Tanya Huff’s A Peace Divided is the second novel in her new space opera series, set in the same universe as her Valor novels, and starring former Marine Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr. The war is over, but that’s just released a lot of well-trained, battle-scarred survivors back into the general population. Someone with the appropriate training and mindset to deal with violence needs to be part of civilian law enforcement, and as it turns out, Torin Kerr and her crew of (mostly) former Marine misfits are reasonably well-suited to the demands of the job.
Torin herself is determined to keep an eye out for the sentient plastic that secretly caused and prolonged the war between the Confederation and the Primacy. She’s not the only one to worry. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the war, speciesist groups and speciesist sentiment is on the rise, most notably among humans. The group Humans First has turned from a joke into a serious movement, and it seems to have high-level backing. Torin suspects a weapons manufacturer to be behind it—and she’s right, as the reader knows and the characters can only suspect.
This is all background to the main events of the novel. A small academic survey team on a planet with the remains of a long-lost civilisation discovers the remains of what could be plastic in a latrine. But the civilisation had not, as far as they could tell, developed plastic on their own. Their message reporting this is intercepted by people who interpret it to mean this lost civilisation had a weapon effective against the sentient plastic that caused the late war. These folks arrive armed and dangerous and willing to shoot the academics unless said academics can lead them directly to this (putative, entirely theoretical) weapon.
Arniz, an elderly Niln academic with the survey team, is one of the point of view characters in A Peace Divided. I’m predisposed to like elderly academics, impatient with academic politics—and academic grandstanding—and with wilful misunderstanding, always willing to impart knowledge about their area of speciality to any listening audience. I especially like stories that include academics who are interested in soil sampling and the proper recording of evidence. Arniz is a great character, irritated and full of empathy, grieving her just-killed research assistant, deeply worried about what the gun-toting mercenaries will do to the academics, and determined to do her very best—both for science and for staying alive.
Torin Kerr and her team are assigned the task of rescuing the hostages. But the mercenaries include members of a race from the Primacy, and the peace is fragile. In consequence, Kerr’s team are joined by a team from the Primacy, comprising people with whom she worked before while escaping from a prison arranged by the sentient plastic.
A Peace Divided features Huff’s trademark action—jumping out of shuttles to rescue everyone’s favourite annoying journalist, the Katrien Presit; scouting through jungles, captures and daring assaults on defended positions—with her accurately jaundiced view of bureaucracy, and a deep empathy for those who survive war and trauma and come out of it damaged in various ways. (But not for people who are just murderous assholes to start with.)
It’s a fun novel, pacey, full of banter, with plenty of space for more sequels. Torin Kerr the Justice Department Warden approaches her work and her life differently to Torin Kerr the Marine, but once a Gunnery Sergeant, always a Gunnery Sergeant. Explosions abound!
What are you guys reading lately?
I’m aware that in the last while, this column has mostly been “new books that have come across my bow,” and I’m thinking of doing something a little more thematic in a little while. And maybe arranging a couple of Q&As, too, although that will of course depend. What would you guys like to see?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.