By all accounts, W.C. Bauers’ debut novel Unbreakable (not to be confused with the Shyamalan film) is a good book. Believable warfare, exhilarating action sequences, and a strong protagonist throughout make this military science fiction novel stand out amongst others. But despite it all, it’s not perfect and it definitely needs a lot of work.
Promise T. Paen is our protagonist, a female recruit of the Republican Marines. Throughout the novel she goes from recruit to lieutenant but her personal arc is an especially endearing one. She holds dear to her a GLOCK, an ancient semiautomatic from earth that’s been in her family for generations. Odd enough, in its presence, the GLOCK becomes a medium of sorts to consort with her dead mother. Whether this is her mother’s real spirit communicating to her or her own warped mental shape, is not explicitly identified – and that’s for the best.
But can we just take a moment and ask ourselves how the name “Promise T. Paen” made it into a final draft – let alone a novel?
However much of the book is wasted by changing the POV to other far less interesting characters. In fact, there where probably close to 20 POV characters, many of which died before the page was out in one scene or other. And each POV character was given their appropriate rank and title, making many persons very indistinguishable. For someone like myself, who has absolutely zero military background or understanding, these titles go over my head entirely.
It was actually this inability to grasp specific militaristic concepts/abbreviations/terms that made it a very difficult read for me. And this fault in cognizance is wholly my own. The fault in the narrative here is that it doesn’t attempt to aid you in understanding. It just expects you to have the rudimentary knowledge embedded firmly in your psyche. In fact, it truly feels like it was written for the average American soldier.
The book also lends heavy fan service to gun fanatics, something Bauers also seems painfully infatuated with, and something I’m woefully ignorant of. Chapter 29 is literally a 14-page Q&A about how his pulse rifle’s work. But most of his universe is unnecessarily explained. Sometimes less is more, and this book needs a lot of shaving. I can’t help but think of Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory, which states, “if a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.” Had Bauers left the majority of his worldbuilding and technical details out of the prose (namely seven-eighths) it’d be a far more cohesive and enjoyable read.
The religious undertones didn’t sit well with me. It actually wasn’t so much a religious undertone as it was an overtone. It felt overtly evangelically preachy. They even used the NLT. And this shouldn’t bother me – I think it’s very interesting that evangelist Christianity exists in the future on distant planets. But it served no purpose to the plot.
The dialogue sidestepped truly cursing a number of times, which was actually very annoying. I’m totally for a novel choosing to abstain from cursing. But the book makes it clear when someone curses or is about to curse in Promise’ presence, doesn’t actually commit to it on text, and then chastises the character for even considering the profanity. What’s the point? This was aggravatingly preachy. I can understand this once or twice, but skirting around or bleeping out a profanity or two every few chapters really digs at the reader. I’d much prefer had he just removed every instance of even contemplating a curse.
That said, I couldn’t argue with the exhilarating nature of the battle sequences. Top notch stuff, really. And when the book needs to be emotional, or endearing, it totally hits it’s mark. But at the end of the day I think military science fiction just isn’t my cup of tea.
ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.