A Peace Divided is the second novel in the Peacekeeper series by Canadian author Tanya Huff, and the seventh novel of The Confederacy featuring consummate military veteran Torin Kerr. Leaving her Marine days behind her, Gunnery Sergeant Kerr is now a Warden, peacekeeping forces trying to maintain the peace between the Confederation and the Primacy. A great piece of military SF that also delves deeper into serious issues of trauma, prejudice, paranoia and conspiracy, while still giving us a great performance from one of the best long-series recurring protagonists I’ve read in years, A Peace Divided is a fantastic continuation of a great series.
Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr had been the very model of a Confederation Marine. No one who’d ever served with her could imagine any circumstance that would see her walking away from the Corps.
But that was before Torin learned the truth about the war the Confederation was fighting…before she’d been declared dead and had spent time in a prison that shouldn’t exist…before she’d learned about the “plastic” beings who were really behind the war between the Confederation and the Others. That was when Torin left the military for good.
Yet she couldn’t walk away from preserving and protecting everything the Confederation represented. Instead, ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr drew together an elite corps of friends and allies–some ex-Marines, some civilians with unique skills–and together they prepared to take on covert missions that the Justice Department and the Corps could not–or would not–officially touch. But after their first major mission, it became obvious that covert operations were not going to be enough.
Although the war is over, the fight goes on and the Justice Department finds its regular Wardens unable to deal with violence and the people trained to use it. Ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has a solution: Strike Teams made up of ex-military personnel, small enough to maneuver quickly, able to work together if necessary. Justice has no choice but to implement her idea and Torin puts her team of independent contractors back into uniform. It isn’t war, it is policing, but it often looks much the same.
When the scientists doing a preliminary archaeological dig on a Class Two planet are taken hostage, Torin’s team is sent to free them. The problem of innocents in the line of fire is further complicated by the fact that the mercenaries holding them are a mix of Confederation and Primacy forces, and are looking for a weapon able to destroy the plastic aliens who’d started and maintained the war.
If Torin weren’t already torn by wanting that weapon in play, she also has to contend with the politics of peace that have added members of the Primacy–former enemies–to her team. Before they confront the mercenaries, Torin will have to sift through shifting loyalties as she discovers that the line between “us” and “them” is anything but straight.
As has become a sort of style for me, when I really enjoy a book I’m reviewing, I try to get my one problem or issue out early so I can move on to the good stuff. And as is usually the case, it’s a pretty minor one. So, the Confederation is made up of a whole bunch of very different and distinct races (which is a great thing, more on that below) but to help make it something we can get our heads around, they all have one particular sort of trope to hang their race on. The Krai can eat anything, and will eat anything. The Di’Taykan just want to have sex all the time, and everybody is totally cool with it. The Dornagain love bureaucracy and are immensely patient. And so on. That in itself is fine. It’s just that this is the second book in a series, and the seventh book dealing with this setting, and we still get at least one direct blatant reference to the Krai stomach or the Di’Taykan sex drive pretty much every chapter. If it were more…natural, just coming up in actions or even dialogue it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s almost always in external narration. At some point we ought to be assumed to know which species is which and maybe just do it once or twice. But, like I said, a very minor quibble compared to all the great things about this book and series. Speaking of.
The Confederation series started off feeling like a fairly typical military sci-fi series. Ass-kicking protagonist, insurmountable odds overcome with daring, pluck and raw skill, lots of cool and interesting aliens. But even then, it was a cut above the norm. Kerr from the get go was a character with a lot of depth to her. She cared deeply about her fellow marines, and while she followed her orders, she definitely always considered them, and the consequences they might have, and those considerations affected her actions. It was a far cry from the negative stereotype of unthinking Hoo-Rah that a lot of authors who lack experience with the military, and the Marines specifically, sometimes fall into.
By this point in the series, she and her compatriots have been through a LOT. Loss, imprisonment, torture, finding out basically everything they thought they knew about the universe was wrong. And it -impacts them- in very deep raw ways. They’re a little less risk-takey, they’re a little more closely-knit, they trust each other a lot more, they’re less quick to condemn the enemy. It adds so much to the story when villains aren’t just sympathetic to us, they’re sympathetic to the heroes as well. One of the antagonists of the story, a Krai Commander named Yurrisk, is very definitely a hugely sympathetic figure. He lost most of his crew in the war, and is deeply traumatized by that. He also suffers from a vertigo-related disorder and acrophobia which is a massive deal. The Krai are arboreal. They live in trees and tall towers, and the trauma Yurrisk suffered has basically made him completely unable to live among his own people. All he has is his ship, and it and his crew are his only priority. So while he’s being the ‘bad guy’ it’s because he sees this as his only way out and through. His pay will keep the ship flying and without it, he has nothing. The moment this becomes clear to Kerr and her team, you can tell they already feel sympathy.
There’s a strong undertone to this novel that it is absolutely the responsibility of the government to take proper care of its veterans. Kerr quit the military over the handling of the war. Yurrisk is only in the position he’s in because Veterans Affairs utterly failed to take care of him after his loss. The Elder Races have always had a very dim view of the Younger Races, and only brought them into the Confederation to fight on their behalf against the Primacy (Tellingly called ‘The Others’ in earlier books) and now that the war is putatively over, it’s clear they don’t really know how to handle all this ‘violent races’ hanging around with nothing to do.
I’m very glad to see a move now in the Peacekeeper series, to start introducing us and the characters to the species of the Primacy, and seeing them cooperate and work together. There’s still very definitely a very real threat external to both federations of species, so we’ve got plenty of plot ahead of us if Huff intends to keep writing in this setting (And I hope very much she does!) but especially in the times we face now, watching people realize they have a common enemy, and that they aren’t actually that different, and be able to even somewhat overcome their difference and cooperate is really wonderful. This has always been one of the benefits to science fiction as a genre, the ability to shine a light on real issues through the lens of fiction, and throughout this series, Huff has done an admirable job of this.
Altogether, this was an excellent novel. Torin Kerr remains one of my favourite ongoing protagonists, and the more of this universe we see, the more interesting I find it. Huff’s ability to create interesting and compelling alien species with clear cultural identities, and very clear biological differences puts her a cut above all of the variously be-nosed and be-eared human-analogues we see all too often. And her willingness to look unflinchingly at the actual trauma and suffering her characters have been through and directly address it, and make it directly plot relevant instead of tangential or ignored or played off as just another obstacle to overcome is truly excellent. Interested readers can start with Valor’s Choice and The Better Part of Valor or both together in the omnibus edition A Confederation of Valor. You won’t regret it.
Dan received an advanced review copy of this book from DAW via Netgalley