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    his is the third novel in Huff's Confederation series, following the adventures of Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr (here promoted to Gunnery Sergeant). The first two novels, Valor's Choice and The Better Part of Valor have been conveniently reissued in the omnibus volume A Confederation of Valor in case you missed them the first time round, and all three are well worth picking up, but each novel can stand alone on its own merits. Huff does develop a story arch across the series, but the mystery of confederation politics takes a distant second to the up close and personal action of platoon combat. Huff is the undisputed master of militaristic SF: her novels are superbly researched and beautifully choreographed, keeping the reader pinned down in page-turning house-to-house combat. Huff's careful characterization of the individual grunts under Sergeant Kerr engages the reader in the fate of each of these Marines, forcing us to identify with Kerr's desperate (and ultimately doomed) need to keep everyone in her platoon alive. This stands in sharp contrast to much of the genre in which anonymous spear-carriers are routinely sacrificed to the greater glory of the hero-general. Huff's protagonist has little use for the officers who insist on placing her platoon in harm's way, and seeing the clash of stellar empires from the point of view of those actually doing the fighting makes for far more engaging reading. Another advantage of Huff's Confederation series is that Canadian Huff avoids the right-wing rants that so often render other writers in the genre (Steven White comes to mind) unreadable. Huff actually seems to believe in ideals such as democracy and a free press, in contrast to her American counterparts who seem to favour futures dominated by autocratic royals, Reaganomics, and genocidal protagonists. Huff's Confederation series is militaristic SF for those who think they hate militaristic SF; though fans of the likes of David Webber will not be disappointed either. Highly recommended.

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