You MUST NOT read this book review if you intend to read Raider and Gambler (books one and two in the Coalition Rebellion: Ziem series) because it has spoilers for those books, and they are best read in sequence.
Iolana Davorin married Torstan Davorin and gave birth to four children, including Drake, the boy who would become the legendary Raider. Losing Torstan led her to attempt suicide, an action she immediately regretted, and which she was fortunate to survive. But she also had visions of the future during her recovery. Their message was clear: if she stayed with her family, her home planet of Ziem was doomed. Ziem needed the Raider, and in order for Drake to become the Raider, he needed the check on his reckless behavior that would come from caring for his siblings. Iolana made the decision to let her family think her dead. When she reappeared decades later, it was as the Spirit, a mystical figure gifted with a range of powers from Ziem, including healing. Unfortunately, her family relationships are the hardest to heal.
Major Caze Paledan can’t stop looking at the portrait of Iolana Davorin which he salvaged from the ruins of Drake’s taproom. Paledan was raised on the Coalition’s homeworld Lustros, where relationships and feelings are nonexistent: the government arranges genetically propitious but emotionally bloodless reproductive matches, and the children are separated from the birth parent as infants and raised by rotating caregivers. He doesn’t understand why he keeps looking at the portrait; nor does he understand the regret he feels at the expectation that any day now, the Coalition might send him orders to end the rebellion on Ziem via genocide.
Paledan was assigned to Ziem because he has an inoperable and life-threatening war injury. What Coalition tech can’t handle, though, Iolana’s Ziem healing might be able to. When Paledan collapses during a meeting with the Raider, Iolana suggests she try to save him. But she might be saving more than Paledan’s life.
Characters I can tell will receive sequels usually annoy me rather than fill me with anticipation, but Paledan is a truly notable exception. This silver fox is multidimensional – a worthy, clever opponent of the trilogy’s hero; an icicle starting to melt; a leader in his own right; an indoctrinated soldier slowly and reluctantly challenging the truth of the power he serves; a man discovering humanity in himself and in others. It wasn’t clear for a while that Iolana would be his match, so I’m also excited for a romance here that deals with older characters, one of whom has children.
Parent (and step-parent) relationships are unexpectedly strong here. The relationship between Iolana and her kids continues to be complex; even as they consider sacrifices in the name of the rebellion, it’s hard to forgive their own mother for sacrificing them for the same cause. Drake, the Raider, watches Paledan warily, even as Drake, Iolana’s son, starts to accept him. Watching the family-less Paledan find connections to a loyal subordinate and to Iolana’s twins is warming.
So why the A- as opposted to an A? I didn’t bother to review Gambler, the middle book in the series, because it was pretty meh. Whenever the characters from that book recur, this one isn’t as strong. It’s really annoying that too much of the talent/brains of the Rebellion is concentrated in too few of the characters. For Paledan to be both a tactician and an engineer is implausible. I didn’t love the prose, which often feels dated (I was surprised Renegade was published in 2019 and not, say, 1999) and can take several paragraphs to say what we have understood fully after the first sentence or two. Also, while the damage caused by Iolana is thoroughly examined, Paledan mentions – but never emotionally addresses – the damage and deaths he caused leading previous missions. The man he becomes should have had a thunderclap moment of crippling guilt. Lastly, the supernatural aspects of Paledan’s emotional healing and Iolana’s powers are underdeveloped. She can seemingly do anything. What I never fully understood is why – why these particular powers, and why Iolana.
I love a good SF military hero, even when he’s been a bad guy. (It’s the uniform shirts.- sorry-not-sorry). I love a well-matched couple, and I love a big space-opera type plot. Even with its weaknesses, Renegade is a great addition to my SF bookshelf that I know I’ll come back to for re-reads.
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