I thoroughly enjoyed this third book in the Last Legion series and feel like it’s good enough to give it five stars generally, but I’m not. Because it’s military sci fi and I feel like David Weber is the gold standard by which all military sci fi is weighed against and virtually no one can come close to his standards, so even though Chris Bunch is good, even very good, he’s not Weber good, so it’s four stars. Perhaps 4.5 stars.
In the last book, Cumbre’s neighboring system’s leader, Protector Redruth of Larix and Kura, had shown up in force to offer his “protection” as some sort of scam in an obvious effort to ultimately take over the Cumbre system, only to be driven off by the alien Musth in their war with the human Legion in the Cumbre system. Now that the Legion has won and driven the Musth off, Redruth is determined to add Cumbre to his empire.
The book opens with a Larissan spy on Cumbre who is captured and who, in the most unlikely and hard to believe fashion, commits suicide by chewing his tongue in half and bleeding to death overnight in his cell. Is that even possible? Whatever the case, Last Legion hero Njangu Yoshitaro becomes a double agent, posing as the spy, as Redruth and his minions have never seen him, and obtaining extract from Cumbre, fleeing to Larix where he is set up with a sweet deal as a senior officer and adviser with major plans for his future in the invasion of Cumbre. Of course his mission is to get intel back to other Last Legion hero Garvin Jaansma and others, so they may prepare for the war and even prepare to go on the offensive.
There are two new and pretty cool things about this installment of the series. First, there are a lot of space battles. With the Legion having saved Cumbre’s ass and taking so many casualties and with more war on the horizon, the government has provided for some pro-military taxes and conscription, so that the force is being rebuilt and it ultimately reaches twice its original size, 20,000 troops. Ships are also being built, a number of them based on the superior Musth technology, and there are a number of Musth mercenaries who have come to pilot them, which is good because they are superior fighter pilots. Unfortunately, Larix and Kura have a greater population and larger infrastructure and can build more ships faster and start building much bigger cruisers later into the book that the Legion has to work hard to devise ways to defend themselves against and later attack. Nonetheless, great space warfare action. Second, for the first time in this series, the Legion generally goes on the offensive in a major way. Larix and Kura attempt to invade Cumbre and are annihilated. Cumbre bides its time, develops a strategy, and sends its own invasion force, foolishly thinking it’ll be a piece of cake, and they take heavy casualties while trying to defeat Redruth and win the war.
So Bunch really expands in this novel. Before it was small scale offensive operations, going after rebel forces here and there, as well as defensive fighting and guerrilla warfare. Now it’s space combat and invasion of other planets in other systems. That’s big. And Yoshitaro and Jaansma are still at their bad ass, sassy best in this book. They really make a great team, even if they are separated by Yoshitaro’s double agent role for a good part of the book. I really enjoy their characters. There’s one more book in the series and I’m going to miss them when I finish this series.
So, I really enjoyed this book. I’d normally be inclined to give this five stars. I think it’s really good. But the space battles aren’t as good as Weber’s naval battles and the land battles come nowhere close to Weber’s land battles, so I don’t see how I could possibly give this book five stars when comparing the two. There is no comparison. That said, Bunch is my second favorite military sci fi author and he’s no slouch. If you like decent military sci fi action mixed in with some crass humor as well, this is probably a series you would enjoy. Although this is probably not a stand alone book; you’d want to start with the first one and read the series through. Whatever the case, recommended.