Vintage Review: A Hymn Before Battle by John Ringo

I actually read this book right after my last review…and finished it in roughly 48 hours. It’s very rare for me to find a book these days that I can’t put down, but happily this one qualified. I held off on the review mostly so that I didn’t put up two reviews back-to-back. Anyway, John Ringo is a fairly well known science fiction author but I’ve never gotten around to reading any of his work. At the strong recommendation of a friend, I picked up “A Hymn Before Battle.” As usual, I’ll take a look at the setting, characters and plot. This time, let’s start with setting.

The setting of this work is a touch on the unusual side. Technically, it’s set in modern-day, but when the hyper-advanced aliens come to visit, Earth gets a bit of a haphazard boost. This results in an odd mix of traditional tech and advanced alien military gadgets. Far more interesting than that, however, is a twist I’ve never seen before. Namely, that humans are recruited and uplifted specifically because we’re a war-like predator species…and the peaceful aliens who are incapable of violence desperately need us to try and stop an aggressive species invading their empire. I’ve seen some variations of the theme throughout various media, and I suspect I could find other examples if I went looking, but I’ve personally never read anything quite like this. Normally, I’d cover that in the plot bit, but in this case it’s really setting more than plot given the setup is reliant on the universe being populated in a specific way.

Speaking of plot though…the plot was very solid. It did suffer a bit from multiple-personality disorder, creating too many characters who were doing radically different things. But, on the whole, the author managed to tie most of these disparate points of view together into a cohesive picture that kept me from wanting to put the book down. Which is really the highest compliment I can give it, these days. Aside from the multiple-personality disorder, the only real issue I had was the complete irrelevance of one or two of the perspectives. In this case, however, it is clear that the author is setting up bigger picture stuff for the rest of the rather long series. There’s also a lot of foreshadowing that might be annoying in a new series, but in an established one that you don’t have wait for the next book it’s not so bad. Really, the book is so clearly part of a series that I should probably review the series as a whole in order to do justice by the plot segment, but even as much as a liked it, it will take me some time to get through them all (I have to do other reviews, after all!).

The characterization for the book is a bit more of a mixed bag. The main protagonist is very well executed, but a few of the side perspectives are much weaker. That the weakest of those was also the one that didn’t amount to much of anything created most of the places where I could put the book down for a while, as I found the relevant sections extremely boring. Still, that perspective was minor and the main character is sufficiently strong to forgive a few weaker side characters. The author also does a much more convincing military-life perspective than most authors, which helps sell many of the characters, who are overwhelmingly some sort of military or ex-military.

Overall, I loved the book and immediately downloaded a copy of the second book in the series. Above everything else, John Ringo has an extremely readable writing style that keeps even a high-detail military setting moving at a good clip. He avoided, at least in this book, the dry information overloading a lot of military sci-fi falls prey to, and injected some real life and likability to a thoroughly badass main character.

Final Rating Breakdown:

Setting: 10/10

Characters: 8/10

Plot: 9/10

Overall: 9/10

Score Adjustments for Misc:
None.

Final Score: 9/10

Personal Recommendation: I highly recommend the book, particularly for lovers of military sci-fi. However, as the pacing remains solid throughout, even those who don’t normally go for the military science fiction should give it a try. I cannot yet speak for the overall series, and might update this review when I can.

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