The majority of modern or near future war fiction is set far away, in Afghanistan or China or Russia, and it's somewhat refreshing to find an author who is willing to bring home the fight to, of all places, the M4 corridor, that bastion of the middle class. There's something compelling and vaguely disturbing about imagining a firefight in the centre of Maidenhead. As actually pointed to within the book, there are strong hints of War of the Worlds hidden within this little gem, a hopelessly outmoded regular army repeatedly forced back by a more technologically advanced foe, leaving familiar and deserted territory behind them.
The New Model Army, the quasi-sentient protagonist of the piece, is the ultimate expression of what the Americans like to call Network Centric Warfare. They are a geographically dispersed force of mercenaries, all sharing information, all aware of each other and their surroundings, and all armed to the teeth. A way to think of them would be perhaps to imagine a fusion of the mercenaries of the 1960s with the community from EVE online. They are an army of armchair experts, pooling the collective knowledge of the crowd and applying it to the pursuit of warfare in a totally democratic manner, by a majority vote. By conducting their warfare in this way, and only striking where they know they are strong, they are able to repeatedly inflict tremendous losses on the defending British Army, still relying on the chain of command, and on rigid military doctrine.
It's a not unrealistic development of the direction that most modern armies are beginning to take, and it serves to present the narrator of the piece, a soldier within the army, with a way of exploring the nature or war, love and the human relationship with democracy. As a philosophical piece it is thought provoking and compelling, assisted by an excellent writing style and a fine sense of humour (the protagonist's thoughts on the armament of the British Police Service are particularly noteworthy). From the opening pages I'll admit I was preparing for a slightly heavy handed expounding of the merits of radicalized anarchic democracy, however as the book progresses the other side of the coin begins to emerge, and the author manages to pull off that rare feat: presenting both sides well and leaving the reader to ponder upon which is in the right, if either are.
While the philosophy and writing style of the book are superb, I did find it a little hard to suspend my disbelief at certain parts of the war story itself. One though that came to mind was that if the combatants of the New Model Army require a constant internet connection to make their battle strategies and obtain intel, surely a jamming aircraft, or indeed a nearby microwave, could present a serious impairment of their fighting capabilities (perhaps the feudals are too daft to think of that). And of course, the soldiers of the NME had better hope that the Blue Screen of Death has been vanquished in 2020.
That said, despite my engineer's pedantry, I rather enjoyed this book. There are parts where it becomes a little too surreal, and where suspension of disbelief is hard to maintain, but overall it is a very clever, plausible and well written piece of science fiction.