Review: When the Devil Dances

I took a break from the Honorverse for a while and dove into John Ringo again with the third book in his Posleen War series, When the Devil Dances. All in all, it was much different from the previous entry, and an enjoyable one, at that.

Part of the issue I had with Gust Front came primarily from the author’s propensity for excessively detailed military maneuvers. Given a map of the United States and an Axes and Allies game centered on US territory, one could easily plot out each action and counteraction for hours. That level of detail is fine, but I for one am not capable of retaining such intricacies in my brain for the duration of a novel; there’s just too much going on to be constantly embroiled in minutiae.

There’s still a certain aspect to that with When the Devil Dances, but it’s much less pronounced. Instead, Ringo seems to have gone another direction entirely and instead launched several interwoven plot threads, some of which originate all the way back in A Hymn Before Battle. And once again, Mike O’Neal play the central role we saw in Hymn, yet clearly his involvement is intrinsic, as is that of his daughter Cally and his father. But instead of getting mired in these characters, we get to see what Jake Mosovich, Anne Elgars, David Mueller, Wendy Cummings, Shari Reilly, and whole metric ton of other characters are doing. Most amusing among these is Bun-Bun the SheVa tank. SheVa guns are new creations for this book which are basically stadium-sized mobile cannons armed with immense antimatter rounds. Bunbun is actually named after a character from Sluggy Freelance, an online comic I read daily, and one I never expected to see in this context. It’s clear Ringo is a fan, which just makes it more surreal.

Though the Darheel are clearly still manipulating the situation, the state of the war is such that they’re never really incorporated directly, but operating on momentum. I’d say I was disappointed in that, but the novel also abruptly cuts off right before O’Neal and his team dive into battle for presumably the last time against insurmountable odds. That suggests to me that Hell’s Faire, the sequel, is actually a continuation of what was becoming a book that was simply too long to publish without splitting it in half.

So why don’t I mention the all-vaunted plot? It’s hard to explain. It’s set about five years after Gust Front, millions of people are living underground in ‘burbs, fighting is still going badly and the Posleen have eliminated about six billion people, while their own numbers have climbed past two billion thanks to their ability to breed quickly. That’s the setting, and within that, some characters meet up, more military maneuvers occur, some of which are ill-advised, and Mike yells and gets frustrated a lot whilst killing Posleen. Basically, it’s more of the same, but within that are several microcosms of punctuated action and development that I couldn’t possibly cover them all. Ringo really did go crazy introducing new characters and fleshing out old ones, and so much is happening here, I almost felt like I needed a notepad to keep track of everything. This isn’t necessarily bad, but I find myself diverting to other series to convalesce, instead of rushing to finish this one and see what happens. I never thought I’d say a novel had too much action.

All in all, an enjoyable novel with some surprising and welcome twists. I’ll work up the courage in a few weeks and start Hell’s Faire, and hopefully not drown in the exposition.