Book Title: Edge of Valor: A Military Sci-Fi Thriller
Author: Josh Hayes
Publication Date: July 2, 2019
Available On: Amazon as an eBook, a paperback and an audiobook
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Special Agent Jackson Fischer works for the Alliance Security and Intelligence (ASI) Agency who has been assigned to find out what happened when a mission to extract an Alliance ambassador from Stonemeyer and his team goes disastrously wrong. With a high death toll of over sixteen Marines and even more civilians, Fischer and his partner, Eliwood must investigate what happened to all of them.
Given that Stonemeyer is currently part of the United Rim Territories that is now under occupation by the Pegasi Empire, the situation is escalating quickly. Also, the dead Marines are from the Holloman Alliance so the political ramifications of this crisis are huge as the media share all the gory details of this calamity. Will this be the spark that sets off a war between the two superpowers?
But when three Marines are rescued from Stonemeyer, the mission to find out the truth gets perilous as Fischer works against a ticking clock that is counting down to war. But who is discouraging this investigation? Will the three Marines, now the only three witnesses alive who were there, be able to shed light on what happened and expose the truth?
It is here that the novel splits into two distinct storylines. The first is the investigation happening in the present day. The second is the recollections of the three Marines who were there on Stonemeyer. These flashbacks tell the story of a full squad of Marines as they descend onto the backwater planet in their dropships in an attempt to rescue the ambassador and his team from the Klausmeyer Building in Calibri City, the capital of Stonemeyer.
However, the enemy appears to have excellent intelligence on them, which is bad since is supposed to be a stealthy and quiet rescue. Once they are discovered and attacked en masse, the Marines discover that the poorly trained and armed enemy, whom they considered a joke, is better-armed and organized than they thought. Overwhelmed, the Marines struggle to complete their mission as it continues to go completely sideways. The story then becomes what happened to the Marines, how did so many die and why.
Once those two storylines converge, it culminates into a startling revelation where all the pieces come together, big surprises are unearthed, and it all boils down to one crucial witness who can expose the complete truth about the conspiracy behind it all. But what does this person know that could expose the truth and completely alter the outcome of the investigation?
Fischer’s ASI investigation looks to be difficult to solve already. However, as more information is relayed during interviews with the three rescued Marines, it takes the difficulty to a whole other level. However, the Marines eyewitness accounts of the incident are the most harrowing and intense portion of this novel and where it really shines the most.
Each of the three Marines, Corporal Biagini, Sergeant Thomas, and Private Wallace have endured a traumatic ordeal. Their perspectives of what happened in Calibri City reveal a deep you-are-there immersion through their eyes and I experienced what they experienced. A constantly changing situation on the ground, a vicious enemy and the uncertainty that comes with not knowing whether I’ll survive from one moment to the next. I found myself unconsciously bobbing and weaving as I read, dodging bullets as I did so.
These chapters move at a lightning fast pace and take your breath away at how the situation escalates with each agonizing moment. There’s no chance to gather your bearings as the Marines fight for their lives against a relentless and never-ending swarm of enemies as if the whole planet were fighting against you. It moved that quickly and I found myself glad for the chapters taking place in the present day if only to wipe the sweat from my brow and exhale all the tension that had built up inside of me as I read.
These different perspectives not only help us experience the battle; they also help flesh out the personalities of the three Marines. Each one has a different rank, which also demonstrates their experiences as a soldier and how they look at the conflict they escaped from. Each one is also fleshed out as an individual and felt like real people you know, versus just characters in a story. It also helped me empathize for each of them at the violent fury they faced with each skirmish and the ruthlessness of their enemy.
The camaraderie of the Marines and their devotion to each other is another one of the admirable traits of this novel. Their beliefs about being there for one another, having each other’s backs despite the odds and their teamwork in the face of an untenable situation. It’s readily apparent and infused seamlessly into the story, giving it a crucial emotional hook and making you care about their fates.
The mounting suspense comes from illuminating the story of what happened with each small clue that is shared with the reader. It’s also what compelled me to keep turning the page one after another because I had to see what was going to happen to this story and why. This intrigue made the story very difficult to stop reading. For the most part, I couldn’t predict what was going to happen next with each twist and turn of the plot.
There’s a lot of nice world-building going on here, detailing a colonized galaxy in the year 2607. The different political factions, the worlds comprising each coalition and the friction between them all makes for fascinating reading. It also shows thoughtfulness in writing this novel that demonstrates a larger galaxy of stories waiting to be told. The impact of this one incident reverberates across the galaxy and shows how it can have consequences for the populace on multiple worlds. This larger perception of the galaxy was amplified by how the new media covered it and how the politics of the situation were affected.
I also appreciated how all of this nicely contrasted with some scenes from Fischer’s home life with his wife and daughter. She wasn’t an afterthought or a throwaway character, as families can sometimes be portrayed in these types of novels. Their marriage is given some dimension and affected some of the decisions he made on this mission to solve the case, no matter the personal costs he might have to pay.
This novel can’t quite escape some of the tropes of the police investigation genre, such as disappearing witnesses when crucial plot details are close to being revealed, high-ranking, power-hungry military men, brutally sadistic one-dimensional enemies and the revelation as to who is really behind the conspiracy and why they did it. These tropes made some aspects of the novel feel predictable and derivative of other stories I’ve read in the past.
The novel is split into two pieces: the ASI investigation into what happened and the military sci-fi piece. This second piece plays like the movie “Black Hawk Down” on an alien planet: disadvantaged, heavily armed, savage militias on a backwater planet fighting against the highly trained and armed Marines with superior technology. Their attempts to escape only increase the body count on both sides and made for terrifying and enthralling reading. This contrast made for two stories that blended together really well.
The ending was satisfying yet anticlimactic at the same time. Satisfying, as you see a despicable character get taken down in the most gratifying manner. But it was also anticlimactic because the ending had the potential to be so much more than what it was. I had wished the conspiracy was more complex and more difficult to figure out, as I was able to discern who was ultimately behind it in relatively short order and well before the end of the novel. As a result, the resolution felt a little perfunctory and negated the ending somewhat, robbing it of some of the powerful impact it was meant to have.
Overall, this is an ambitious novel that highlights the author’s imaginative storytelling skills, compelling action, and some fantastical ideas all infused into an energetic and exciting story. I would welcome more stories from this author as he continues to explore the vast universe he created here.
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories by Josh Hayes include “It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane!: A Superhero Anthology“.