Friendly Fire by Gavin G Smith

Rating 8.0/10
Packed with action, from space battles with pirates to the Fast and the Furious style truck heists, gun battles and cyber duels.

‘Never popular in high school. Steal a prison barge and suddenly everyone wants to know me.’

Miska’s first outing with her legion was FUBAR, but most of them managed to make it out okay (ish). They might even come out ahead if she can sell the stolen spaceship in Maw City, making the whole thing a resounding success. She only had to explode a few heads after all. But now she’s been given another job by her FBI contact: find the possible alien artefact on Barney Prime and keep it away from Mars. Easy peasy. Except nobody knows what it is or what it does, it’s currently in unknown hands, but undoubtedly well guarded, somewhere in New Verona, home city of the Mafia boys she has collared, and on top of all that, she has a significant bounty on her head. Oh, and a warrant out for her arrest. Nobody said this was going to be easy…

Just like the first in the book series, it takes a while to get into the story. Not for the action to get going, that’s page one material, but for the mind to adjust to all the vocabulary and technological innovations. Perhaps that’s more a personal issue, as I don’t read as much military sci-fi, but both books are dense with futuristic detail, especially equipment specifications and mechanical and human augmentations. The immersion might come slowly, but once you’re there, all this added information grounds the story with layered authenticity, each detail normalising a world filled with useable tech. What’s more, this instalment doesn’t suffer as much from over explanation, the jargon expanded upon within the flow of the story rather than on top of it. It is packed with action, from space battles with pirates to Fast and Furious style truck heists, gun battles and cyber duels. 

It only leaves a little space for character development, but it is there. This is especially the case for Miska. She does much less talking about how much of a badass she is and much more proving. I could have done without her obsessing about the Ultra, but the wish fulfilment sexuality has been turned down at least. She’s starting to connect with the men she has enslaved, seeing them as more than just throwaway items. Of course, she thinks that one of them might be responsible for her father’s death, so she can’t just kill them all unless she’s prepared for the possibility that she might never know who did it. But even this slight alteration in her outlook makes her enslavement of them all the more insupportable. The morality of it has always been questionable, but the idea was that she didn’t care. Whatever necessary to fulfil her goals. Now, her claims to have no conscience seem to be an attempt to convince herself as much as those under her command. It’s reflected in their responses to her too. The ethics of their situation is raised repeatedly throughout the story, with characters highlighting their enslavement and the limits of what they’re prepared to do to remain alive. Slowly, slowly, members of the team are being fleshed out and given more motivation for action than simply avoiding death by head detonation. Suddenly, there’s more negotiation and more definitive lines drawn as it becomes clear each person has their own notions about personal morality, which the threat of death will not overcome. Each compromise might seem practical, but it’s also emotional. Miska is changing. Of course, she’s still an arsehole, willing to kill anyone not on her team who gets in the way as well as those on the team who pose a threat, and they still want to kill her, they’re bad guys, plotting escape is what they do. It’s becoming a whole new ball game- one that’s far more interesting to watch. 

Just like Miska herself, this book is much less shouty, not trying too hard to impress. With all the noise dialled down, what comes through is the humour and detailed, dirty reality of this created world. Without a doubt, I’m hooked. This offering was significantly better than the first, in style, pacing, and character. Not only that, the hints for what’s to come signals a much larger scope than the investigation into Miska’s father’s murder or the goings on of a prison legion. The introduction of Classical mythology is a huge plus for me and poses so many questions: who is Pavor? Does the Owl signify what I think it does? And what happened with/in the artefact? I can’t tell you how excited I am to see the new team in action, too. We can rebuild him…. BRING. IT. ON.

ARC via publisher

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