Orbit | 2017 (28 September) | 439p | Review copy | Buy the book
Lieutenant Keira Jenkins is an experienced member of the elite SimOps (Simulation Operatives) Programme. She can be sent into the most extreme military operations in a ‘skin’. Her body remains in a tank aboard a starship while her mind is transmitted into an enhanced artificial version of hers – bigger, stronger, glorious. But this body can still feel pain and when it dies, which is the inevitable conclusion to most missions, Jenkins revives in her original skin that still feels the residual pain and trauma of her recent death.
Jenkins used to be a member of the Lazarus Legion, the most famous of all SimOps forces, but now she leads her own troop – the Jenkins Jackals. The men and women she leads are new to all this, they have barely died at all, and so Jenkins is faced with the task of getting them into shape while also dealing with a new and potentially devastating threat to humanity’s recently won peace.
When Jenkins and her Jackals fail to achieve their mission when the Daktar Outpost is attacked, Jenkins is given no choice at all in their future. They are assigned to a vessel that is about to venture into deepest space, to the remote and near lawless North Star Station, which guards a legacy of the Shard, one of the Galaxy’s most enigmatic and feared aliens. The station guards a gate to a wormhole and on the other side, so many light years from home, true danger waits. But not all of the danger is on the other side. Humanity once more hovers on the edge of war.
Pariah begins The Eternity War, a new series by Jamie Sawyer that follows on from the now complete trilogy, The Lazarus War. The conflict between Earth’s different factions still simmers and the peace with the fearful alien Krell is as uneasy as ever. The edges of known space are lawless, control of the wormhole gates and the other artefacts left by the Shard is fiercely contested. And you can always find the SimOps in the middle of the heat.
We have a new SimOps team here, as ever a bunch of misfits but each with a fascinating back history and an attitude that could get them all killed. My favourite of the recruits is Novak, a Russian convict on ‘parole’ whose every moment is watched and monitored by a spy drone. And then there’s Feng whose origins are particularly intriguing and, one feels, with the potential to cause all sorts of trouble as the series goes on. In short, these are people with substance to them and a great deal of promise for the future. If they survive, of course, and seeing what they have ahead of them in Pariah, that’s no certainty at all. They might spend much of their time fighting in their Sims, but their bodies remain very vulnerable indeed.
The two characters I loved the most, though, are Keira Jenkins herself and Pariah. I’m saying nothing at all about Pariah but Keira is such an intriguing woman. We don’t know everything about her – there are more novels to come – but she is intent on doing the right thing, whatever the cost to herself. Here is a leader who would never leave one of her team behind even though she knows so little about them. She learns as much about them in this novel as we do. She’s a military force to be reckoned with but she has her vulnerable spots. She’s undoubtedly been traumatised by her countless mission deaths. They’ve isolated her and she stands alone with her thoughts. There are similarities with Captain Conrad Harris of the Lazarus War books but she does feel that little bit more human and vulnerable – likeable.
I really enjoyed the Lazarus War trilogy and I’m delighted to say that Pariah is every bit as thrilling and fast-paced. You don’t need to have read the first trilogy before but if you have then you’ll be glad to be given more in the same flavour. If you enjoy action-packed, well-written and well-plotted military science fiction, with terrifying aliens, space stations on the edges of the Galaxy, great technology, battles and intrigue, then I think you’ll love this. It provides perfect escapism and is a lot of fun to read. I’m so pleased that Jamie Sawyer is returning us to the dangerous world of the SimOps and the Krell, one of my favourite skin-tinglingly horrible alien species.