Justine Davis’s Coalition Rebellion series sucked me in when AAR ran a retro review of Lord of the Storm. Her first three Coalition books involve interconnected couples fighting for the independence of their homeworlds, Trios and Arellia, with a strong plot thread of Coalition slavery. In Raider, Davis does something interesting and uncommon in SF: set aside the first three books to travel to an entirely different world, called Ziem, occupied by the Coalition for its valuable mines. The main theme here is how to run an insurgency, balancing hope and action against provoking reprisals by a power that might simply decide, at any point, that the entire planet is not worth the trouble and destroy it.
Drake Davorin leads a double life. A firebrand as a teen, he was abruptly thrust into maturity when his father, a resistance icon, was gunned down, and his mother, weighed down by grief, died by suicide. Drake became a cowed and obsequious taproom keeper, kowtowing to the Coalition to maintain a home and a living for his siblings. But unbeknownst to all but his best friend, Drake is also the Raider. He’s leading Ziem’s resistance to the Coalition, but enduring the contempt of his sister and the woman he loves in order to keep his secret. Meanwhile, Kye Kalon loved Drake Davorin. At least, she keeps telling herself it’s in the past, because she can’t love the man he’s become – except maybe, she does? At the same time, she is compelled by the Raider, who is the exact opposite of cowardly Drake.
I appreciated Drake as a hero. We aren’t just “told’ he’s a leader and, increasingly, a cult figure; we see it and understand why. He’s a sound tactician and an effective insurgent, balancing logistics, supplies, morale, and stealth (although I have to ding a point for a weird choice he makes in the climax), plus weighing all of that against his secret identity. So often we know that the hero is a great leader because, uh, he’s the hero, so obviously he’s great, right? Drake is a well-developed change of pace.
While this new Coalition trilogy has shed some of the most dated, nineties vibes of the first three books, it retains the low body count that marks those older books. My romance reader brain likes that. I’m sick of books which murder characters left and right and as long as isn’t the protagonists, so what, we’ll still call it a happy ending! However, the part of me that studied military history understands that this is utterly unrealistic. Occupation forces don’t shrug off raids, graffiti, and protests. I also wasn’t a fan of Drake’s troublemaker younger siblings, whose antics are supposed to be funny but in any real war zone would have gotten them killed. Other supporting characters are much stronger. Drake’s sister’s betrayed reaction when she finds out the truth about his double life is compelling. Major Paledan, introduced here as the new Coalition commandant, is intriguing – one of the only times I’ve read a supporting character and genuinely been excited for their sequel. And there’s another figure we only meet late in the book who sets off complex and honest emotional reactions in all the other characters.
I haven’t written a lot about the romance here because it’s not the strongest part of the novel. But there was so much else to enjoy that I didn’t mind. Raider is a welcome return to the galaxy of the Coalition, and I’m excited to read the rest of the trilogy.
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.