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The Heart of Valour by Tanya Huff

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Her latest mission sees newly promoted Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr escorting a recuperating major and his doctor to Crucible, the Marine Corps training planet. But when the troops are suddenly attacked by their own drones, Kerr is caught in a desperate fight to protect the major, his doctor and a platoon of untried recruits.
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The third of Huff’s Valour books feels, in many ways, like a return to the first, with a little of the paranoia of the second thrown in for good measure. The Heart of Valour once again sees Torin Kerr given a group of soldiers she doesn’t know for a specific mission; in this case it is theoretically the not-so-simple task of escorting a major through his paces as part of his rehabilitative programme on a training run for recruits, which becomes horribly real – and horribly live-fire.

If this conjures up images of Valour’s Choice, in which Kerr is sent on a diplomatic mission which turns into a rerun of Rourke’s Drift, that is a reminiscence actually mentioned in The Heart of Valour; while there is a sort of intrigue subplot trying to peek out from among the action, it’s one whose content is so obvious, and whose resolution so clear from the start, that it is nearly pointless and fails to add much. In fact, that particular subplot simply seems to be a way to have Craig Ryder hanging about, rather than constructive of itself, or perhaps building towards something in the next book; in either case it feels clumsily bolted on and slows down the main, core military science fiction story.

That core of The Heart of Valour is, as noted above, rather similar to the first book in the series, but excellently carried off; the way Huff treats her Marine recruits, the majority of characters in the novel, is sympathetic and interesting, similar to the way she has treated Marines in prior books but also touching on their lack of experience and their heroisation of Marines with actual service. Huff also introduces some interesting new wrinkles, including some backstory to the di’Takyan; this introduces a subplot related to the way integration of different cultures affects unit cohesion and function, and is interestingly addressed, especially in the way discussion continues throughout the book on Marine problems versus species problems.

Mind you, the specific choice of cultural difference is a rather problematic one. The Heart of Valour sees a character taken out of action by the use of illegal hormone treatments to avoid what is essentially a cross between menopause and gender-change; the resolution to this plot is not sympathetic to this character, and avoids touching on discussion of why they might wish to avoid this change, instead presenting it as idiocy to not simply give in and go through with it. As a genderqueer reader, what Huff is doing here strikes very close to trans issues, especially issues of trans service in the emergency services and the army; and her conclusion that attempting to avoid betrayal by one’s own body is a foolish, dangerous decision is one that we see reproduced often enough as it is, and whose counterpoint – that one’s body should reflect one’s self, not vice versa – is far too rarely argued.

Heart of Valour, then, continues the fun, readable and enjoyable adventures of Torin Kerr, but also continues Huff’s track record of some particularly problematic writing in this series…


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