introduced over the whole book, this can get confusing especially when you have children of previous characters referred to by the same last name.
One thing I do like in this book is the time scale. If you have someone doing in depth investigation across several planets, that isn’t a quick process. Although it doesn’t take up a lot of time in word count, just having the note that they had to spend 10 weeks digging through bureaucratic files in a musty basement may not be exciting, but it did give a level of realism that was nice.
Speaking of time frames, when the story covers one character over several centuries you expect some character growth, and here we come to my primary criticism of the book(s). The beginning of book one our character sets down their hard and firm philosophy. Then slowly you see him start to make a few exceptions and act in slightly different ways. You see him justify and rationalize it. I’d really been looking forward to the end of the book to see if our hero would finally give in to heresy as a necessary evil and suffer the consequences, or if he would reflect on the path he was going down and repent ahead of time.
Instead the final battle happens, in which the hero kind of uses a few tools he felt uncertain about, then two pages are devoted to epilogues of every character except the protagonist. We never see him actually deal with the consequences of his choices or even see if he understands the choices he has made. There was great character buildup and it ends on a complete whimper that left me feeling remarkably unsatisfied especially considering the page investment.
★★★☆☆ – There are some great sci fi elements, but it’s a tough intro to the setting and if you need character resolution stay far away. A reminder of my rating system