I’ve been too busy writing to do much reading, but I finally read A Few Good Men by Sarah Hoyt after several people mentioned its similarities in theme to my work, and Sarah herself mentioned it as something she is particularly proud of. So I bought it and plunged in without reading the two earlier books in the series.
Which turns out not be a problem, since the book stands alone despite some connections to others in the series — this book is set in the same universe and time as the others, but shows what is happening on Earth. A few characters from previous books make brief appearances toward the end, but nothing from previous books is required to enjoy the story.
And what a fabulous story it is. Several hundred years from now, after war and nanoplague have devastated continental civilization, genetically-engineered Good Men run the world as a feudal dictatorship from Seacities established as refuges. Enlightenment traditions of freedom and constitutional rights survive in the “religion” of the Usaians, an underground group which keeps them alive under the stagnant, repressive regime of the Good Men. Don’t be put off by the cover, which reminds me of that Star Trek episode with the Yangs and the Kohms (“Omega Glory”) — this story is a lot more sophisticated than the cover would indicate.
Luce, son of a genetically-engineered Good Man, has been in prison for 14 years when rebels attack his prison and free him. He makes his way back to his father’s Seacity and discovers that he is now the rightful heir to rule it since both his father and brother have been killed, but that the other Good Men are already plotting to take over his city. His allies are the family of retainers, also genetically-engineered, who have served his family for generations — and they happen to be secretly central to the rebels, who are trying to free the world from the Good Men and their tyrannical rule to restore what they remember of the freedoms won by the American (and French) revolutions.
I won’t give away too much of the plot, but it begins like a tale told by Dumas or Victor Hugo, and the hero and language are both reminiscent of the best of the 19th century adventure tales. Luce is a big man, full of self-doubt and guilt from killing his best friend and lover, Ben, and his first-person narration throughout is both a strength and a weakness — we see exactly where he came from and learn with him how his world really works, but when he is left behind to serve as revolutionary figurehead while others battle toward the end of the book, the story lags a bit because we don’t see the action. This would be a stronger story if Nat’s viewpoint had been expressed in a few alternating chapters.
Luce is an engaging narrator and despite his self-image as violent and unworthy, the reader grows to appreciate his kindness and sensitivity (when he’s not fighting his way out of danger by killing bad guys.) I enjoyed how the story went from The Count of Monte Cristo to 1776 to a subtle romance in a time of war with no actual sex. It’s accessible and quite appropriate for a high-school audience, yet with enough depth for even advanced readers.
A good story well-told. I plan to read others in the series soon.