the Little Red Reviewer

Bitter Angels, by C.L. Anderson

Posted on: August 29, 2011

Bitter Angels by C.L. Anderson

Published in 2009

Where I got it:  Purchased New

why I read it:  met the author at a bookstore book signing

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Ever heard the phrase “it’s not that you don’t like insert-subgenre-here, it’s that you just haven’t read the right one”?  I’ve read a few military SF novels over the years, and they’ve never done much for me, so I figured I just didn’t care for military SF.

Turns out I just hadn’t read the one that was right for me.

Bitter Angels may fit most neatly into the subgenre of military scifi, but it’s a hard scifi action political thriller murder mystery, and it stars a kick ass female protagonist.

It’s been over 20 years since Terese Drajeske retired from the Guardians a damaged woman. She retired after her last mission, after she was captured, tortured, had her bio-companion ripped from her head and was left for dead. Over 20 years since she left her mentor, Bianca Fayette, left all that pain behind.  But now Bianca is dead, and the Guardians are asking Terese to return to active duty, to leave her husband, her children, everything that’s kept her sane all these years, to investigate Bianca’s death.

Anderson throws a lot at the reader in the first hundred pages of Bitter Angels. A lot of set up, a lot of characters, a lot of politics and star system socio-economic culture. Don’t get me wrong, I love a quick read, but this is one that would only have benefited from being 200 pages longer.  We get a lovely intro with Terese and her family, and her heartwrenching emotions when she has to tell her husband she’s voluntarily returning to active duty.  We get some character point of views from the Erasmus system where Bianca was killed.  There’s a lot going on, and a lot to follow.

Sounds like the beginning of a typical military scifi thriller, right? something I probably wouldn’t like, right?  I think a reason I’ve never much gotten into military SF is because I’m not close with anyone who is in the military. When a book starts talking about weapons or helicopters or military ranks, I’m immediately lost because I simply can’t relate.  Anderson is certainly knowledgeable enough to write a military scifi novel, but the technobabble is kindly skipped over. And Terese and her compatriots aren’t exactly soldiers, they are Peacekeepers.  And not Peacekeepers in the Farscape sense,  Peacekeepers as in that’s what they do, they promote peace by not killing people.   The Peacekeepers carry guns, but they are not allowed to kill. The idea is that killing begets more killing, and that saving lives begets more saving lives. What kind of a military SF book doesn’t have any killing in it?   If they aren’t allowed to kill people, what’s in the guns? You’ll just have to read the book for yourself to find out, and it’s pretty damn ingenius.

Even more not-military is that Terese is worried sick about her husband. How will her return to active duty change their relationship? They both know this could destroy their relationship. The only thing more kick ass than a kick-ass female protagonist is a kick ass female protagonist who is in love with her own spouse.

When Terese and her team reach the Erasmus system, an out of the way group of planets run by the despotic Erasmus family, they quickly learn the situation is not at all what they’d been expecting.  This is where Bitter Angels goes all thriller, with suspected betrayals at every corner, blackmail, debt slavery, and unexpected twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the last chapter.

Better than the sum of it’s parts, Bitter Angels does deliver. There was some foreshadowing at the beginning that didn’t pan out, and some sketchy plot devices that ended up not going anywhere, but it offered an intriguing, interesting and powerful storyline, and proved that I can enjoy military SF.

And another thing, I know I bitch about long drawn out series with years and years between volumes, and all that. Bitter Angels would make the perfect first book in a series. This is world I sincerely hope C.L. Anderson returns too.

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10 Responses to "Bitter Angels, by C.L. Anderson"

I agree with you and try not to say that I don’t like genre X because as soon as I say that I find a novel in that genre that sucks me right in.

Funny how you can just glance at something and make a quick judgment. Despite the obvious weaponry on the cover I’ve seen this and my mind classified it as urban fantasy and I moved on. Not that urban fantasy is bad, I just overdid it a bit in the past and haven’t gotten a taste back for it…yet. And that artist has done work for urban fantasy covers before, but that still shouldn’t have thrown me because he’s also done some really nice SF work too.

I too didn’t think I would like military science fiction, but then I discovered Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series (two books in) and fell head over heels for it. I haven’t delved too much into the MSF pool at this point but I have read the first two Valor books by Tanya Huff and really enjoyed them as well. Considering how much I enjoy military science fiction games it really shouldn’t have surprised me that I would like this kind of fiction if the author told an entertaining story.

I plan on reading the first Honor Harrington book with the SF Book Club in December and am hoping to enjoy it.

Since you liked this you might also enjoy Kop by Warren Hammond. I have yet to read the sequel, but really liked the first one. It isn’t military SF, more police procedural SF, but I saw things in your description of this book that reminded me of Kop.

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this isn’t urban fantasy at all. Maybe a teensy weensy bit cyberpunk, but nothing close to UF. and that phrase about just not having read the right one? I stole/borrowed that from you. :)

The Warren Hammond you mentioned sounds interesting, SF/UF police procedural also isn’t something I’d thought I’d enjoy, but I really liked Mieville’s The City and The City and Aaronovich’s Midnight Riot, which are SF/UF procedurals.

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I don’t think it’s that you lack a military person in your life, it’s that you lack the male chemicals and wiring (thankfully). Even when it comes to someone like me who leans left and is somewhat a pacifist, me really likey guns…knives…crossbows…shuriken…etc.

That being said, I am somewhat (chauvenistically?) surprised at the number of female authors who have gravitated towards this type of SF. Huff, Buckner, Morris, Moon, and Bujold are just a few that jump quickly to mind.

I agree with Carl about the cover art. It gives me a Richard Morgan or Richard Russo kind of vibe.

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oh, I loves me some knives, ‘specially the throwing kind. And sharp-shooters are the coolest people I’ve ever met. but when I start hearing military ranks and such, my brain turns off.

it does look like a Richard Morgan cover!

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The girl on the cover looks rather like Jessica Alba in her Dark Angel guise – a bit young for Terese, surely? Sounds an intriguing read, though.

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[not a spoiler] Terese hooks up with some sweet rejuve when she comes back [/not a spoiler]. The part where she’s describing the boredom and pain of getting her rejuve’d body back into shape is laugh out loud hilarious!

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I have not read this series. Sounds interesting!

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I actually like a lot of military science fiction. Yet, I tend to enjoy the set up, the political questions, and the logistics more than the actual fighting. In fact, when the guns begin to fire, I tend to cloud over a bit sometimes. Authors like Jack Campbell and David Weber add a lot of political elements, which I like. Plus a lot of military scifi have post apocalyptic elements in it, Like John Ringo’s Posleen War series. Never heard of this one, but I see that audible has a version so I may check it out.

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[...] different gravities affect fashion? Something I read recently (I think it was Anderson’s Bitter Angels), talked about how on a lower gravity planet people used weights in their clothes as fashion [...]

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[...] I feel like I can relate to them. I’ve recently enjoyed Zettel’s Fool’s War and Bitter Angels (written as C.L. Anderson), and her new paranormal Vampire Chef series is getting rave reviews as [...]

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