Book Discussion – Servants of War by Larry Correia and Steve DiamondThe Dark Herald
I don’t have the greatest track record with collaborations. Neither reading nor especially writing. My one attempt at a collaborative work ended in anger, recriminations, an incomprehensible manuscript and writer’s block.
Never. Freaking. Again.
My luck with reading them has been better, (it would be hard-pressed to be worse).
But I have rarely found a collaboration that is better than the individual author’s work. That is not to say that I haven’t found them over the years. Niven and Pournelle’s collaborations were mostly better than their individual efforts. Pournelle and Stirling were much better than Stirling’s books.
But those are the exceptions. Patterson’s collabs are routinely poor. This isn’t a surprise, since I have heard from people I trust, that those mostly consist of a young hopeful author getting a one-page outline, the ensuing manuscript gets a single pass edit, and then it’s sent to the publisher. Tom Clancy’s collaborations were a bad joke, so were Clive Cussler’s. And that was when they were both still alive. Death, unsurprisingly, did not improve their literary output.
By in large collaborations don’t sell well. Readerships are always leery of them and rightfully so.
I have had better luck with Larry Correa’s joint productions than average. I really liked two of the three Monster Hunter Memoir books with Ringo. I was really into the Alliance of Shadows trilogy. Gun Runner with John Brown, on the other hand, was a struggle for me to get through. And much as I love Sarah Hoyt personally, I couldn’t make it through Monster Hunter Guardian. And I’m on the record as enjoying what she did with Julie Pitt in Larry’s Monster Hunter Files anthology.
So, I was feeling a little leery when I opened Servants of War by Larry Correia and Steve Diamond.
I won’t say that it’s better than Larry’s solo novels, but I am willing to say that it is about equally good. If rather different. Steve Diamond is a horror writer, and this element shows throughout the narrative.
The genre is (more or less) military Gaslamp set in a WWI setting. The adversaries are Not-Russia and Not-Germany. Servants of War takes place in a world that people more or less wander into by accident. Usually, people who are wanderers in the first place. There is a Romany girl who is descended from a gypsy caravan that got lost in the mists. The Jewish city-state of Praha was founded by the lost tribe of Ephraim (I think, the tribe was only mentioned once, and I didn’t go back to try and find it). But the two biggest powers on that world are as I said, Not-Germany and Not-Russia.
The main protagonist is Illarion Glaskov, a peasant on the furthest frontier of Not-Russia. One day while hunting, his entire village is destroyed by monsters. His whole tiny world is consumed in a night. The mill he was going to spend his whole life in, the girl he was going to wed, the mother who bore him. All of it gone. He is injured and collapses on the road where is found by a being who identifies herself as the Baba Yaga.
Here we get a quick overview of their world’s gods, who are very real. The Three Sisters. Baba Yaga who looks after Not-Russia. The Second Sister who is the patroness of Not-Germany and the Murdered Sister. The one that wouldn’t pick a side in her sibling’s war. So, the other two sisters made a truce and murdered her. The Murdered Sister rules Hell.
Baba Yaga tells Glaskov that the death of his village is all his fault because she was forced to withdraw her protection when he didn’t bother to join the Tsar’s Army when he turned eighteen. Consequently, her sister was free to do with the village as she willed. Aghast at this, Glaskov sets off for Not-Moscow to join the Army so the souls of the villagers can find rest. Glaskov meets my definition of a Proven Worthy Aspirational Hero.
Next, we meet the villain protagonist, the secret policeman Kristoph Vals. A blatantly obvious, cut and paste insert of the reptilian Jew hunter, Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds, played chillingly by Christoph Waltz. And yes, Kritoph Vals steals the whole story.
The other two main characters are the Magi Amos Lowe, who got himself imprisoned in order to hide from the true villain of the story, the chancellor of Not-Russia. And the love interest, the Romany sniper girl Natalya Baston.
The Jewish city-state of Praha has been able to resist all efforts at conquering it by both of the major powers because magic in this world is real and they have or had the ability to build golems.
Not-Russia would have probably lost its perpetual war with Not-Germany if it were not for the evil chancellor’s ability to create a manned machine from the remains of wrecked golems. Effectively these are WWI magic Mechas.
This book has several things going for it. The characters are distinct, layered, and have strong and consistent personalities. Each character has his or her own recognizable voice. The mark of true quality about characterizations is that you care about the characters, and you do in this work. Even the evil secret policeman who knows he’s given up his soul is someone you kind of root for.
The horror of trench warfare is effectively painted on the page. As well as life in Not-Russia, where you had to watch what you said even to friends and family. And the institution of the secret police is centuries old, reaching back to days when they dressed as monks in black robes and rode black horses, carrying dog skulls mounted on clubs that they claimed could sniff out treason.
The basic outline of the plot is that the Evil Magi Chancellor of Not-Russia has some fairly major plans for taking over all planes of existence and it is up to Glaskov the mecha pilot, Natalya Gypsy sniper girl, the magi Amos Lowe and the secret policeman Kristoph, to stop him. Although, this novel is primarily concerned with how this team of stout hearts banded together and the initial trials they went through. This book is clearly the first act of a three-act story structure. The series will be named Age of Ravens.
And the Dark Herald Recommends with Enthusiasm