There is a fun trope in military sci-fi that the nominal heroes tend to have some of the best toys. Giant suits of power armour, for example, seem like a fantastic idea and there are entire franchises of genre fiction that feature huge heroes in even larger battle armour.
Ironclads takes this idea and, in typical Adrian Tchaikovsky fashion, adds a quirky and humane angle to the whole affair. Set in the near future, the world is at war. This time round however, it’s not nation versus nation. Rather it’s corporate interest versus itself, with various governments functioning as the puppets of big business. War is fought by countries, but the businesses have all the money. And those who work for them have all the toys. While your humble grunt runs around with the usual sort of infantry equipment, the scions of corporate families roam around in suits of massive power armour. Most weapons can’t harm these suits, so the rich wander the battlefield, fighting duels with other scions and stomping the less fortunate into the floor.
The story is told from the point of view of an American soldier called Sergeant Reagan. He and his two chums have been in plenty of scrapes, somehow surviving. They’re a problematic team, composing of zealous thug, a loud-mouthed intellectual and Reagan himself who’d do anything for a quiet life. They’re selected for a special mission; a scion has gone missing. Suit abandoned, some rich kid is wandering the field of battle. It’s up to Reagan and a cobbled together team of unlikely heroes to rescue the hapless oaf.
Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Tchaikovsky has created a deep and rich world here, one ravaged by selfish interests and filled with duplicity and double-dealing. Through Reagan’s eyes we learn exactly how screwed the United Kingdom and the USA has become when the state stops caring about anything but money. The rest of Europe is slowly falling into the same darkness, and the resistance is angry, cunning and quite strange. The Clarke Award-winning author throws sci-fi concepts around like candy, and it’s rather delightful. Much of the exposition is done via one of Regan’s allies, so it never feels too forced. (It’s sometimes good to have a know-it-all on your team.)
This is a rapid and addictive read, very much the page-turner. Highly recommended.
IRONCLADS / AUTHOR: ADRIAN TCHAIKOVSKY / PUBLISHER: SOLARS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW