I shouldn’t be surprised that I went through The Ghost Brigades in one day. After my experience of reading Old Man’s War I should have expected this compulsion, the need to rush headlong through the story as quickly as I could, even to the point of ignoring my friends and the rest of the world. All of the nice things that I said about John Scalzi’s writing last time still apply. This book is easy to read and hard to put down, and when I finished it I was left wanting more. Fortunately, my friend whom I’d been ignoring sympathized with my plight and had a copy of the next book in the series ready to loan to me. So, of course, I stayed up late reading more of that.
Right, series: in my review of Old Man’s War, I think I somehow failed to mention that it was the start of a series of books. The Ghost Brigades is the first of several sequels, but while it builds on the setting established in Old Man’s War and even features some of the same characters, its story builds off in an entirely new direction. It reads like a standalone story, but if you really want the full experience I strongly suggest that you read Old Man’s War first. There are interlocking complexities that become readily apparent as you continue the series, and you’ll benefit from reading the books in order.
My verdict, once again, is that you should get your hands on this book with all possible haste. Right after you get your hands on Old Man’s War, of course. For more of my thoughts on the story, read on below…
I admire Scalzi’s establishing shots; he opens each new section of the book with almost terse sentences that grab your attention, tell you enough to leave you interested, and then slowly expand your perception from that narrow point of focus to something far wider and yet just as intriguing. Similarly spare descriptions are scattered throughout the book, each set in place as a way to make the reader aware of things happening beyond the view of our central protagonist. In each case, they let us know that there is both more at risk than what we first saw, and that there is more going on behind the scenes, artfully increasing the tension without detracting from the focus of the central narrative.
I have more thoughts, but these ones are all fairly full of *SPOILERS*, even if they are mostly incidental. Read on at your own risk.
Meaningful death continues to be an underlying theme, but this time its supremacy is topped by the themes of personal choice, what it means to be human, and what it means to be an individual. Scalzi has established an almost perfect character for looking at individuality in this setting that he’s created, dealing with the growth and life of someone whose identity and memories are not necessarily their own. The ways in which this person comes to identify himself, and how he comes to have his own sense of choice, make for marvelous reading. I found the early insertion of the Frankenstein narrative to be especially apropos, and (*BIG SPOILER*) I’ve only now realized how marvelously the end of the story ties back into the story of Frankenstein and his monster. I’m a total fan.
Ok, *END OF SPOILERS*
Read the book, you won’t regret it. And even if you don’t like it that much, it will leave you with a far better understanding of what is happening as the rest of the series progresses. I’m just saying: I haven’t yet finished The Last Colony but I can already tell that I’d be missing a lot if I hadn’t read The Ghost Brigades.