Look, I like John Ringo books as much as the next guy, maybe more. I’ve read The Last Centurion at least a half-dozen times, and read “Dark Tide Rising” more times than that. I’ve read his “Monster Hunter Memoirs” entries (co-authored with Larry Correia) twice, even buying the pricey pre-release ebooks (“eARC”) from Baen because I was too impatient to wait for them to be officially published. I’ve read the “Legacy of the Aldenata” series through twice, and most of the rest of his stuff at least once. I haven’t read every single thing he’s ever written, but that’s due more to the “Oh, John Ringo, no!” factor of the “Paladin of Shadows” books than anything else. Other than that, I like the way he writes, okay?
Which is why the crappy ending to the “Cally’s War” trilogy (Cally’s War, Sister Time, and Honor of the Clan) is so painful.
We’re talking gargling molten glass painful. Getting hacked to pieces with a dull spoon painful. Falling feet first into a whirling metal Grinding Death Trap of Doom painful. We’re talking ATTENDING A JUSTIN BIEBER CONCERT painful.
Where to begin?
First off, the series itself is great. It’s basically an over-the-top secret agent trilogy, totally “unrealistic”, but loads of fun (in an id-driven John Ringo kind of way).
It’s the ending to the trilogy that’s the absolute worst. (Yes, Ringo Britta’d the ending.) It answers nothing, concludes nothing, and is thoroughly unsatisfying. It leaves a dozen questions begging for answers, a dozen plot threads dangling, a dozen loose ends flailing about. Frankly, the book is less a conclusion to a series than a lead-in to a fourth volume, one that WOULD tie up all those loose ends. Let’s list a few.
(Oh, and SPOILERS. Seriously. Major spoilers. Go read the books if you haven’t already. Heck, go read them anyway, just to be sure.)
Yup, that’s a baker’s dozen, and that’s just the highlights. But dangling plot threads are the least of the climax’s problems. The fact is, as a satisfying ending to a TRILOGY of novels, the climax of Honor of the Clan is absolutely abominable.
The original Aldenata stories (Hell’s Faire, et. al.) were about the alien Posleen invading Earth, then killing most of the planet (and eating them) before they were defeated. Most of the human deaths were a direct consequence of our alien allies, the Darhel, purposely screwing us over. “Cally’s War” is about getting back our own, through the machinations of an anti-Darhel secret society, the Bane Shidhe. Her clan, the O’Neals, are the primary Bane Shidhe forces on Earth.
In the end, the Darhel ruler of Earth (Tir Dol Ron, a being personally responsible for literally BILLIONS of human deaths) locates the Bane Shidhe home base and sends in some mercenaries to wipe it out. They get pasted. Then the Tir sends the hero of the original quadrilogy, Mike O’Neal, and the rest of his powered armor infantry unit in against his own father, his own daughter, and literally dozens of other close friends, blood relatives, and their kin. Whereupon O’Neal—the biggest hero of in the galaxy, a hero to humanity and several alien races—kills many of them, including his father, while the rest flee his wrath.
End of the novel.
Where do they flee to? Unknown. What happens next? Unknown. What about all the questions I asked above? Unknown.
A trilogy that is exclusively and specifically about fighting the Darhel, and their cat’s paws on Earth, ends with the good guys—literal family—killing each other, and the total defeat and ignominious retreat of the main character and the entire anti-Darhel rebellion. The chief bad guy? Gets off scott free.
As a dark, Empire Strikes Back middle, this is fine. Jarring and painful, but fine. As the last book in a trilogy, it’s DISASTROUS. Imagine if the “Star Wars” trilogy had ended with Luke accidentally and unknowingly shooting Han and killing him, and Leia disappearing off into the galaxy with the shattered remnants of the defeated Rebels, never to be seen again. No blowing up the Death Star 2, no victory on Endor, just the Rebels getting pasted all over the entire galaxy, being forced out of hiding, being killed en masse, and the protagonists (and the few remaining Rebels) disappearing. Forever. Oh, and the Emperor gets to keep on emperoring, as does Darth Vader.
Sounds like total crap, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what “Cally’s War” gives us.
Just to meet the minimal standards of a satisfying story, this book should have ended with a triumphant victory over evil (preferably involving the O’Neal’s getting to deploy their vastly increased prominence and resources in a satisfying manner) with Mike kicking a lot of ass, and Tir Dol Ron getting his comeuppance and probably meeting some kind of unpleasant and untraceable end, thus paying off plot points set in place from the very beginning of the series and handing fans a satisfying end to TDR’s involvement on Earth. Honor of the Clan should either have been that, or it should have lead into a fourth sequel where these things (or a close approximation of) happened.
Look, John Ringo writes by the seat of his id. (Reportedly.) He goes months without doing anything, then writes entire series in a few days of white hot unbound creativity. If his id ain’t talking, ain’t nothing happening. And I don’t know how he manages collaborations (“Cally’s War” was coauthored with Julie Cochrane). So he may not have had much control over how the trilogy ended.
Even so, the way this series trailed off into defeat and dispersal was unsatisfying in the extreme. Watch on the Rhine was grim, ugly, and depressing. (What do you expect from a novel about rejuved SS soldiers fighting the Posleen?) But at least they WON. After all the deaths, after the very personal loss of beloved family members, after the near total destruction of Europe, the defenders of humanity got their revenge against their enemies. And not just the Posleen, but the Darhel. They got their victory.
Was it too much to ask for the O’Neals to get the same thing?