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Book Review: The Better Part of Valor

The Better Part of Valor by Tanya Huff, Confederation #2

When Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr makes the mistake of speaking her mind to a superior officer, she finds herself tagged for a special mission for the interplanetary Confederation to act as protector to a scientific exploratory team assigned to investigate an enormous derelict spaceship. Along with her crew and her charges, Kerr soon finds herself in the midst of danger and faced with a mystery that takes all her courage and ingenuity to solve.

Two months ago I read the first book in the Confederation series of Tanya Huff and was very impressed with the story that she managed to set down. I have read a few military SF books but I think all featured an male protagonist. In her Confederation series, Tanya Huff introduces a very strong female protagonist, Staff Sergeat Torin Kerr. She doesn't hesitate one moment to speak what on her mind, she's down to her point and when push comes to shove she stands her own man. After the events of Valour's Choice, Torin spoke her mind to her superior officer... and now has to pay the price. She is set on an exploration mission of an unknown spaceship... For an full fledged army officer who likes her action this is just too boring. A question does remain: how long will it stay boring? The Better Part of Valor is the second book in the highly imaginative military SF series, Confederation. 

In Valour's Choice Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr was placed in a precarious situation regarding a diplomatic mission gone terribly wrong and revealed in the end some ulterior motives, to which Torin Kerr didn't agree with. She spoke her mind, but also did something that she shouldn't have done, she punched the commanding general. The Better Part of Valor shows it's payback time for the general. Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr is asked to please leave her current army team and go on a reckon mission with a newly assembled team. Though the initial tone of the general implies that it is payback for Torin Kerr for when she overstept the boundaries, we all know that she is one of the better sergeants out there, able to lead and keep a team together. Does the general already know that this might turn out to be more than a simple reckon mission? Are the Others in play yet again? 

The story of The Better Part of Valor starts of with first what I mentioned above, Torin Kerr leading the newly assembled team to the place in space where the spaceship resides. Their initial scans reveal no life forms aboard the ship and several normal compounds such as metal and plastic aren't detected either, this immediately raises a lot of questions for several team members. What is this ship made off? And where is the crew of the ship? There is no other option left for Torin Kerr and her crew to board the ship and this is the part when the action takes place. Strange and unexplainable things start to happen. In trying to advance in the ship Torin Kerr and her crew start to drill holes in the wall and this sets of an cascade of reactions featuring explosions, causalities and moreover a lot of confusion. It is in this confusion that Torin Kerr and one of her crew, Craig Ryder the salvage operator, start to fall through the floor... I told you weird stuff was happening! But this is just the first as now Torin Kerr and Craig Ryder have to find a way to leave this ship. This sounds much easier than reality proves to be, they encounter a lot of twists and turns and troubles a long the way and do find out there one of the Confederation's enemies is undergoing the same thing... No one knows really whats going on... The storyline only picks up pace as it progresses from the clear introduction to the race to the finish when the Others make there entrance. Tanya Huff shows clearly that she can contain a lot of action and tension in such a confined space. It builds and builds and will keep you glued to the pages. 

As for the characters of the book, the protagonist of the story Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr is her usual strong resolute self, not backing away always moving forward. I really do enjoy reading about her character, mainly in how she reacts to several other characters and of course the commanding officers. Tanya Huff has a great way in showing her personality. It switches depending on the situation from being deadly serious to joking funny and vice versa. The tone of the book is definitely serious, but introducing such light-hearted funny moment really help to create an even more solid storyline. As Torin Kerr's strong personality makes up for most of the point-of-view in The Better Part of Valor, Tanya Huff doesn't let the secondary characters: her new crew, general Morris and Craig Ryder. Craig Ryder makes a new and I think important appearance in the series. He is there as the salvage operator for Torin Kerr's mission and they get stranded as a two man team down in the depths of the derelict spaceship. Though the relation between Torin Kerr and Craig Ryder starts of rather precarious, in a more "hostile" kind off way, as the story progresses most of it starts to run it course. I think both started to realize then once you are truly on your own you can use and hand there is. There are some pretty interesting developments going on surrounding these two that can give a nice way for the future. The other character that shown in another spot on manner is the two-star general Morris. He is just the type of general you would picture in such a military style book. He might not be the most original character but I really don't care, he fits in perfectly and I can imagine his character sitting behind the desk giving order and smoking a cigar. Just as with her The Enchantment Emporium, Tanya Huff shows that she knows how to create very strong characters. 

