Since this book deals with issues of mental illness, namely PTSD and depression, I'm including it in my Diverse Reads review series.
In Virtues of War, we're introduced to the Terran space military force and the crew of the Rapier, a small fast-attack craft. The team has interpersonal drama as they struggle to do their part in an inter-space conflict between Terran (Earth) forces and the Centauri colonies, who want independence. There's a war, shit goes down, everything sucks, and then they "win." Or at least, until the next book.
|Can I just say, I love these covers. Totally badass.|
Ghosts of War: Summary
After the Terran-Centauri conflict, the different crew members of Rapier have various levels of success adjusting to their new normal. The team is split up: Thomas returns to his socialite wife and a career track that will hopefully fulfill his ambitions; Jack endures facial reconstruction and physical therapy before being reassigned; Breeze happily throws them all under the bus for her career in intelligence; and Katja struggles with PTSD as she adjusts to life in peacetime.
However, the threat isn't over. A Centauri assassin bent on revenge has his own plans for Earth -- and the crew of Rapier once more finds themselves entangled in interstellar conflict.
Review: 4 stars
I think I'll give this one four stars. I actually liked it much better than the first book.
Katja is the central character of Ghosts of War, and plays a more prominent role than she did in the first book. I struggled to like her in book one because the first thing we see her do is round up a bunch of civilians and shoot them in the head when they refuse to answer her questions. Virtues of War paints her as an insecure overachiever with daddy issues who often resorts to extreme measures (read: war crimes) in an attempt to live up to expectations.
In Ghosts of War, she's less naive, less needy and approval-seeking, and more mature. She's also been pretty brutalized, mentally and physically, by her time in combat. She displays common PTSD symptoms such as nightmares, hypervigilance, and aggression. The description of her struggles isn't sentimental, which was a relief compared to other portrayals of PTSD I've read.
Jack remains my favorite character -- but the presence of Thomas in this novel just made me want to gnash my teeth. He's still an asshole, still shallow, and still a character I can't muster the slightest bit of a fuck to give about. In the first book, he cheats on his wife with Katja -- a young, impressionable officer under his command -- and then throws her over for Breeze. He's such a slimeball that when Breeze blackmails him by threatening to accuse him of sexual assault, you almost want to cheer for her rather than feel sorry for him. (Almost. Breeze is a horrible person.)
In Ghosts of War, he leads Katja on (while still married) and then goes and fucks her sister. This sends Katja further into a downward spiral. Practically all the interpersonal drama and misery that isn't caused by the war is caused by Thomas. Ghosts of War tries to make him into this sympathetic guy, but I wasn't buying it.
As far as the action goes, it's heavy on intrigue, spy stuff, and secret plots. I found this more enjoyable than the first book, which included a lot of mind-numbing, tedious descriptions of How The Sci-Fi Stuff Works. I appreciated the attempt to make this hard sf, but I was bored. The science fiction aspects of Ghosts of War are incorporated seamlessly into the narrative, rather than being shoved at the reader in the form of an infodump.
If you like military scifi, this is the series for you. If you want to read more Canadian authors, this is the series for you. If you want a series with interesting female characters out the wazoo, this is the series for you. If you're looking for a decent portrayal of veteran PTSD, this is also the series for you. Worth mentioning that the author is a veteran himself.
This series is also good about addressing moral complexities in its characters and the society it presents. In another series, the Terrans would be portrayed as the villains. Katja, for instance, is seen by the other side as the Angel of Death for her role in the war. The assassin is sympathetic. The idea that there's not necessarily a good or an evil side -- that what side you were born on matters more -- is a troubling concept that Ghosts of War isn't afraid to address.