"The Heretic" by Tony Daniel and David Drake starts a new story arc on the planet Duisberg in Drake's "The General" military SF series.
The stories in the universe of "The General" are nominally science fiction set a few thousand years in the future after the fall of a galactic republic which the heroes of the series are working to rebuild, one planet at a time. However, several of the plotlines are reworking of stories from classical military history: for example the original five stories set on the planet Bellevue are loosely inspired by the life story of the Byzantine empire's greatest general, Count Belisarius, on whom the character of Raj Whitehall is based, and the two stories set on the planet Hafardine are a retelling of the history of the Roman Republic in the century before the birth of Christ. With some modifications to the ending in each case!
"The Heretic" introduces a rather different type of opponent. Where on Bellevue Raj Whitehall "merely" had to defeat waves of waves of barbarians without his success causing his paranoid political boss to have him eliminated as a threat, and in "The Chosen (Raj Whitehall)" Raj and his agents had to prevent a nation of super-nazis from conquering the relevant planet, this time Raj and Center are up against another supercomputer.
On Bellevue an imperial battle computer, Center, had survived and was working by stealth through carefully selected humans to re-establish civilisation.
Like Bellevue, the planet Duisberg where "The Heretic" is set has a surviving pre-fall computer. But this one, called "Zentrum," has taken a diametrically opposite approach from that of Center. Instead of trying to rebuild civilisation, Zentrum has interpreted its' programming as a command to keep the planet in stasis, which it has done by establishing a restrictive, anti-innovation church with itself worshipped as God. Zentrum also maintains stasis in the long run by periodically deliberately allowing successful invasions of the civilised areas of the planet by barbarians. These devastating incursions are known as the "blood winds" and one of them is about to begin ...
Raj and Center make contact with a small boy called Abel. To prevent the massacre of everyone he loves, he will have to selectively disregard the teachings of Zentrum's all dominant religion and become a heretic. A crime which is punishable by burning at the stake ...
This story isn't quite as brilliant as the best of the previous books in the series but it's pretty unputdownable - I finished reading it the day I was given it and thoroughly enjoyed this book.
The books of the original five part series "The General," set on Raj Whitehall's planet, Bellevue, are
I'm a big fan of the Raj Whitehall / The General series and I heartily recommend the previous books to you - however this one does not get my vote.
Raj & Centre appear in a different way to previous iterations - perhaps the idea of them guiding a child to maturity was a 'step too far' - Raj becomes a beardy grumbling guy and Centre a high pitched, lecturing, pedant. The supporting cast - so well done in earlier books - are reduced in this one to two dimensional and , bluntly, uninteresting bystanders. Even the chief baddie is finally revealed, at his death, to be a rather pathetic puppet.
I hesitate to say it but I've finally met a Drake Battle scene that didn't stir me!
This is set up for a sequel - but as our hero is left in a clerical/ military school at the end, I'm left hoping for a stunning sequel, but fearing the worst.