The Bastard Legion: Friendly Fire by Gavin Smith

Publisher – Gollancz

Price - £10.99 paperback £3.99 kindle eBook

Published – Out Now

The Bastard Legion are hired to pull off a daring power-armoured heist of propriety tech.

A crime-ridden colony world holds the secret to a potential alien contract, and various groups of mercenaries have been hired to discover it. None of the rest of them have little bombs implanted in their heads, though, so the Bastards have an advantage when it comes to motivation. And Miska, their commander and kidnapper both, is still on the hunt for the people who killed her father.

People who might still be among her convicts.

Getting the Tech will be hard. Getting off the planet, deadly.

Warning some spoilers for the previous book The Bastard Legion

I was really impressed by the debut in this series by Gavin Smith (review here) And in any series it’s the question of what are the books going to do next?  More of the same which worked so well, or will they try something different and will that still capture my attention?  It was pleasing after reading Friendly Fire that Smith decided to expand this universe giving me a story that was both action and character packed and giving signs for which direction the series may eventually go.

As has been outlined The Bastard Legion is part of a secret deep deep cover project (known as Project Lee Marvin) where a large mercenary army is viewed as a useful deniable asset to do various works in an increasingly dangerous and fragmented galaxy. The Legion is led by Miska a very skilled operative who can fight, hack and try to contain her inner rage (plus the added bonus that she thinks the murderer of her father is on board). After a successful debut mission fighting various factions on a space station, they are next hired to visit one of the most dangerous parts of the universe a world run by various gangster factions in search of an unknown alien technology that the various powers in the wider systems would quite like for themselves.

I really must give Smith credit for not taking the easy path here.  After the Legion had a hard-fought victory it would have been easy just to repeat another epic space battle and they still be triumphant, and this novel goes in a completely different direction. Firstly, it deals with cons of having a group of prisoners forced into space mercenaries. Collars that can blow your heads off may make you compliant, but they may not make you loyal and gang members have gangs on the outside who are not disposable to any mercenary who takes their team as labour. Miska touring the space stations for supplies starts to find she is not welcome in either the legal or illegal sections of the universe with cries of slaver being sought and ships looking to take out her own. Rather than being the new guardians of the galaxy this group is shunned by everyone.

Hence what seems a suicidal mission to Barnard’s Star is actually the only way Miska will be able to fund her operation.  This means a small group sent with Miska in the lead but her key people – the Mafia consigliere Vido and his violent counterpart Mass plus her aggravating conscience Torricone all have connections here and people who will want them (dead or alive). On top of this we have two intriguing Yakuza with secrets the mysterious and threatening Teramoto and the fearful Kenada. Miska here just wants to get involved and do what she would do as a self-sufficient operative but here she must try and balance all these egos and factions into a fighting force.  Pleasingly this isn’t easy and Miska must learn or she will lose her team. Her threats to blow up heads can only work so far…

As such things very soon don’t go to plan. Miska finds herself in a turf war between feeding mafia members and on top of this street gangs. Interestingly Smith has not opted for too many gangster stereotypes we have people trying to survive in a universe where corporations have created poverty that meant the weird systems, they built are often the only way to prosper and many of the gangsters are more interested in protecting family than just securing power. Miska learns she may need to bargain to get the bigger result. This allows us to get to know the wider cast a bit better as a lot of the earlier focus was Miska - here the reader too learns who these people are, and we start to like them more…or hate them. This does give a larger suite of characters which I hope the series will explore further in future books

But a key part of this book is action, and this delivers several thrilling sequences in spades. Be it a bar-room shoot out; a tense Mexican stand-off and a gripping road chase that takes place with drones, vehicles and even cyberspace hacks all at once.  Smith has a fine sense of energy in his action scenes and there is a lovely choreographed sense to each scene where the action zooms from one character to the next.  This is an earthier story compared to Bastard Legion, but I loved the energy and that the plans Miska dreams up quickly need to be revised when hitting reality. Intriguingly the finale takes a turn into more space opera territory which I think hints at the wider arc this series wants to explore.

So, if you enjoy your science fiction with action, violence, smart characters and an intriguing plotline I think you’ll really want to stay with the Legion.  Happily, as a reader you don’t have to worry about your head exploding if you stop reading for a cuppa. I’m very keen to tell you now about the next book in the series so watch this space.

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