Top critical review
New characters needed
on 27 January 2015
More of a 2.5 than a 3, the reasons for which I'll get to shortly but first the good ...
The big draw to buy this one is the concept: a magic "re-awakening" occurs in the world and some people turn up as "latent", manifesting one particular power or another.
The cover quote (from the brilliant Peter V Brett) relating this to X-Men & Black Hawk Down is pretty close. The government oppression of "latents", the fear among the regular public, the group of latents who feel they are superior to regular humans: all similar in concept to X-Men.
The close-quarters intense action and a particular high level of military-related authenticity – similar to BHD.
And these are the main strengths of the book: the magic system and the action. The action is well written: explosive and gripping. The first quarter or so of the book goes past very quickly largely because of the amount of action, but also because the introduction of the book's magic world is so interesting.
There is a sense that the magic could be taken further (no ability to "mix" powers?) and yet also that there are too many different kinds of manifested powers introduced at once, some of which seem pretty tame ... but on the whole, this aspect is well handled and thought provoking.
Onto the negative – prime real estate owned (almost) entirely by a single character: the protagonist, Oscar Britton.
I found Britton – a military heli-pilot who manifests a rare and particularly useful power – spectacularly irritating.
There are a few main issues I have with the character: first, while he seems to competent in training and on early missions, he makes some awfully bad decisions that he knows are bad (via inner monologue) and most of them end out really bad, to no surprise; second, the endless flip-flopping of his allegiances, often within the same chapter: one moment he's gung-ho and another he's desperately trying to break free, it gets a bit much; lastly, the way he tells everyone his feelings and gets in everyone's face for any opinion that he disagrees with: why can't he just figure out his own path and keep quiet for once?
Also for someone who was already military-minded at the beginning of the book, displays a surprisingly lack of comradery at times.
Other than the protag, the remaining characters are pretty cookie-cutter stereotypical: the cruel, annoying drill-instructor type (Fitzy); the "don't call me a young girl" naive young girl (Downer); the beautiful healer girlfriend-material type (Therese).
As such, the comparison to X-Men wavers here ... X-Men has the characters too.
The ending, without any spoilers, involves an OTT amount of blood & destruction and an astonishing lack of logic – but, does at least give a glimmer of hope that something different may be on the way in the 2nd book.
I think I will get around to the 2nd book (Fortress Frontier) on the strength of the story & action alone (also appears to have a new protagonist?), but it goes to the back of the To-Read list.