Having finished Jay Allan's Crimson Worlds series in what was probably record time considering that we're talking about (at this point) 5 books, each at least 200 pages long, I would be remiss if I did not post my thoughts on the actual books themselves. Put simply, they are both individually and collectively excellent, and I have to say that I am hugely impressed with the way that Jay Allan can maintain such a universally high standard of writing. The Crimson Worlds series is the first hard military sci-fi series that I have been genuinely interested in reading more of since the Starfire/Stars at War series by David Weber and Steve White.
The Cost of Victory continues where Marines left off, with the story of the newly minted Colonel Erik Cain. There are several major changes in the series that start with this book and continue through the rest of the series, beginning with the shift in narrative style. While Marines told the story entirely from the point of view of Erik Cain, in much the same way that Starship Troopers told the story of Johnny Rico through his eyes alone, this book uses third-person narrative exclusively, and this has continued through every subsequent book of the series. I suspect this is because the author realised that his writing was actually quite popular, and he had a bigger story to tell than just the one-off standalone book that Marines seemed to have been intended to become.
This book introduces a large new cast of characters, beginning with Admiral Augustus Garrett, commander of the Western Alliance's space fleet and its greatest naval hero. In many ways this is his story as well as Cain's, focusing as it does on the rapidly escalating Third Frontier War. The book tells the story of how Erik Cain and General Elias Holm defeat enemy after enemy on the ground, while Garrett and his loyal friend and subordinate Terrence Compton fight against overwhelming odds to destroy the military capabilities of their enemies in space.
The action is almost non-stop after the start of this book- you dive straight into ferocious ground battles, brutal space-based actions, and intriguing power politics played behind the scenes. Jay Allan really has an eye for detail, and he clearly understands physics- that is why he has managed to maintain a consistently realistic narrative that never requires you to suspend disbelief. When he describes naval battles, he does so with a gritty realism that makes it very clear that he knows what he's talking about when it comes to the limitations of what the human body can take- which is why he also takes the time to come up with new ideas like drugs that make it possible for the human body to resist massive g-forces during space combat and acceleration couches that allow ships to accelerate at rates of up to 30g without turning their occupants into strawberry jelly.
The book also introduces some sinister new villains into the fold in the form of the Alliance Intelligence Directorate- pretty much referred to as just "The Directorate" throughout the series. Now this is where things begin to go slightly awry, because you get the impression that these guys are basically just a bunch of really ridiculously caricatured Bond villains from the campy 1970s films in the series. I mean, the senior members of the Directorate are literally called by numbers- and their leader, Number One, is a chap named Gavin Stark who is so cold and reptilian that you really have to stop yourself from cracking up a couple of times when you first read about him. Fortunately, Jay Allan recovers nicely from this otherwise somewhat absurd caricature by turning Gavin Stark and his cabal of power-mad creeps into genuinely nasty people. The Directorate's goal- meaning, Stark's goal- is nothing short of ultimate domination over the entirety of human-controlled space, and to achieve this end their long-term goal is nothing less than the wholesale destruction of the Fleet and the Marine Corps. This is of course after both institutions have defeated the official enemies of the Alliance- the combined forces of the Central Asian Combine (all I can say is that Jay Allan has a rather quirky sense of humour- anyone who understands English idiomatic slang knows what I'm talking about) and the Caliphate- in a series of bloody and brutal pitched battles throughout colonial space.
My major criticisms of Marines remain substantially in place with this book- and with the rest of the series, for that matter. It is still basically impossible to understand where the hell everything happens, because Jay Allan has never (yet) bothered to release a star map of the various systems involved in his fiction. This means that it is very difficult to keep track of events, even though the action on the ground and in space is very well written. I do hope the author addresses this issue soon, because he's got two more books due out by December of this year in the series, and judging by the way the fifth one went, he's got pretty big plans to turn this into a very serious universe of fiction.
My praise of this book also substantially mirrors my praise of Marines, and for the same reasons. This book is outstanding value-for-money; you can buy each of the books in the series for like $5 on Amazon.com, and they'll keep you glued to your e-reader with very little effort. I am a huge fan of really good, solidly written hard military sci-fi, but it's not easy to find these days. Jay Allan, though, has managed to create an entire series of hard sci-fi that is engaging, well-written, interesting, and consistently keeps me coming back for more. His talent for writing believable and engaging characters, combined with his ability to prevent the plots of his books from becoming stale or overly predictable, is rare indeed.
Didact's Verdict: 4.5/5, better than the first book and actually the true foundation for the series that Jay Allan is clearly building over time. Absolutely worth reading.
Get The Cost of Victory here.