‘War In Heaven’ is the sequel to ‘Veteran’ by Gavin Smith or is it Gavin G. Smith? Both books list the author as Gavin Smith on the cover and Gavin G. Smith on the title page. Anyway, our unlikely hero, Sergeant Jakob Douglas, an ex-special forces veteran who has been discharged from the forces makes an unlikely return. I say it’s unlikely as he was rather ill from radiation poisoning as ‘Veteran’ ended. He was not expected to live very long.
The war with ‘Them’, the mysterious alien race who Earth has been fighting for as long as anyone can remember, is finally over. Unfortunately, in this rather bleak and violent future, as one enemy fades another rises to take its place. The new enemy has the potential to be even more deadly to humankind as it has incorporated some of technologies developed by Them.
Before we start the main story there’s a prolog titled ‘Dog 4 Eighteen Months Ago’. This recounts the final mission for Sergeant Douglas and his special forces squad. They have been tasked with reconnoitering a depot that has been overrun by Them. It doesn’t go well but’ of course, if you have read ‘Veteran’ then you would know this. All is not lost, though, as the prolog provides additional detail for that mission. It also reminds you of Douglas’ outlook on life and things in general.
Chapter 1 is titled ‘Crawling Town (Again)’ as Douglas and his team are back in what remains of the USA. They are infiltrating the huge caravan of vehicles that make up Crawling Town, with the aim of letting Douglas get some revenge for what the tribe called The Wait did. They are the ones who exposed Douglas to the radiation that appeared to be killing him at the end of ‘Veteran’. In a first-person narrative, Douglas retells the main points from the events of ‘Veteran’ just in case you skipped that first novel.
It’s a bit hard to write about the plot without sprouting spoilers as this is an intertwined tale of Them and the remnants of the secretive Cabal who really held the reins of power. That is, they held the reins of power until Douglas and his merry little band pulled the rug out from under their feet.
What I really liked about this book is the character development, Morag continues to grow in abilities while her relationship with Douglas is as violent as ever. There’s more to Pagan and also a different side to Mudge who’s Douglas’ best friend. The only real constant is Douglas who remains the same throughout. He might be an enhanced ex-SAS sergeant but he does seem to get beaten up a lot. It’s something he accepts as though it’s just part of the job. Mind you, when the opportunity presents itself he doesn’t half hand out a beating. Usually fatal.
If the book had a flaw it’s that there are quite a few passages reminiscing over events that have happened previously. Apart from that there’s the usual mix of fighting, espionage and trying to do the right thing for your mates. For Douglas, this means making some hard choices which proves he is utterly ruthless when trying to protect the one he loves.
There is a wonderful plot twist towards the end which I can’t even begin to skirt round the edges of it without giving it away. There’s also a couple of surprises with the Gray Lady from the first book, ‘Veteran’. She’s the one woman who actually frightens Douglas. When you consider he’s a very experienced and augmented soldier, she has to be something special to have that effect on him.
‘War In Heaven’ is a continuation of the brutal future set out in ‘Veteran’. It does however, have a really good ending in the sense that most of the loose ends are neatly tided up with the book ending at a logical point. Of course, even in this brutal future the world goes on so perhaps the author might revisit to let us know what’s been happening.
If you like military Science Fiction with more than a touch of computer and network hacking then ‘Veteran’ and ‘War In Heaven’ are the books for you. This is British military SF at its best.
(pub: Gollancz, 2011. 513 page enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-09471-0)