A War’s Beginning

Terms of Enlistment (Frontlines #1)Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this, which I think is the point. But I also spent a lot of time not sure how to feel about it.

First, the most jarring thing for the average reader: present-tense storytelling. Mr. Kloos uses the method effectively, I think, because the story keeps you engaged, even when it’s not an action sequence, and you aren’t dragged in and out of the story’s pacing when we do enter an action sequence. But when you flip open the book and start reading, it’s initially disconcerting to find everything in the present tense (excepting a couple of minor typos, anyway).

The biggest downside of this book, probably, is the last sentence (“This one’s just begun.”) or the title of the final chapter (“The End of the Beginning”). This book is the first of a series, and it’s pretty obvious. As a standalone book, it’s never quite clear where the story is going, where you’re being taken as you follow the narrator’s life from “welfare rat” to soldier and beyond. Sometimes, you gloss over weeks or even months at a time. In other places, you’re in the trenches, and two or three chapters cover one afternoon. You meet a lot of characters, about most of whom the narrator sadly comments, “I’ll probably never see them again”–and in an average book, you would see them again, so it’s confusing when you don’t. We keep dropping old characters and picking up new ones without returning to the old. (Probably, we will see at least a few of those characters again in future installments.)

There are a few other challenge points. Plot-wise, I never really understood why the narrator, who takes a different position in the last third of the book, never really takes up the mantle of soldier again (in most of the book, he is a capable soldier who even shows above-average tactical awareness, albeit still inexperienced and making mistakes along the way, but at the end of the book, when he has ample opportunity to step up and fight hard, he almost seems to have forgotten that whole part of his life). Perhaps Mr. Kloos is simply trying to make the character feel limited and realistic, but in a book that otherwise reads like an action/war story, the hero behaves notably unheroically.

And this may just be a me-problem, but I know a character used “Sarissas” to do something cool a couple chapters ago, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to remember what one is without at least one boring noun nearby. (There were a couple instances of this, where a piece of technology was introduced at one point, then referenced later, without quite enough info for the reference to be completely meaningful.)

But almost all of my objections are on the grounds that I (generally) understand the format and flow of stories, and this one threw me for a loop a couple times. I did enjoy reading it, which, again, I think is the point. It’s science fiction/war, perhaps with a little more emphasis on the war, but that’s because, for the majority of the book, the sci-fi parts are all in the world-building, rather than the main plot. The politics, society, technology are all backdrop, not front-and-center.

It’s a good book. I will likely get to reading more of Mr. Kloos’ work eventually, but I have a long list of things I should probably read (and write) first. For now, I’m glad I read it.

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