Review: Damnation by Jean Johnson

damnation by jean johnsonFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook,
Genre: military science fiction
Series: Theirs Not to Reason Why #5
Length: 385 pages
Publisher: Ace
Date Released: November 25, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

It began with a terrible vision of the future. Compelled by her precognitive abilities, Ia must somehow save her home galaxy long after she’s gone. Now Jean Johnson presents the long-awaited epic conclusion to her national bestselling military science fiction series…

With their new ship claimed and new crewmembers being collected, Ia’s Damned are ready and willing to re-enter the fight against the vicious, hungry forces of their Salik foes. But shortly after they board the Damnation to return to battle, a new threat emerges. After several centuries of silence, the Greys are back, and the Alliance must now combat both a rapacious, sadistic enemy, and a terrifying, technologically superior foe.

Ia has asked nothing of her crew that she herself has not been willing to give. But with two wars to bring to an end—and time running out—Ia must make and execute the most terrible choice of all…

My Review:

There are two themes that have resonated, at least for me, in SF in the last couple of decades. They have both been said before with slightly different words and in different circumstances, but the SF versions are the ones that stick in the mind. Both play out in the interwoven themes of Jean Johnson’s Theirs Not to Reason Why series, and especially in the final book in the series, Damnation.

One is the admonishment that Ben Parker recites to his young nephew Peter, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Just as Peter Parker is grounded by the reminder that his superpowers come at a great price, so Ia in Damnation, and all the previous books in the series, is confronted with cost that will be exacted by her use of both the power invested in her high military rank and the superpower of her near-perfect precognitive abilities. She never loses sight of that ultimate cost, even as she struggles to ensure the tiny-percentage future of sentient survival that she sees in the timestreams.

The other theme is Spock’s quote from Vulcan philosophy in The Wrath of Khan. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one.” Spock gives his own life, so that the crew of the Enterprise will survive. Their many outweighs the cost to himself, even though it is the ultimate cost. Ia has spent the last twelve years of her life weighing that same dilemma, writ large. She must sacrifice some so that the greater majority can be saved from extinction. Because Ia is working on a galactic scale, even the few she knows must be lost are relatively large numbers. She feels the weight of her decisions, and of all the deaths that will be laid at her door. But for her, the only right choice is always Spock’s.

soldiers duty mediumIa has spent this series working toward a very long future that she knows she will not live to see. If she can navigate the sentient races of the galaxy through the next two wars, in 300 years they have a slim chance of surviving the third war that is coming. When she begins her work in A Soldier’s Duty (reviewed here) at the age of 15, the chance is very slim. She devotes her life to making that slim chance become a reality.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, Ia’s ability to see all possible futures in the timestreams, she herself suffers from a constant lack of time throughout Damnation. She is still only human, and it takes her finite amounts of real time to nudge history. Also, her nudges often rely on her ship and crew being in a specific place at a specific time to fight a particular battle. Even with FTL and OTL (faster-than-light and other-than-light) speed capability, the ship still needs time to get from system to system, time that Ia is forever running out of.

The decisions Ia makes are always hard ones. She operates in the shades of grey that allow her to sacrifice an entire race to save all the other sentient races. It is never easy, and her own thoughts show how much of her humanity she loses sight of along the way. Also how much she keeps, with the help of her friends and crew.

Ia is brilliant, in the way that the brightest stars flare just before they go out. Her story, from beginning to end, is utterly captivating. I never wanted this series to end, but the way it ended was absolutely stunning.

Escape Rating A+: This entire series, but especially Damnation, gave me incredible book hangovers every step of the way. I am still having a difficult time pulling back from my immersion in the world that Johnson has created with this series.

If you enjoy military SF, I can’t recommend this series highly enough. Ia is a fascinating heroine who commands every scene and every page. It shouldn’t work, having a heroine who knows all the possible futures. You would think that she would be all-powerful and that there would be no dramatic tension. But the tension increases throughout the series, as Ia has more and more to accomplish and less and less time to finish her own tasks and lay the groundwork for what she knows will come.

Her humanity is sometimes sacrificed by the duty she has taken onto herself, but it shines in scenes where the necessary hits close to home. She cuts off her own home planet and her family in order to save the future, and it cuts deep, for both Ia and the reader.

I am not revealing the ending. It is something that needs to be experienced after the fullness of reading the series.

Above, I said the ending was absolutely stunning. I am still stunned.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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3 thoughts on “Review: Damnation by Jean Johnson

  1. I’m glad my five part story gave you a good ride…though my reply post got cut off, there, lol… I just wanted to reassure you that I have plenty more plotted for this universe, even if Ia’s story is essentially done, for now. (You’ll get to see her influences here and there in other stories.) …Actually, that’s why her story came first; she is the keystone to all that happens in that universe…and there are more rides to come. 🙂

  2. I looove this series, and normally pounce on each new book as soon as it hits my Kindle. But I admit I’ve been just staring at Damnation, afraid to start it. Afraid because I know there will be painful choices, and afraid because I just don’t want the series to end. But your wonderful review, and Ms. Johnson’s reassurances, are nudging me to be brave and go ahead and take the plunge. But probably after the holidays–I don’t want to have my heart ripped out at Christmastime! 🙂

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