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Tiger by the Tail (Paladin of Shadows) Hardcover – 17 Jan 2013
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About the Author
John Ringo began writing for Baen in 2000 with his first release A Hymn Before Battle--the first novel in his Posleen Wars--which has become a New York Times best-selling series with over one million copies in print. The series continued with Gust Front, When the Devil Dances, Hell's Faire and Eye of the Storm. In addition, Ringo has penned the Council War series: There Will be Dragons, Emerald Sea, Against the Tide, and East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Adding another dimension to his skills, Ringo created nationally best-selling techno-thriller novels about Mike Harmon (Ghost, Kildar, Choosers of the Slain, Unto the Breach, and A Deeper Blue). His latest techno-thriller, The Last Centurion, was also a national best seller. A more playful twist on the future is found in novels of the Looking-Glass series: Into the Looking Glass, Vorpal Blade, Manxome Foe and Claws That Catch, the last three in collaboration with Travis S. Taylor. His audience was further enhanced with four collaborations with fellow New York Times best-selling author David Weber: March Upcountry, March to the Sea, March to the Stars and We Few. There are an additional five collaborative spinoffs from the Posleen series: The Hero, written with Michael Z. Williamson, Watch on the Rhine, Yellow Eyes and The Tuloriad, all written with Tom Kratman, and the New York Times best seller Cally's War and its sequels Sister Time and Honor of the Clan, both with Julie Cochrane. A veteran of the 82nd Airborne, he brings first-hand knowledge of military operations to his fiction.
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The first book in this series offended some people with its presentation of sexual violence - the central character often says that he is not a good guy but a bad guy who is fighting on the side of good and at one point he proved it by raping and brutalising a teenage prostitute.
The following books in the series, though apparently designed to shock, were not quite so far off-the wall, but this one will upset some readers with the approach it presents to torture in general and waterboarding in particular. I don't want to "spoil" the story by giving too much away but the central character orders the waterboarding, described in some detail, of a female prisoner who he believes may know something about the pirates he is trying to defeat even though there is minimal evidence that she is in any way responsible for their crimes.
I accept that the fact that the author of a book is not necessarily endorsing the actions of or opinions expressed by the fictional characters who appear in it. In a similar context S.M. Stirling once quoted Larry Niven as having said that
"There is a technical literary term for those who mistake the opinions and beliefs of characters in a novel for those of the author. The term is 'idiot.'"
The books in this series do indeed have the clearest possible warning that they contain actions and opinions which the author is not endorsing. Most of these novels carry the following warning:
"This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book and series has no connection to reality. Any attempt by the reader to replicate any scene in this series is to be taken at the reader's own risk. For that matter, most of the actions of the main character are illegal under US and international law as well as most of the stricter religions in the world.
"There is no Valley of the Keldara. Heck, there is no Kildar. And the idea of some Scots and Vikings getting together to raid the Byzantine Empire is beyond ludicrous.
"The islands described in a previous book do not exist. Entire regions described in these books do not exist. Any attempt to learn anything from these books is disrecommended by the author, the publisher and the author's mother who wishes to state that he was a very nice boy and she doesn't know what went wrong."
This sixth Kildar book, set a little after "A deeper blue," starts extremely well, and the opening actually had me rolling around laughing. It begins when the central character, Mike Harmon, decides to provide live-fire combat training for his "Keldara" anti-terrorist militia by ridding the world of a very nasty group of pirates.
One opinion held by his character Mike Harmon which I suspect John Ringo might not mind us assuming he shares, and one which I certainly agree with, is a high regard for Joss Whedon's science fiction series "Firefly - The Complete Series [DVD] " and Ringo has great fun by making Mike give the fire teams in this story names and call signs based on characters and themes from the "Firefly" series. The humour will go right past you if you've never watched Firefly or the spin-off film "Serenity [DVD] " but if you're a fan it's very funny.
Anyway, our anti-heroes recover from the pirate base a particularly valuable item which indicates that something very dangerous indeed is going on. They decide to try to track down where this shipment was going when one gang of criminals stole it from another. In the process one person who tries to use and betray Mike Harmon and the Keldara finds that he has a tiger by the tail ...
I liked some of the humour in this book - particularly some exchanges between Mike Harmon and a Hong Kong policeman as well as the Joss Whedon/Firefly jokes. But parts of this novel are very dark and overall I think it is the weakest of the six books in the series.
All the books in this series feature either counter-terror operations or actual pitched battles against pirates, terrorists or Islamic extremists, and have some of the characters vocally expressing very right wing views. All six books have villains who enjoy inflicting sexual violence against women, up to and including rape and murder, and the central character also has sexual tastes which range from the kinky to the completely out of order, so none of the books are suitable for anyone squeamish. "Tiger by the Tail" is slightly less extreme than "Ghost" which was the first book in the series, but is still not for the squeamish or prudish.
As mentioned, it is some of the passages on torture with which this book pushes the envelope hard in several places.
As a rough litmus test, if you were strongly against the Iraq war, are very pro-feminist, don't like reading scenes in which a woman is brutalised or tortured, or are even slightly prudish, do your blood pressure a favour and refrain from touching this entire series with a ten foot barge-pole.
The back story to this book: former SEAL Mike Harmon, codename Ghost, has defeated a number of terrorist plots, and in the universe of this story it was he rather than Barak Obama's people who polished off Osama Bin laden. He has settled down in a remote valley in the country of Georgia where he bought the local castle.
The area of Georgia concerned does not actually exist, but if it did, it would be part of the region which Russian tanks invaded at about the time the previous book in the series came out.
It turns out that the castle and associated farmland which Mike bought came with some feudal retainers, the Keldara, who accept him as their liege lord or "Kildar" - and if that sounds wierd and anachronistic at the start of the 21st century you ain't read nothing yet.
Since Chechen terrorists are a major nuisance in the area on both sides of the Georgian/Russian frontier, Mike Harmon has trained some of his Keldara as an anti-terrorist militia with the knowledge and support of the Georgian, Russian, and US governments. (The relevant novel was written at a time when relations between Russia and Georgia were merely bad, which is reflected in the book, but before they deteriorated into war and invasion.)
Mike and the Keldara subsequently smashed a criminal conspiracy in which senior figures in the governments of most of the world's most powerful governments were implicated. The guilty individuals concerned have been quietly removed from power, but now Mike Harmon has both friends and enemies in all those governments. One result of this was that in some of the previous books Mike Harmon was taken very seriously by a U.S. President who appeared to be based on George W Bush: at the time of "Tiger by the Tail" he still appears to have close links to the White House even though it is set at a date when in our timeline the tenancy of the Oval Office had passed to President Obama.
The full "Paladin of Shadows" series currently consists of
Choosers of the Slain
Into the Breach
A Deeper Blue
Tiger by the Tail.
John Ringo normally writes military SF and most of his offerings in that genre are extremely good. This series is about a freelance war on terror. In places, and especially in the first book but also in this one, Ringo seems to be in grave danger of crossing the line between challenging the reader and going out of your way to see how many people you can offend. That goes even for his fans among military SF readers, who are probably neither the most prudish or left/liberal of audiences.
As mentioned, all six books in the series contain a great deal of violence, strongly expressed and very right-wing political views, and references to sex which are always utterly politically incorrect and sometimes fairly explicit. My copies of these books are stored where my children can't get at them and will be until they are adults.
Provided you are not offended by the sex, violence and non-PC attitudes, these books can be exciting and entertaining in places. But I would advise feminists, left-wingers, and anyone even slightly prudish to save your money for something else.