Ballistic is the second in Marko Kloos’ Palladium Wars series. I enjoyed the first book a great deal; it deftly explored the aftermath of an interplanetary war, the morality and ethics of occupation, and the effects of the conflict on both occupiers and the occupied. And it did all of that while managing to tell an absolutely cracking story, where fast-paced, compelling action was wonderfully leavened with raw, emotional, character-driven moments of humanity. It was, in short, rather good.
what about the sequel?
Well, it has all of the same facets that made the first book in the series so much fun. The world (well, worlds) are vivid, well-realised, each with their own unique mix of societies and cultures. Our protagonists are engaging, with unique voices, and seeing through their eyes always feels like it adds a unique perspective to the story as that crackles along. And yes, there’s more than enough plot here for anyone. High politics. Low politics. Knives in the dark. Some outright heroism, and moments of emotional resonance, backed by adrenaline thumping action sequences which actually made me gap more than once. If you want the , then this is it: this is a high quality work of science fiction which will take and hold your attention, and you won’t want to put it down until you’re done.
The story takes place over multiple worlds; some we’ve seen before, while others are new to us. I have to admit, I have a particular liking for the scenes set on , a planet which started a war with every other planet in the system, and then had the poor grace to lose. Now occupied by forces form the other planets, the society is fascinating, as are the tensions within it. Business people from the old political classes are restricted in their dealings. police officers are paired up with non- military. Civilians are trying to adjust to a new reality, living with the guilt of starting a war, the shame of losing one, and the economic consequences of both. is a world on the edge, trying to decide which way it’ll fall.
Unsurprisingly, the occupiers aren’t popular there, and simmering resentment is starting to build, even if it’s purposeless and poisonous. is a cauldron on simmer, waiting for the right demagogue to boil it over.
On the other hand, it’s also a place with people like Solveig; heiress to one largest interplanetary businesses, thrust into the role after her unpleasantly political father has been locked out, she really wants to do the right thing. To cut deals, yes, but to make good ones, with old friends and new, to try and put past behind and make something. This is the younger generation, out for themselves – or, in some cases, falling back into the dry embrace of a dead past. Solveig though, is energetic, driven and perceptive. She can see the power structure of her company, and the way it still revolves around the fierce intelligence of her father, who is no less a sharp businessman for his unapologetic views on the lost war (and whose regrets over losing it are oozingly self-justifying. They make an interesting pair, fencers face to face, one trying to make something of his daughter, the other trying to get out from under the shadow of her father and become what she needs to be. lovely dynamic, and Solveig’s efforts to turn commerce around are quietly compelling, if less explosive than others. Solveig also takes us to all sorts of exciting new places, about which I’ll say little, except they’re richly imaginative, and very well drawn indeed.
Then there’s . If Solveig is the new , is their nightmares come to life. A member of the elite ground troops of their occupying enemies. is fast with a gun, faster with a blade, and has so much technological backup inside her armoured suit that you’d need an anti-tank rifle to put a dent in her. is great fun to follow, because she will take absolutely no crap. A senior NCO, she’s not just a one-hit warrior, swinging madly into crowds – but a thoughtful, analytical individual, always maintaining situational awareness, ready to leap into action (occasionally literally) at a moment’s notice. humanises the enemies; not forgiving the of their leaders, but perhaps on the populace as a whole. She’s fierce, smart, and taking absolutely no crap, which meant the pages turned very fast during her chapters. In this, she’s ably assisted by her partner; she nominally supervises the other woman’s work. Of course, is military, not police, so it’s more that the two are learning to come together, to rub along without strife, to see each other’s strengths and weaknesses, to put aside preconceptions that were shaped by years of now quiescent conflict, and make something better. ANd you know what, it works.
This is a slowly warming friendship, opening up by degrees, and the role that the two , investigating weapons caches and rising terror threats against civilian targets on , is utterly fascinating.
Solveig’s brother is another viewpoint; the black sheep, ex-military, a man with false papers, living on a courier vessel which might, sometimes, take on a cargo that’s a little bit grey market. Living on the boundaries of things, and just trying to make a life for himself as something other than his past – a past which the world just won’t let go of. Of course, being a scion of one of the most famous families on wouldn’t help that – if anyone knew, anyway. The slow growth of and loyalty that Aden has for his crew is genuinely warming, and their jaunts through space with a cargo of a mysterious nature make for interesting reading; Aden’s quieter, more contemplative, and the threats his crew face tend toward the personal – the knife in the dark, the offer that’s also a threat. Another perspective on evolving, complex situations.
Which leaves Dunstan, captain of a non- warship, trying to stave off piracy and work out exactly what's making so many ships disappear, if it’s not piracy in his spare time. Dunstan’s military approach is direct, honourable, but still has some room for wit, guile and manoeuvre. He’s someone we can trust, looking at the direct threats out of the window to the stars. I shan’t say more without spoilers, but his sections are always riveting.
Bringing all of these characters and their myriad stories toward a conclusion without us losing the thread is quite a task, but it’s done wonderfully here. There’s always enough from any given viewpoint to advance the story, to answer a few questions, to leave us asking more, to push toward a climax, or allow for a moment of personal tragedy, or triumph. And tying the whole ball of string together is seriously impressive. The story works, it ticks along with the precision of a finely made watch. You’ll find yourself stopping to eat dinner, wondering where the time went....and then wondering how it got to be three in the morning before you put the book down. This is a story with a lot of really interesting themes to lay upon and questions to ask, but it’s also a personal story, a character driven story, and also, a story with rather a lot of snappy action and, , explosions.
What it is, in the end, is a really good read. you wondered if this sequel was worth your time, I can only say this: yes. Give it a go, you won’t regret it.