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Waybound and Red Company: First Strike! –

Waybound and Red Company: First Strike!

Saturday , 17, June 2023 Leave a comment

In the final volume of Will Wight’s Cradle series, Waybound, Lindon and his friends prepare themselves for the daunting challenge of killing not just the three remaining kaiju Dreadgods rampaging across the world of Cradle, but the Monarchs that keep the kaiju in check. It’s a race against time, as each death empowers the monsters and pushes Lindon ever closer to become a kaiju himself. But only killing the Dreadgods and forcing the Monarchs to ascend to the heavens–or die–will save Cradle from endless waves of destruction. Even if it means that Lindon himself must leave Cradle behind.

The royal road comes to completion in Waybound as Lindon tries to correct a world where the endless ambitions and sentimentality of the powerful Monarchs has caused Cradle itself to create monsters to force the Monarchs to take their rightful place in the heavens and leave. Endless treasures and even lives are poured into magical cultivation circuits to empower a select few to fight over Cradle. It is as if entire Smithsonians are emptied to fuel Superman in the vain hope of containing the damage caused by Monarchs, Lindon, or the Dreadgods. But Lindon is the only one on Cradle willing to end the menace of the Dreadgods forever–and the only one using the gift of cultivation to protect others. In some ways it makes sense that such waste is needed to restore Cradle from the selfishness of its powerful, as the price of a fall is always steep.

The die has been cast in the previous book, so what remains is a breakneck spree of world-shattering combat, training, and an occasional revelation. But, just like Cradle itself, the reader is not given time to breathe. However, Wight does what Hollywood and very few epic fantasy writers cannot: he creates a satisfying ending. Lindon and friends go on to their just reward, all the loose ends are tied up, and there are hints of future challenges and adventures without the need for a sequel hook. The heroic progression known as the royal road, started in a remote village by a powerless, imperiled, and shunned Lindon, is now complete.

And now it is time for another to begin his journey upon that same royal road, from rags to triumph.

Indie military science fiction bastion B. V. Larson starts a new series, chronicling the adventures of the Red Company, a platoon of mercenary marines embarked on a mining ship in the asteroid belt. In First Strike!, Devin Starn is a indentured miner one bad accident or one unlucky strike away from liquidation–into next week’s rations. But a lucky break and a willingness to fight see him elevated to the Red Company. Having traded the dangers of industrial mining for ever-present conflict with mutineers, privateers, saboteurs, and Red Company’s own training routine, Starn must earn his place among the weary veterans, even as their mothership’s balances dip ever closer to liquidation. Finally, Red Company is forced to accept a dangerous bounty to survive, a bounty with hidden secrets that will upend humanity’s understanding of the cosmos.

The mix of asteroid belt scarcity and accounting tyranny creates a compelling setting and a breath of fresh air from mil SF’s current fascination with elite military formations and Black Company influences. When Starn narrates his climb out of the mining pits in first person, he lacks the eloquence of a Croaker. Again, variety is the spice of a genre, and Croaker has been recast into mil SF a bit too often in imitation of Forgotten Ruin and Strange Company. Starn is an eager recruit from a harrowing go-to-war-or-go-to-jail origin, and that gratefulness and bloodymindedness drips off the page. While he does little to distinguish himself from the Rico clones that have filled mil SF, this is a Larson novel, so the various perils creeping out of the asteroid shadows are worth the ride. However, as the series develops, there is potential that Red Company may drift away from the small but deadly stakes of asteroids and accounting into the familiar worn footsteps of invasion.

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