The Frontlines series is somewhat original by portraying its protagonists as human, with their failings, desires and small joys, and by strictly using the point of view of its central character. There are no supermen, no overall strategic landscape from a God’s eye perspective, and no military leaders who could ramble out an exposition for fifty pages. This makes the books very relatable to the readers, but also susceptible to pacing issues. This is the problem of the third book in the series.
After a successful mutiny on New Svalbard, Andrew Grayson and whatever is left of the North American troops reluctantly team up with the Russians to push the alien Lankies off the system. They had already destroyed the Lankie seed ship, more by luck than skill, and now they are clearing whatever is remaining of the Lankie population. While successful on the battleground, the situation in the colony is dire. Supplies are running out, and it becomes essential that the colony re-links with Earth, which is in the middle of an up-close battle with the Lankies. Grayson volunteers to join the crew of a stealth warship to infiltrate the Solar System, and to find out whether the rest of the colony fleet can reach Earth.
In the Solar System, the ship sneaks its way around the devastated Mars, until it reaches the human fleet around Earth. There, the ship is quickly impounded, the officers arrested and the rest isolated, under total information embargo. The crew and the ship escape, and on their way back to the colony they find a secret shipyard where the army is amassing a fleet of military and cargo ships to transport the Earth’s elite away from the Solar System.
The ship returns to New Svalbard, where it joins up with the rest of the colony fleet, and they make their way to Earth. As they arrive to the Solar System, an ensuing battle with the Lankies costs them a few minor ships, and the rest of the fleet is pursued all the way to Earth. A suicidal run by the stealth ship disables the Lankie seed ship, but the Lankies are still able to launch their colonists onto Earth. Grayson links up with his former fiancée and now wife Halley, who flies him and a group of soldiers to a social housing estate where one of the Lankie ships landed. After the battle, Grayson, Halley, and the rest of the survivors meet the local paramilitary group, which offers them jobs to defend the estate, rather then returning to the fleet.
While this synopsis sounds like the book is choke-full of action, it’s not so. Perhaps true to real combat, short periods of intense action are bracketed by long passages of waiting, ruminating on life and the war, and just hanging around. This may be realistic, but it doesn’t work all that well in a military science fiction book, as it breaks the pacing and creates a very uneven rhythm. I appreciated the cynicism expressed by the narrator and his fellow soldiers towards the military leadership, but I felt it was too much on the nose, given how much time the author spent on it. In addition, I understand the limitations on writing only from Grayson’s perspective, but I was still frustrated that I learned next to nothing regarding the battle for Mars, for example. To make matters worse, the book also lacks the adorable interaction between Grayson and Halley. When they finally meet in the third act, they are too busy trying to survive to do much else. Okay, they get married, but even in the story time that’s only a five-minute distraction.
I cannot blame Kloos, only myself for this book not meeting my expectations. I was hoping for more of the same from the previous books: intense action set pieces, with short breaks full of uplifting personal interaction. What I got instead was endless hours of waiting underground or on a spaceship and thinking “well, at least they’ll blow the characters up so quickly they won’t even notice.” In this regard, the book feels as realistic as it gets.
Disregarding my personal bias, this in an expertly written book in the middle of a long series. I appreciated the fact that it does not branch out into too many new directions and potential loose ends, and instead keeps the main story fairly linear, with the only significant side story being the desertion of the rest of the army and the human elites. I see Angles of Attack as a filler book before a possible change of the narrative, as the opportunity to regroup my thoughts, take a deep breath and dive into the rest of the series.