Hardship by Jean Johnson (Book Review)

My first experience with Jean Johnson was back in 2012 when I heard her on the SF Signal podcast with host Patrick Hester. During the podcast she talked about her military SF series Theirs Not To Reason Why that features a female protagonist who happens to have some powerful natural abilities such as pre/post-cognition, telekinesis and the like and who is on a quest to save the galaxy from an extinction-level threat that will not occur for hundreds of years yet. I read the first three novels in the series last year and they all happened to be quite excellent stories that made me a Jean Johnson fan for life. And now, with the fifth and final book in the series just days away from publication, here’s my review of the fourth novel, which I read last month.

Hardship was originally intended to be the fourth and final book in the series, titled Damnation at the time. But as I learned from Jean herself lately, the final volume ended up being too big and the decision was made to split it into two parts. So Hardship is technically the first of a 2-part finale for Jean’s highly ambitious and grandiose story of Theirs Not To Reason Why. And it is just as excellent as the previous books. With things moving towards a conclusion, there’s a sense of finality in the novel and that there is a big confluence of events happening, so the novel checks off on all the things I wanted to see from it, and more.

Theirs Not To Reason Why - 04 - Hardship

With each of the books in the series Jean has tried to do something different. The first novel, A Soldier’s Duty was mostly about the protagonist Ia’s training as a soldier and her first assignments as a marine. The second novel, An Officer’s Duty, took Ia towards naval command and took her back to an academy setting for the first big act. Then the third novel, Hellfire, took Ia out in the thick of the new Salik War that she had partially initiated to bring about a series of events that she had foreseen years in advance, all to prepare the galaxy for a threat unlike any other several hundred years in the future. The action ramped up in the three books at a steady pace and as Ia developed as a protagonist, so did I as a reader, seeing different sides of her in each book.

And now with Hardship, there’s yet more differences to be seen. First of all, I’ll say that I outright missed Bloody Mary. That’s the nickname given to Ia from her first mission as a TUPSF marine, if I recall correctly, or one of the earlier ones at any rate. She literally drenched herself in the blood of her enemies as she fought them, and created a legend for herself that has aided her well during her service in the military and then the navy and now as a Ship’s Captain.

But at the same time, we also get to see Ia in a situation that sees her actively take part in political maneuverings within the military and also deal with the consequences of Feyori meddling within the ongoing Salik war. It puts her in a position where she herself becomes the threat to her people, the crew of the Hellfire, the ship that she unfortunately had to scuttle at the end of Hellfire (the novel). Now, they are stranded on a planet without an easy extraction since the Salik have interdicted the planet and are waging an all-out war against all TUPSF assets present.

By putting Ia in a situation where she actively has to smash down a few Feyori who think that they can take her on, Jean creates a situation where we see Ia become a much more dominant personality in interstellar politics than we have until now. The Feyori are a race of energy beings who meddle in politics everywhere for their own gain and who create factions of their own people to take on yet others, and the result is that the web gets very, very complicated no matter which angle you look at it. And Ia is the solution to it all since she needs the Feyori on her side to bring about the future where the galaxy has a hair’s breadth chance against the coming threat in the future.

No Bloody Mary in this novel, sure, but we do get Ia the badass who knows full well how to deal with highly troublesome Feyori who can cause some big wrinkles in the future she is trying to create. And them doing it all through the TUPSF itself is kind of a master stroke since Ia has to once again defend herself against the highest military authority in the TUP and we get to see more of her grand plans and how she is able to navigate all of it.

Like I said, the book is full of an insane amount of politics, but Jean navigates it all well-enough that you never get lost in any of it. And I loved the change in pace. The book is low on action with Ia since early on some Feyori meddling knocks her off-course and her precognition puts her entire crew in danger, necessitating that she split off from them and go her own way so that they are able to make informed choices on their own rather than depending on her abilities, and so she can also find out just what the hell is going on with the war on the planet.

And did I mention that the planet in question is Dabin in the Dabinae system, and thus home to Commander Meyun Harper, Ia’s secret lover and also her second-in-command? Harper was introduced to readers in An Officer’s Duty and he quickly became one of my favourite characters in both that novel and in the sequel Hellfire last year. Sadly, we see very, very little of Ia’s crew in the novel, so I missed Meyun, particularly since the novels have always been from Ia’s own perspective. As such, Ia’s supporting cast in Hardship is very small, but still entertaining in quite a few ways.

By the end of the novel, the first major act of the end of the Salik War is concluded, and with Damnation coming in just a few days, I expect that the big showdown is going to be glorious indeed. Frankly, I can’t wait for any of it. This series has become one of my favourite all-time military space opera series since I read A Soldier’s Duty last year and while I’ll be a bit sad about the end, I’m also pumped since Jean hasn’t entire discounted the idea of more novels set in this same galaxy, something that I am very much interested in seeing.

In the meantime, I would highly recommend this novel, and the series in general. Excellenty-crafted novels with an excellent protagonist and a great supporting cast pretty much defines all of Theirs Not To Reason Why.

Rating: 9.5/10

More Theirs Not To Reason Why: A Soldier’s Duty, An Officer’s Duty, Hellfire.

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Posted on November 22, 2014, in 2014 Reading Challenge, Book Reviews, Challenges, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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