Fringe War by Rachel Aukes
Waypoint Book LLC
Reviewed by Steve Ironside
When Edwin Starr asked us all, “War! (hungh!) What is it good for?”, his answer was wrong. Stories. It’s good for stories. The problem is the abundance of tales told in any one war; if you’re unlucky, you’ll be stuck with one old war horse droning on about every detail of his own adventures. Worse, you could be beset by a confusing myriad of barstool heroes each providing their own hot take. Can Rachel Aukes walk a line between these two extremes?
Fringe War is book four in the Fringe series. Humanity has spread beyond Earth, and settled the Fringe, where two groups populate six planets – citizens of the Collective (inhabiting the “prettiest” two worlds), wielding all the political power; and the colonists from the remaining planets in the Fringe – not as hospitable, but strategically useful, or resource worlds for the Collective. The citizens are led to see the colonists as somehow “lesser”, and the colonists view citizens as leeches, always taking and giving nothing back. A tension that inevitably can lead to nothing but insurrection and death.
Drawing distinct parallels to the way in which the First World War started, the death of a group of citizens on Terra, a colonist world, rapidly escalates into an open conflict for which it seems all sides were ready. They just needed someone to make the first move.
We follow the leaders of these factions; whose families seem to be descended from original Founders of the Collective and colonies. I found all the characters to be quite believable – Gabriel Heid, the leader of the Collective who believes that progress requires conflict, at any cost; Critch, the guerrilla fighter whose personal vendettas ally him with the colonists, but which may risk their whole war effort; Anders, the disgraced Collective general whose personal beliefs are tested by the demands of his leaders and position; and Reyne, the public face of the insurrection, trying to do the right thing whilst supported by a movement which is both beset by fear and driven by a need for revenge. Even the supporting characters had a surprising depth – stereotypes and flat characterisation can be a common feature of war stories, but I was left with a clear sense of what these people are fighting for, and why.
There’s a very cinematic quality to Aukes’ writing, and I found myself drawing comparisons to tales such as Blakes’ 7, Babylon 5, and Battlestar Galactica, where the same themes of insurrection, survival and politics are woven together. Fringe War can stand proudly alongside them, and fans of the Game of Thrones approach of families trading barbs over generations, there are overtones of that too – the main players have secret code names for each other, and there are grudges based on events built up over years (and I assume, the preceding books).
The action, when it comes, is fast and furious; while there’s not a blow-by-blow description of every punch or shot landing, in reality that’s not the way things work, and I got a clear sense of the fight without the pace of the story being sacrificed to the description of it.
The political machinations of war receive their own focus too; and the observations around propaganda and the manipulation of opinion are on the nose in today’s partisan political landscape – almost painfully so. To win a war, you need to maintain the support of your people, and although Aukes clearly wants us to root for the rebel forces against the Collective’s leadership, she explores the opposing thought processes well enough that we understand why each side supports the actions they take, even though we might disagree.
Does dropping into the series part-way through hurt this read? A one-page precis detailing a little Collective history might have been a useful addition to the book (matching the very helpful description of the planets of the Collective’s planets in the appendix), but Aukes masterfully drops hints through the text that with a little thought let you form a picture of what must have gone on before. Readers picking up this book without having read the previous ones need not fear having “missed out”.
Did I enjoy this story? Yes, MA’AM! Am I intent on reading the rest of the series? <clickity click> Yes, MA’AM! Would I watch a Netflix series based on this story? Yes, MA’AM!
So, Edwin, what is Fringe War good for? It’s not absolutely nuthin’, I’m sure of that.