“CRY HAVOC!” is the janissary battle cry. They are conscripted to defend the Terran Empire from alien enemies and pirates. In the battlefield you can find armored augmented dinosaurs and mechanized walkers but also swordfights and unusual powers.
However, that is not what this book is mostly about. It is about coming of age and camaraderie. Almost all of the action takes place at the Ganymede Military Academy where the four teenage protagonists receive their training.
Even though this is not their first year at the Academy these teenagers are very green. Particularly when it comes to social skills and bonding. Here’s how two of the quartet meet:
“So, I see you’re Cadet Harper. I’m Sand. Sand Falconer,” he said by way of introduction, offering his hand. Jane looked at it for a second, and then took it in a weak grip, shook it once, and then let it drop.
“Jane,” she mumbled while not looking at him.
“Ah, um, okay, Jane, I’ll just let you pack,” said Sand. Deflated, he went back to his room.
The third one is a self-pitying half-bred and the fourth is a girl who fits the modern strong woman Mary Sue archetype so well that made me expect the very worse:
Salem had managed to charm a weekend pass out of him when she needed it. Nothing as base as sexual favors, no—that was twenty lashes at the least if she offered it, and sixty for him if he accepted plus a Court Martial. Salem just managed to be her charming self, and excel just enough so that he didn’t have a real reason to deny her because of her academics or combat training. It didn’t hurt that she was an excellent runner, and had won several competitions while at the Academy.
Fortunately, they soon meet Master Assault Sergeant Alexander Black, who turns them into a team. But it is not an automatic transformation – it is a process that takes time, as they are repeatedly kick out of their comfort zone.
Since the story takes places almost exclusively inside the Academy, we only get glimpses of the galaxy through some dialogues. And it’s important to pay attention to those dialogues because galactic politics, history, and allegiances are not of the Manichean sort so common in science-fiction. This is not the Super Cool Apollonian Federation against the Super Evil Empire. It’s way messier. There are different races; each has its own ways and some of them are even split in antagonistic factions.
There is a rather brief battle around the middle of the book. Interestingly, this turning point is almost immediately followed but an even more important event. So the second half of the book is very different. Girls are no longer obsessing over their hairstyles and guys have overcome their shortcomings too. And somebody is full of surprises.
I won’t give away any major spoilers but the last quarter of the book is radically different from those pages where Cadet Falconer barely managed to say hi to Jane.
By the way the book ends it is clear that we’ll see more of how this Epsilon Team does in the future. And if those future books follow the way of the last chapters of Cry Havoc they can be a lot of fun. But what I’d really like to see is what Black did in the past.