Review: Honour Bound by M.A. Grant

Review: Honour Bound by M.A. GrantHonour Bound by M.A. Grant
Formats available: ebook
Series: Lawmen of the Republic #2
Pages: 250
Published by Escape Publishing on August 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

The Lawmen of the Republic: fierce, honourable, soldiers, men. But what happens when all that they’ve been told turns out to be lies?

The wars to establish the Republic are over. The families of the Ton have risen from the blood and ashes to claim the new aristocracy. Their prodigal son, First Lieutenant Alexander Cade, is the Lawmen Academy’s youngest and most successful graduate. However, his muddied bloodlines force his exile to the Northern Wastes, the last unclaimed territory of the Republic.
Lailian scout Natalia Volkova knows that her survival in a rebel labour camp rests entirely on her iron will and killing prowess. Her fierce quest for freedom is tempered by only one thing: conflicting memories of the young Republic lieutenant who helped liberate her camp, and then returned to the fold of her people’s oppressors. She never expects that their paths will cross again – under very different circumstances.
Cade’s honour limits his choices to one: take his band of specialised Lawmen into the Wastes, and protect it and its people. There, he meets Talia, a tough, resilient refugee who holds little respect for the Republic and its laws. But as a deathly outbreak leads to a desperate race for a cure, Talia and Cade will find themselves on uncertain ground: What is right is not always obvious, and what is honourable is not always right.

My Review:

Lace & Lead by M.A. GrantI reviewed the first book in this series, Lace & Lead, all the way at the beginning of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, possibly even the very first issue. As part of the SFR Galaxy Awards, I also gave Lace & Lead an award for Best Space Western. I called it the Firefly in a Jar Award, because Lace & Lead felt a lot like Firefly, even though that isn’t logical when you break it down.

I never expected a sequel to Lace & Lead, and now that I’ve read Honour Bound, I’m still not sure I have one. Honour Bound is the second book in the author’s Lawmen of the Republic series, but there’s nothing here to reference the previous book. They can be, and according to the author they are, set in the same universe, but the perspective on this universe is so different in Honour Bound that there is no need to read Lace & Lead before embarking on Honour Bound.

Not that you might not want to – Lace & Lead was awesome and surprisingly complete for such a short novella. I want to say that Honour Bound is the icing on what was already a marvelous cake, but I just can’t do the visual on icing that is more than three times bigger than the cake it covers.

So, while Lace & Lead read like a space western, Honour Bound reads more like epic fantasy with a romantic twist. I certainly found shades of Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera in the relationship between Cade and Talia, and also in its similarity to a fictionalized Roman Empire, but there was also a lot of political skullduggery, outright bigotry, and lots and lots of military tactics and action.

Where Lace & Lead reminded me of Firefly, Honour Bound feels more like Pern or Darkover, in that it is science fiction that feels like epic fantasy. There’s no magic, so it isn’t really fantasy, but there’s also very little high tech to push it into the military SF camp. What tech there is feels very contemporary, meaning contemporary to us now. I don’t see the kind of advanced tech that firmly grounds a story in SF. But this is definitely not our world, so SF it is.

The story in Honour Bound is about a system that’s gone to hell, as told from the perspective of a small group of people who at least at the beginning believe that the rot can still be cut out. Again, shades of an alternate Roman Empire.

Our hero is a man who has seen his world from both sides. While he is technically an aristocrat, his mixed race makes him a despised outsider to his own corrupt class. He has come to consider their hatred for him as the highest compliment. As a “prole” Alexander Cade is given the worst military assignments in the Republic, in spite of having been the top graduate of his class at the Lawmen Academy.

He forms a tight unit with the men he both leads and befriends, and uses an obscure law to make sure that they all stick together and watch each other’s backs. They survive when they are not supposed to, sometimes only by the skin of their teeth, or the skills of their medic.

Which brings us to our heroine, Talia. Cade meets Talia when he is part of the liberation of the labor camp that she was imprisoned in at the age of 8. The labor camps appear to be operated by the Rebel faction, and they are horrific. Talia survives by becoming a cage fighter.

After meeting Talia, Cade makes it his mission to eradicate all the labor camps he can locate. He is effective, but makes many more political enemies along the way. There is something very rotten at the heart of the Republic, when his exposure of the network of labor camps nets him more political enemies than it does praise.

The blueblooded upper class that he hates is making money from the supposedly Rebel labor camps, and does not want its gravy train disrupted.

But as we see Cade rise in rank and gain horrific experience, he is always searching for Talia. When they met, he was all of 19 and she was 13 or 14, but her fighting spirit inspired him to continue his lonely crusade for justice.

When they finally meet again, they are both scarred adults who have been through too much in their too short lives. But they are finally both ready for each other.

And in the middle of a war to save as many of the despised tribal peoples of the Northern wastelands as they can, Cade finds himself at a terrible crossroads. Talia is the only woman who will ever be his equal, but the Lawman’s code he swore to uphold states that she should be killed for having seduced him away from marrying a pure blue-blooded woman and maintaining the pure bloodline.

Exposure of their relationship will get them both killed, along with all the men in Cade’s unit. But his life isn’t worth living without Talia.

And is a system that would require that he kill the woman he loves just because of her mixed race worth spilling his own blood for? Is the Republic he serves worth saving?

Escape Rating A-: Honour Bound was marvelous. Up until 3 am marvelous. The only reason I didn’t finish was that I could tell they were about to experience something very dark and ugly before the end, and I didn’t want that to be the last thing I read before sleeping.

The revelations at the end of the story are brutal and disgusting. Not unexpected, but it was the effect that those events had on the characters that sticks with me. I was very, very glad to discover on the author’s website that she is continuing the series, because there is just so much left to uncover. And hopefully fix.

The setting definitely has the feeling of an updated Roman Empire, or similar analog of a place that started out with the best of intentions and went completely to hell in the handbasket. The center is so corrupt that it is obvious that it needs to topple, the only question is who will do the toppling? We aren’t there yet, but I hope that getting there will be at the heart of later books in the series.

The romance in this story is a relationship between equals, and I always love those. While Cade has the formal military training, Talia has learned in a school of very hard knocks, and is every bit his equal as a warrior. Different, but equally tough and strong. The difference is that he is a leader, where Talia has always fought alone. Part of the story here is not just about Cade and Talia finding their balance together, but also Talia learning to work as part of a unit.

The members of Cade’s unit are all very different individuals, but they have a team spirit that can overcome anything, including their own government. Seeing the way that they work together in spite of their differences is a treat.

But as much as I enjoyed the romance and the camaraderie, it’s the political situation that has kept me thinking about this book. The saying goes that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. The Republic has become expert at silencing, suborning and ultimately killing good men (and women) so that they are not able to effect change. It’s hard to fight back when you’re dead.

They’ve tried to get Cade and his men killed in a military action to prevent them from fighting for change. We see them fight back at every turn, thinking that they are fighting the good fight.

Then suddenly they are. And it’s awesome.

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly