Book Review: The Lotus Eaters by Tom Kratman

Seeing as it's been a couple of months since I last bothered posting a proper review about something, I figured it's high time I fixed that little problem and got on with writing about some of the books and good music that I've enjoyed recently.

Col. Tom Kratman is a name that should be something of a household name among hardcore military sci-fi fans by now. His Carrera series is getting to be really good. I've read the first three books now and I'm on the fourth, and I had quite a lot of good things to say about the second one in particular. Now that I've had some time to think about the third book in the series, I figure it's time to put some thoughts down about it.

The Lotus Eaters picks up about 6 months after the closing events of Carnifex. At the end of that book, Patricio Carrera, the man who lost his family to a bunch of murderous fanatical Salafist Islamist loonies (I know, I know, that's four separate redundant statements in one sentence), achieved his ultimate revenge by launching a nuclear strike upon the heartland of the ikhwan and making it look like the Islamist loonies themselves detonated their own nuke. Having stained his hands with the blood of at least a million people in the name of vengeance, Carrera's mind and body buckle under the strain of years of war and vengeance, and he goes catatonic for a brief period.

The third book starts up after he emerges from his catatonic state, but he is no longer quite the blazing blue-eyed demon that he was before. His actions are shakier, tempered by his horror at what he did, and as a result it takes him a good long while to get back to his greatest and most natural skill: fighting wars. He is up against a far greater obstacle now: the Tauran Union. The TU, run by a progressive, effete European-style elite, is also a hundred times more populous than Carrera's adopted home of Balboa, and is a thousand times more wealthy. Carrera realises that sooner or later, his actions will take Balboa into open conflict with the TU, and begins planning accordingly, investing heavily in new technologies and fortifications that are designed specifically to take the fight straight to the enemy when the time comes. As the book progresses, you get to see and understand the mind of a multifaceted military genius- and you also get to see that same genius being blindsided by a certain lack of understanding about actions and consequences.

This is a complex book, with multiple storylines and layers, and I think it's probably best to describe this book as a "bridge" of sorts between the first two books- which, as Col. Kratman himself pointed out, were really one very big book broken up into two separate ones- and the next few books in the series. The storylines are multifaceted and overlapping; the primary story is of course Carrera's, but there are other stories woven in here too.

Of particular interest are the storylines concerning Carrera's son by his second wife Lourdes, Hamilcar, who is revered by the mountain tribes of the Pashtun region as the second coming of their ancient demi-god ruler, Iskander (Alexander the Great to you and me- the chap actually did have a rather profound effect upon the tribes of the mountains of Afghanistan and Baluchistan, back in his day, thanks in no small part to taking Roxana of Bactria as his queen). It is clear that big things are planned for Hamilcar throughout the rest of the series; it should be interesting to see where his story goes. He is presented in the book as a precociously brilliant child, possessing his father's awesome courage as well as his tactical and strategic genius- and no small measure of his father's inherent ruthlessness.

Another interesting subplot concerns Marguerite Wallenstein, captain- and now Admiral- of the United Earth Peace Fleet in orbit above Terra Nova. Her story and character has been expanded upon significantly from the previous two books- unsurprising, since she plays a pretty big role in the subsequent novels in the series. No longer is she there just to play the role of sex toy to the commander of the fleet; now, she is the commander, and she shows an understanding of tactics and strategy that promise to make her a formidable opponent.

There are a great many things to like about this book, but perhaps the best thing about it has to do with something that isn't really related to the story itself. At the end of the second book, Col. Kratman worked in a fantastic reference to the greatest military sci-fi novel ever written, in which a course called "History and Moral Philosophy" is made part of the mandatory curriculum for OCS within the Balboan military. In this third book, excerpts from that course are actually included at the beginning of each chapter as a way of explaining to the reader the reason for Balboa's unique timocratic government, and the virtues of giving sovereign authority only to those who have made the sacrifices necessary to be worthy of it. If you revere Starship Troopers as much as I do- and make no mistake, that book has fundamentally changed my views on government and human rights- then you are in for a real treat when you read those passages. It is like reading an updated version of Heinlein's own words from the hand of the author himself- praise simply does not get higher than that.

Despite these many positive points, The Lotus Eaters is still not quite up to the standard set by its predecessor. There are several reasons for this. First, the traitorous plot that takes place within the book to depose Carrera and the Balboan government and replace it with stooges of the Tauran Union feels... I dunno... forced, somehow. I get why it happened, and I get why certain actors within the book were sore enough at Carrera to attempt a coup. I just think that the coup itself isn't that believable- but then, I've lived through the overthrow of an actual government, so I tend to look at such things a little differently. Second, the action just isn't as gripping- mostly because there isn't as much of it.

This is not to say that Col. Kratman has lost his touch- not in the least. There is a tremendously exciting naval battle sequence in the middle of the book concerning two stealth submarines which shows that Col. Kratman, despite his background as a mud-foot, has really done his homework on naval tactics and submarine warfare. That said, the fact that the book takes place when there isn't really a war on, makes it a little less fast-paced and exciting than the previous book. Not by much, but enough to make a difference in terms of the quality of the final product.

With all of this in mind, I still think that this is well worth reading. It's a very interesting book on a number of levels and it should be thought of as far more than just entertainment. There are deep moral messages to be found within The Lotus Eaters, and even though it is a bridging novel of sorts, it also seeks to deliver hard-hitting messages about the nature of Man and government to the reader. In that, it succeeds admirably, and I am quite looking forward to completing The Amazon Legion and Come and Take Them in short order to round out the collection (thus far, I know there's a new novel coming out later this year).

Didact's Verdict: 3.8/5, not quite up to the bar set by the previous book, still better than the first one, and still very much worth your time and money.

Buy/download The Lotus Eaters here.


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