Fields of Fire, the latest in the Frontlines series of near-future science fiction war novels, is the fifth shot out of writer Marko Kloos’ very big and complicated gun. It is rare for a sequel, and then another installment, and then another, and then another, to capture my attention so completely that I can’t do anything but keep reading to see what happens next. I’m delighted to say that even this volume, a continuation of Earth’s battle with an alien race that seems intent on destroying us, had me wanting to set aside all other activity in favor of racing to the end.
But racing through one of Kloos’ volumes in this story would be cheating myself out of the details of the rich and imaginative world he has created for Earth just a few hundred years in the future. This time, I let the book sit on my nightstand for a few days before I picked it up, because I wanted some good uninterrupted time to savor what I trusted would be an immersive experience. Then once I began reading, I made myself stop at natural points instead of staying up all night reading half the book, or the whole thing. Toward the end, however, there was no slowing down. I finished last night, and I’m excited to tell you about the series in more detail than just “This is a great book!” like I do when I list the latest volume on my “Books I Have Read” page over here.
By Fields of Fire, I feel like I’m old friends with main character Lieutenant Andrew Grayson, a simple main character in contrast to the acronym-laden military spacecraft, weapons, and space travel science Kloos has invented to make the good soldier’s adventures plausible. Kloos himself affectionately refers to Frontlines as his “space-kablooie” series, but it’s the affection that shines through, because the story has a relatable every-man at its center. Grayson joined the military back in the first book, Terms of Enlistment, because he was a poor kid with no other options. Familiar enough scenario, except that when Grayson goes into battle, he wears a “bug suit” with polychromatic camouflage, automatic atmospheric adjustment systems, internal medication dispensers, and computerized links to every other soldier’s armor, the battleships in orbit, and even his weapons that can aim and shoot an enemy without him having to try very hard. Cool.
Fancy space gear aside, like any good hero, Grayson finds himself in the thick of the action, narrowly escaping death every time, and rising to the occasion to become a better fighter and a better person. But at great cost.
The first four books in the Frontlines series lay out the world, the challenge, and Grayson’s personal stakes in the war against the “Lankies,” as the Earthlings call the giant unyielding aliens overtaking colony planets and moons, reversing the expansion of the human race into other solar systems. In Fields of Fire, the battleground is closer to home than ever, and Grayson winds up on the forward edge of a planetary offensive meant to stop the Lankies’ advance toward Earth itself.
The fifth story doesn’t disappoint. The action unfolds with Kloos’ now familiar suspenseful pacing, and I thank him for the occasional pause for Grayson to nap. That kid doesn’t seem to catch too many breaks. In this story, Grayson witnesses civilian casualties at the hands of his otherworldly opponents, although still not close-up, but these details add another element of truthfulness to the reading experience. Even though Grayson has been on the wrong end of a major loss before, this time it seems to affect his emotions more powerfully, affecting the reader as well.
Kloos has an uncanny ability to take his story in unexpected directions. It seems impossible to me that in a fifth book in the same general story, I can be just as engaged as in the first. Frontlines readers will be happy to know that Fields of Fire has just as much story-twisting in store for them as Terms of Enlistment did. It was a pleasure to wonder how an Earthside battle with the Lankies early in the book would be relevant in the later offensive – and sure enough, Grayson realizes a bit too late that thing he saw them do? They’re doing it again on a massive, deadly scale. And some skillful foreshadowing – where are all the human bodies? – pays off in yet another surprising (and kind of gross) way.
Just Like Harry Potter
The ending surprised me yet again, and I’m not giving too much away by saying I was half disappointed and half delighted that it wasn’t an ending at all. I immediately wanted to reach for book 6, but since I had an advance reader copy of Fields of Fire, which doesn’t come out until February 28, (you can pre-order on Amazon already though), I’m guessing I’m going to have to wait a while. I haven’t had this sense of wanting the next volume in a series since Harry Potter. That’s a pretty big comparison, I suppose, but every reader is different, and that’s this reader’s feeling about it. “It’s like Harry Potter, but with giant aliens and bombs and spaceships and much more swearing.”
I was surprised by this series in so many ways. It’s not a genre I would ever have picked up on my own – Kloos is an online friend from the olden days of Twitter, so I was curious about these many books he wrote in just a few years. His intricate language of the military, the futuristic armor and weaponry, and space travel science fiction is unfamiliar and challenging to me, a reader who gravitates toward beautiful flowery language and quiet thoughtful scenes. But boy do I ever love a good story. The Frontlines series tells five good stories. I recommend you read them all.
Fields of Fire
$9.99 on Amazon
(available for preorder, to be released February 28, 2017)
If you haven’t read the earlier four books, start with Terms of Enlistment. I dare you.