Review: A Greater Duty by Yakov Merkin
A Greater Duty is a detailed military space fleet novel featuring diverse alien species and exciting battles both in space and on the ground. This self-contained story makes a compelling start to the Galaxy Ascendant series.
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed A Greater Duty. I encourage you to check it out!
Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)
This review contains minor spoilers.
A Greater Duty Publisher Description:
The Galactic Alliance was not ready for war. When it is suddenly invaded by the cold and relentless Tyrannodon Armada, under the command of emotionless, amoral Executor Darkclaw, it is immediately sent reeling.
The invasion was a godsend for some, however, such as Grand Admiral Nayasar Khariah, who had wanted nothing more than revenge on the Alliance following an attack on her homeworld. The arrival of the Tyrannodons presents her with an opportunity, one that she seizes gleefully.
However, Executor Darkclaw, who has been prosecuting the invasion on orders of his master, the all-powerful energy being known only as the High Lord, has started having second thoughts once he unexpectedly starts feeling emotions he does not understand. Suddenly, he finds himself heretically questioning the only purpose he has ever known—irrevocably altering his view of the ongoing war.
Meanwhile, within the Galactic Alliance, Second Scion Dalcon Oresh, member of an order dedicated to preserving the it, struggles to stop the Alliance’s bleeding, the source of which may not be entirely external.
Darkclaw’s newfound friendship with Nayasar will be pushed to its breaking point, Nayasar’s relationships with her closest friends and loved ones will be strained as her quest for vengeance becomes more and more a personal obsession, and Dalcon must determine who he can truly trust.
All the while, the imminent existential threat of the High Lord looms over everything, and the key to stopping him, and saving not just the Alliance, but the entire galaxy, may only be found in the remains of a ancient, powerful race, and the creations they left behind…
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Heavy Action, Light Mechanics
A Greater Duty features both detailed tactical battles in space and heart-pounding clashes on the ground. This varied military action keeps the engagements fresh as the war progresses throughout the story.
I particularly enjoyed the ground battles, where the characters’ choices felt more crucial and personal than those made from the command center of a flagship. It also felt more fantastical: Nayasar rides on a battle mount decked out with enough weapons and technology to make it pack the punch of a light tank. These fights also stuck out to me as having greater individuality than the space battles, since the settings and situations differed between them, while the space battles were fairly consistent, conveyed largely through dialogue and shifting shapes on a display.
The science fiction elements of the story are less detailed, preventing the story from becoming bogged down with too much realism. There are a few innovative technologies, but they are only described enough to serve the story, rather than existing for their own sake.
For example, the space ships are mainly military vehicles, and thus described less in terms of the science behind space travel and more along the lines of practicality. This does result in some less meticulous elements, such as their tendency to arrive places whenever it is most convenient for the story, rather than some consistent sense of distance traveled.
However, I can’t help but feel that this is a net gain, as the emphasis resultingly landed on the conflict and the characters, which is consistent for the military science fiction genre.
A Greater Duty’s true strength, however, lies in the main character Darkclaw’s emotional journey and the tension that develops as he becomes more sympathetic towards his allies and begins to question his High Lord.
The question of how he can stand up to an all-powerful, mind-reading energy being builds through the entire story. It makes Darkclaw particularly sympathetic, and the climax manages to deliver a satisfying pay-off to this building suspense.
Foils and Emotion
Darkclaw begins the story entirely emotionless: a completely rational character. He believes the Tyrannodons to be superior due to this trait, although others of his species do have limited emotions. His struggle to maintain his composure and hide his emotions as they develop is extremely relatable, and his resolution to then change his behavior once he understands others better as a result of his emotional experiences is admirable.
Nayasar was a more frustrating character for me, though she makes an excellent foil for Darkclaw. She not only feels things very vividly, but she throws herself into her emotions. She dwells on the deaths of civilians that she feels responsible for, and actively resists the advice of others that would help her to find healing. Her quest for revenge ends with a realization that allowing her emotions to control her caused her to hurt others.
Dalcon is likewise an interesting foil for Darkclaw, although perhaps a more subtle one. He begins the story as a character who values rational behavior. Like Darkclaw, he works to maintain his composure. Where Nayasar represents a character willingly ruled by her emotions – and the dangers that involves – Dalcon is a character who intentionally sets aside his emotions in order to keep from alienating people who recognize his species as dangerous. He has intentionally distanced himself from his home world and his inherent fire abilities as a result. In the end, he does not have as urgent a repentance as Nayasar, but he does become aware that he has likewise been isolated, and seeks reconciliation with his people.
Darkclaw manages to walk a middle road between these extremes, and is able to achieve peace and unity with both his own people and the peoples of the Galactic Alliance.
Loyalty, Sacrifice, and Religion
A Greater Duty emphasizes the values typical for the military genre, including loyalty, sacrifice, bravery, and, of course, of duty. However, these values interplay with the thematic thread of emotion in a unique way. When Darkclaw lacks emotions, he retains loyalty and a sense of duty, but they are to the High Lord, governed only by a sterile logic based on the High Lord’s rhetoric. However, as Darkclaw begins to experience emotions, his loyalties and sense of duty change to align with his allies. He is even able to appreciate the religion of Nayasar’s people.
So, then, is the thematic argument of this story that feelings determine morality? Not at all. Nayasar’s emotions steer her to commit condemnable acts. Rather, the note seems to be that emotions breathe life into these values. Camaraderie strengthens the loyalty between characters. Enacting responsibilities leads to fulfillment. Courage is not even possible without fear. Grief deepens the sacrifice of subordinates; love, self-sacrifice.
Merkin delivers a message of emotional balance, neither blindly employing them as a moral compass nor condemning them as solely problematic. Rather, A Greater Duty embraces the reality that, while feelings should not be responsible for structural integrity, their presence alongside virtues turns a plain building into a cathedral.
Check Out A Greater Duty!
A Greater Duty delivers detailed action and a thought-provoking spin on the usual themes of the military sci-fi genre. It is an exciting first foray into the Galaxy Ascendant series!