In the near future, war has returned to something resembling the dark ages with bored, rich sons in iron suits fighting one another, secure in the knowledge that if anything happens to them, they will be well-treated and ransomed back to their family. Common soldiers are reduced to collateral damage. Or as Sergeant Ted Regan puts it, “Sending men out was like trying to map out a minefield with a long stick: nobody cared what happened to the stick and you could always get another one.”
That is premise of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Ironclads. During the USA’s pacification of the Nords (Finnish), a wealthy son in a Scion suit (think Ironman without the boosters) is captured and no ransom is demanded. Rather than highlight a potential issue with the so-called invincible Scion suits, Regan, of the 204th Recon Platoon, and his men are sent to find out what happened. They are joined by a drone specialist and a covert mission specialist, and sent to the Scion’s last known location, deep in enemy held territory.
The world is incredibly familiar with current political and environmental issues take to worse case scenarios. Certain places like New Orleans, Thailand, and the Netherlands are undersea due to global warming. Britain has left the EU and joined the USA. Russians oligarchs, expelled from their own country, have become mercenaries, paid to win other people’s wars.
Regan’s voice is strong from his first word, even if it is to tell us what one of his men says about rich heirs playing at war, and his tone remains clear throughout. Jaded, weary, and suspicious, an everyman, Regan sees to the heart of the people around him, but fails to see the bigger picture because he is so ground down by how little he is worth to the country he fights for. Action is simply stated, clear and without confusion making it easily accessible if this isn’t your regular type of read.
From start to finish, it’s a page turner. Fast paced, I had no time to breathe as I followed Regan and his men from ambush after ambush against enemies deeply embedded in a hostile terrain. This is one of the best sci-fi stories I’ve read this year.