Review: Valor’s Choice (Tanya Huff)

I needed to do some work this weekend and didn’t feel like listening to “just” music, so I went to Scribd and found Valor’s Choice (it actually recommended a later one in the series and I went and dug for the first) and listened to this audiobook…

Overall: 7.75/10

Firstly, let me say I thoroughly enjoyed this story of soldiers/aliens and their journey through both diplomacy and danger. One of the reasons I can’t give it a full 8/10 is the quality of the narration: one of my huge challenges was in the Point of View. It would change main character perspective (third person, but still) without always denoting that I was in a different location paying attention to different characters easily.  This is a problem with the audio version that I don’t think would exist in print: but definitely something I (a) noticed and (b) plan to keep in mind in my own writing.

There was also a bit of an issue with some very similar names/places/species that sometimes blurred a bit.  Again, in print I don’t think this would have presented the same challenge – but I didn’t consume in print so I can’t say for sure and I think it’s notable for a review!

Characters: the “main” characters is Staff Sergeant Tonir Kerr (I think that’s her name order). She is usually called “Staff” but in narration Tonir. Occasionally, a character called her Staff Sergeant Kerr – so I’m thinking Kerr is her surname – but I don’t remember her ever having all this put together in a single way. A few characters ran into this issue of having a few names applied depending on POV – and when there is a cast of 10-15 characters to remember, multiplying names gets a little confusing.

All that said, I got attached to characters. Huff did an excellent job of creating a true cast. One of the difficulties I’ve seen in many “military” novels is that the majority of soldiers are cut-and-paste grunts. There is arguably some merit to this (pretty sure that is the goal of boot camp(s) after all!) but I thought Huff did a better-than-average job of creating variations to individualize beyond merely species. She also did a great job of including the species to build character instead of using it as the discerning differentiation.

I am not going to try to say whether these were “realistic” marines: however, I will say from MY pov, they were believable. Check with a real marine for whether that’s true.

Setting: Huff does a great job of making me (the reader) to feel like I’m with marines, but I didn’t always feel like I was on a space ship or an alien world. Oh, there were a few instances where it was brought out, but this was (in my opinion) the weakest element in the novel: I didn’t see any space ships. I could see how the alien world was… well alien. It wasn’t bad because it wasn’t the novel’s focus. These weren’t explorers, the soldiers weren’t curious about seeing the world and their interests guided mine: but it was enough that there was an occasional spot where I wished for a little more world-description.

World-Building: The society-building on the other hand was first rate. I think this is why I wasn’t  especially bothered by the lack of setting. The social interactions was a huge driver here: seeing how alien societies integrated and their differences in values and expectations. How does one person respond to their other – especially when species’ value and expectations clash spectacularly. I could make the argument there are also questions of the right-and-wrongness of “big questions” like the importance of honor, whether the cost of war is worth it, and the diplomacy of vastly different “values” trying to find common ground in the face of great(er) threats.

Plot: This is the part I had the hardest time deciding how to review. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, but I actually can’t tell you that it is because of plot. I don’t think anything really  surprised me.  So here is my conundrum in my review: this was a very character-driven story, I didn’t feel the need for surprises or twists. However, the critic in my wants to rail about predictable plot – it’s bad, right? Is it ok to be predictable when it’s about how these people deal with the scenario? I don’t know! I wasn’t surprised during the “plot” but I didn’t mind it.

This isn’t to say I could have told you “this is what is going to happen” every step of the way, it was more a case of: nothing that happened made me go “Wow! Didn’t see that coming!” There were surprises in a “oh, they came from that side. Ok.” way: how the soldiers deal with boredom. How diplomats deal with emergency. How the enemy actually attacked.

Summary: this was a perfect weekend read while I did housework (and finished while playing video games). I didn’t want to put it down: I wanted to see how it ended without stopping – and it wasn’t complicated to make me need to stop and “chew” on it.  I would have liked more visual description, but I like visual description and it wasn’t Huff’s style. The lack of visualization in some ways could be argued to be a plot device. These were “old” soldiers who were walking through a universe they accepted as it was: of course they “saw” less than I.