War in Heaven by Gavin Smith. Book Review

WAR IN HEAVEN by Gavin Smith

Gollancz, 513pp l/f p/back, £14.99

Reviewed by R A Bardy [@mangozoid]

Gavin Smith’s sequel to Veteran is like an intergalactic, interplanetary version of the original, and recounts the tale of ex-vet-now-celebrity ‘icons’ Jakob Douglas and Mudge as they go one more round with Rolleston, the psychotic ex-military leader turned amorphous one man god-to-be, who is intent on unleashing Demiurge onto an already struggling and embittered humanity in an effort to use the ultra-powerful AI to effectively consume humanity and redefine the parameters of what a single entity is capable of…

Phew… As such, it’s also a rollicking read, filled to the brim with big guns, bodily cybernetic enhancements, macho muchness, and lots and lots of violence. Indeed, the violence is everywhere, and the majority told once again in grittily horrific and brutal style from a first-person perspective, namely Jakob’s.

There are plenty of clever twists throughout, with some telling dialogue, brilliant descriptive work and a fair smattering of black humour, with my only gripe probably being a little too much introspection going on as Jakob goes from one extreme to the other in his efforts to procure what can only be described as a ‘reasonably normal’ relationship with Morag, his apparent girlfriend. I say ‘apparent’ because needless to say this relationship never seems to settle down, and even when he tries to leave it all behind and ‘make a break for it’, we find him drawn inexorably back into the thick of things, and at times it’s obvious that even Jakob doesn’t know why he’s bothering. This makes it harder to sympathise with a lot of the characters this time round, and although ultimately a very satisfying read, it’s actually a gratuitous experience, and fair to say it didn’t quite hold up in the same vein as the original Veteran, coupled with the fact that there’s a definite feeling at the end that we’re back to square one again, albeit with a trail of dead bodies behind us.

This is well worth a read, a must-have for military SF buffs and the author displays a genuine talent for putting the reader into the thick of things, but the characterisation efforts just felt a little lost in the shuffle.