Leo Champion’s Desert Strike is a book. Okay, review done. No, seriously, it’s a book. And it’s got things in it. Go read it.
In all seriousness, there’s a lot going on in Desert Strike. We see war on a global scale, with a Chamberlain-esque government determined to avoid it, a hyper-violent enemy determined to murder and/or enslave the good guys, and a strange semi-benevolent star-spanning nation which supports both sides in return for the resources they’re fighting over.
Mix into this massive landships up-to and including aircraft carriers, a mix of tech that feels gritty and at the same time cutting edge, and incompetent leaders within the good guy’s chain of command, and you have a very interesting setting for the story that unfolds.
The book has several characters, and what Leo Champion does best is making those central characters seem real with believable goals and ambitions. You have a bad-ass, general, Jaeger, driven by anger and revenge. You’ve got a young, rookie pilot, O’Conner, who wants to leave his mark. These are the “Tropes” the “of course he has this person” but Leo goes further than that, he makes them real. The side characters abound, with momentary glimpses at a bigger universe, then whipping back to the central plot.
And what a plot. The enemy has been given free rein, and they use it. This isn’t a book where the good guys have it easy, where victory is well within grasp if they only work hard for it. If anything, I’d say the odds are too heavily stacked against them. At times, you feel that the only victory left is a pyrric, one, where the planet is left a radioactive wasteland… yet somehow you still cling to hope that the good guys will turn the tide.
Desert Strike is a book which surprised me in a lot of ways. I’ve enjoyed reading several of Leo’s books, but he writes in a certain tone, one which is instantly recognizable. Desert Strike takes his normal tone and softens it a bit, ironic in a book about combat and war. It has a fun edge to it, one which isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself, a bit of tongue in cheek even as a character’s life is in the balance.
The aerial combat feels like Vietnam Era, the ground war feels like something from the far future, and everything fits in a way that is hard to describe. If you’re a fan of military science fiction, I think you’ll enjoy the solid characters and gripping combat. If you just like exploding stuff, well, there’s plenty of that here for you too.
It’s about to go hot.
On the dry world of Arkin, the Zinj are taking over. A technologically-competent strain of Islam that make ISIS look like the Amish, they’re challenged only by the nations of the West – and a divided West without much will to fight.
Among those who do have the will are fighter pilot Egan O’Connor, a working-class kid from a tough neighborhood, ready to test himself and serve his country. He’s a chivalrous rookie ready for an honorable battle.
Jimmy Newland’s a cavalry NCO who’s earned his spurs. He’s ready to fight but he doesn’t want to; he’s seen enough skirmishes to know how bad it can be. But he’ll do his job if the cold war gets nastier – as it’s about to.
And there’s nothing chivalrous at all about Air Marshal Elisabeth Jaeger, a career intelligence officer promoted to field command. Twenty-five years ago she saw her husband murdered by the Zinj; she’s spent the time since avenging him. As she’s about do on a scale just a little bit broader than spywork…
You can find it: here.