Space has unlimited possibilities and this is also something that Tanya Huff starts to show of in The Better Part of Valor. The world in which this story takes place is pretty cool. Besides the military fiction genre, it's also an space opera. In the first book Tanya Huff introduced several alien races that were quite remarkable. She continues with this in the sequel, though not necessarily introducing new races but further building and developing the ones that she had introduced. Also I liked the lingering presence and ever threat that the Others pose for the Confederation. In the end of the book, Tanya Huff again ups the ante, in terms of heretofore seen action, by introducing some were cool space fights with squadrons of fighter pilots I loved these scenes. The way they communed etc flew in formation attack really the stuff you want to read about! I hope Tanya Huff has plenty of more things up her sleeve for this series.

The Better Part of Valor is a great sequel to Valour's Choice, it doesn't let the story falter at all but neatly picks up where it was left of and takes the Confederation series a few steps further. The books so far have been highly enjoyable to read. Tanya Huff shows that she is a great writer and knows how to write strong characters and an interesting story. Though some parts might be a bit straightforward, rescue mission etc (it's only in the beginning!), there are plenty of twists and turn riddled along the way that keep the storyline fresh and exciting. Especially when Torin Kerr and her crew makes it on the alien vessel, that is when things start to turn weird! Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr is a fantastic character to read about and she really makes the series. A whole lot of fun, highly recommended!

Media Alert: Who is Claire North?

 Media Alert: Who is Claire North?

Press release:
Last night ‘Claire North’ gave her first interview, on BBC Radio 2 on the Simon Mayo Book Club where she was revealed acclaimed fantasy author Catherine Webb (details attached). It’s a great interview and I would urge you to take a listen here and see a picture of Catherine with Simon Mayo here:
Yesterday I posted the review online of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and mentioned more than a few times the anonymous author Claire North. Now last night I recieved an email with a press release and it really wow-ed me! Because Claire North is non other than Catherine Webb!! I am a huge fan of her urban fantasy series Magicals Anonymous and Matthew Swift and now that I think about it see did mention late last year that she was working on a super secret project, one she wasn't allowed to give any details about. This must have been The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August! 

You know what the best thing is?? THERE WILL BE A SECOND BOOK! YES!!!

The revised bio of Catherine Webb as of yesterday:
Catherine Webb is a Carnegie Medal-nominated British author.

Her debut, Mirror Dreams, was completed when Catherine was just 14 years old. The book was published under her own name in 2002 by Atom Books. The novel garnered comparisons with Terry Pratchett and Philip Pullman.

Catherine went on to publish a further seven young adult novels under her own name, earning extensive critical acclaim and two Carnegie nominations for her novels Timekeepers and The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle.

Under the open pseudonym Kate Griffin, Webb has published a further six fantasy novels for adults. Dubbed the Matthew Swift and Magicals Anonymous novels, these books are set in an alternate modern-day London saturated with magic.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is the first novel Webb has penned
under the pseudonym Claire North. Webb has already written a second novel to be published under the Claire North name entitled Touch – due for release in February 2015.

A lifelong Londoner, Webb describes herself as a fan of big cities, urban magic, Thai food and graffiti-spotting, and she is endlessly fascinated by such questions as who leaves copies of the yellow pages on top of bus shelters, how the hidden tunnels beneath the sorting office were built, and why anyone would ever dispose of perfectly good pairs of shoes by throwing them over the nearest telephone line.

Catherine read History at the London School of Economics, and studied at RADA. In addition to penning novels, Catherine also currently works as a theatre lighting designer.