An Ancient Peace (A Peacekeeper Novel)
Written by Tanya Huff
Published by Titan Books
I haven’t read the five-book Confederation series that follows the exploits of Marine Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr in a universe-spanning alien war (although I have read The Enchantment Emporium by Huff, which I enjoyed). The only problem with reading this enjoyable, well-written, captivating book is that it takes place after the events of that series, so I know what happens in those previous books and so would lose some of the tension in what must have been equally entertaining books.
In An Ancient Peace, we meet Torin and her team when they are on a freelance mission for the Justice Department, taking down a dangerous group of radicals (Human’s First – the erroneous apostrophe is the source of much derision) on a space station. Her team is made up of Werst (a male Krai ex-Marine), Ressk (a male Harask), Binti (a female human ex-Marine), Alamber (a male di’Taykan) and Craig (a male human and Kerr’s lover). I presume that this collection of characters has accreted over the course of the previous series, because they are clearly defined, three-dimensional and an interesting bunch of people.
After the successful completion of the mission, the team is called into a meeting – which turns out to be with military intelligence Chief of Staff, with a secret mission. The H’san are the eldest of the Elder Races, and were originally very violent. After a long and destructive war, they achieved enlightenment, pledged themselves to peace, founded the Confederation and turned their destroyed planet into a memorial/cemetery. Recently, H’san grave goods have been purchased by collectors; however, H’san do not sell grave goods. These items were looted, which indicates that someone is looking for the weapons buried by the H’san on that planet. If they found them, it would be evidence for Parliament that the Younger Races are not ready for civilised society and should be restricted to their own sectors of space. However, the military cannot be involved with this because if it leaks, it would lead to an investigation, and they can’t do it publicly because it would require a battle plan being filed with Parliament and all files made available to the press. The military needs deniability and a team that works freelance contracts for the Justice Department as a cover. The mission: find the H’san planet, the coordinates of which are secret, stop grave robbers from discovering terrifyingly powerful ancient weapons, and prevent a potential civil war …
Huff does a very good job of condensing the back story of the previous books, which involves Elder Races, the Confederation’s war with the Primacy, a sentient, polynumerous molecular polyhydroxide alcoholydes – hive-mind organic plastic – manipulating the Confederation and the Primacy into a centuries-long war, and the fact that Torin had seen a lot during her time in the Marines and had been pivotal in many famous events (as detailed in the previous books) and was responsible for the end of the war. This is tough to do at the best of times, let alone trying to set up a new spin-off series and making it sound natural. The ease with which she pulls it off means that you know you’re in the hands of an accomplished storyteller.
Another aspect of the book are the interesting details that Huff fills the book with regarding the various alien species and worlds she has created for the sake of her story. The di’Taykans have pheromones that work on all mammals and non-mammals more powerfully than on other di’Taykans, so they believe that this means that the universe wants them to have sex with everything (they are a tactile species who need touch as a basic part of their physiology); therefore, Parliament created maskers for the di’Taykans so that the rest of the universe would only do it by consent. Other Races include Trun, Niln, Rakva, Mictok, Ciptran, and Katrien, and Huff distinguishes each so that they stand out from each other. She does this in various ways to demonstrate the alien nature, such as in narrative/dialogue when referring to male and female Trun – Zi/Zir for he/she and his/her. There are insectoid aliens, water planets, arboreal planets, prehensile tails, hair that reflects the emotional state of the alien species, nasal ridges instead of noses, aliens who talk in a present participle tense (odd reading that first time) – these details make for a rich reading experience and a fully realised universe.
Huff is very good with characters and dialogue. In The Enchantment Emporium, she was able to use pop culture references for her humour, something she doesn’t have in this future sci-fi story; there isn’t much futurism to the dialogue, although there are occasional deliberate references to ‘oldEarth’ idioms picked up from a former platoon member, but she can still turn a line that will make me laugh out loud (“You can assume they fart rainbows, I don’t care.”) and this is a boon in a book that is definitely based around the characters. Torin Kerr is not the only interesting character, but she is the lead and deservedly so: she is a female character who can handle herself, but that is only a small aspect; she is driven, focused, detail-orientated, very capable at her job (as a Gunnery Sergeant, her task was to follow orders but also to get her marines back home again, something she maintains as an ex-Marine) but still haunted by the deaths she couldn’t prevent – she has to see a military psychiatrist as part of her continuing work with the Justice Department. She is also concerned with moral choices and the moral choices of others, which makes for conflict when she is used to acting on those decisions with guns and the authority of the military behind her. It’s easy to see why Huff has continued to write Torin’s adventures, and I hope this is the first in many Peacekeeper novels.