The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
Angry Robot, pb, £8.99
Reviewed by Megan Leigh @m_leigh_g
There’s one thing you can always rely on with a Kameron Hurley novel: a fun, action-packed read that will keep you speeding along with it. The Light Brigade is no exception to this. However, when compared to her previous – and thoroughly excellent – The Stars are Legion, The Light Brigade leaves a lot to be desired in complexity, depth, and originality.
The novel follows the story of soldier Dietz, who joined up after her family, along with her hometown, was destroyed in the Blink. After completing her initial training, Dietz’s experience of the war drastically differs from those around her – people tell her she has done things she doesn’t remember, while she experiences events that haven’t happened yet. As she attempts to understand what is happening to her, she must also unravel a conspiracy at the heart of the war.
Like its predecessor, The Light Brigade is, at its core, a military science fiction novel. And while there are elements of a fresh take on it with the combination of time travel and non-linear narrative, the novel doesn’t feel too dissimilar from classics of the genre like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Even the ‘original’ elements aren’t altogether new – All You Need is Kill and it’s US film adaptation Edge of Tomorrow already delivered a military SF with a non-linear timeline.
‘It turns out that being able to perceive actual reality has very little long-term benefit.’
While Hurley’s prose is always easy to read, it has a tendency to become repetitive. She sticks very closely to colloquial language, there is nothing particularly evocative. But that isn’t a problem per se. What does become problematic is the repetitive structure of her syntax, the long passages of very short sentences. While this approach can work wonders in building speed as the reader races through a highly tense section, if it used throughout a novel it leads to burnout. And once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop noticing it
She also has a tendency to neglect setting – and physical descriptions of any kind. Characters’ physical traits are either abandoned entirely or given nothing more than a cursory ‘hair, skin colour, height, build’ description when they are first introduced.
At times I felt as though I were reading little more than transcripts of conversations taking place in some kind of void. There are occasional concrete place markers, such as ‘banana tree farm’, but there is little to give the reader an emotional connection to these locations. I wanted a little more than ‘dusty’ and ‘red’ for locations on Mars, but instead, all we are given are generic descriptions with little imagination.
‘…most of us don’t want truth. We want stories that back up our existing beliefs.’
While The Light Brigade has its faults, it is still a thoroughly enjoyable romp. Every new scene features yet more action, with a different style of peril each time. I found myself racing through the sizeable novel and was disappointed when it came to an end. But having read The Stars Are Legion, I know Hurley is capable of something far more original and mind-bending than we get here.
Verdict: For a bonkers non-linear narrative that’s easy to follow and full of action, you can’t go wrong with The Light Brigade. But if you want something more challenging or original, try The Stars are Legion instead.