Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement
Rules of Engagement by Elizabeth Moon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enjoyed this; working my way through the series again, though I think this was the last one, last time I went through.

Solid 3d characters. Interesting world. Action and politics. My one problem with this book is that the central conceit, around which everything else is based, feels so contrived. Brun, who we like from previous books, is the rich girl taking classes at the elite military academy - without enlisting - to try and gain some real world skills. And we like that about her... but she's still a dilettante. She doesn't get what she wants at one point and throws a major spoiled-brat temper tantrum. Esmay, who we also like from previous books, walked away from a privileged life to devote herself to the military. She's taking two sets of classes, so she's overworked and stressed, so when Brun drops the tantrum - including calling Esmay herself a "cold fish", and more-or-less lying to say that she's slept with Esmay's boyfriend - Esmay tells her she's behaving like a spoiled brat, and should grow up. Which she is, and should.

After which incident everyone in the book, including a lot of Esmay's friends, treat her like she has tortured kittens in public. People make comments like "Wow; I'm glad _I'm_ not your enemy." She gets threatened with discharge from the military for goodness sake. And this isn't one person's reaction, its the universal reaction of every single person who sees the video of the confrontation (which gets out.) It was weird. I actually went back and re-read the section describing the confrontation again, because I was sure I must have missed something. Nope; she pretty much tells the kid behaving like a spoiled brat that she's behaving like a spoiled brat. And for this, everyone brands her as the Flanders Pigeon Murderer, and tries to drum her out of the corps. Its possible their society has different rules, and what she said really was quite awful to them, but we don't really get that from the book. Later, circumstances and backstabbing machinations make everyone's reaction worse, but it just rang a bit hollow because I knew they'd all seen the video of the actual confrontation, which really wasn't bad at all.

However, despite my grumbling, it doesn't take much away from a good tale. It'd be like not liking Lord of the Rings because you thought Sauron putting so much of his power in the ring was silly; all right, maybe the premise feels weak, but the story is good. We get Moon's usual touch for gritty realism informing forensics and battles and rescues in space, with an interesting cast and a deep, well-fleshed-out world.

A word of warning; there are some scenes and topics in this book I found disturbing. Not graphic, nor gratuitous, but skin-crawling all the same. Kidnapping, rape, and slavery all make an appearance.

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