Robert Buettner’s Jason Wander novels continue to misdirect the reader. With Orphan’s Alliance, the human alliance has come into conflict with another human population even in the face of their single-minded enemies, the Slugs. Like the previous three novels in the series, Buettner achieves a wonderful pace through short chapters which relay the action through Jason’s eyes. The narrative voice of Buettner/Jason continues to work very well.
In the previous installment of the series (Orphan’s Journey), Jason discovered another human-inhabited planet being driven under the proverbial heels of the Slugs. Jason immediately took them to be allies and for all intents and purposes, those human worlds are Earth’s allies. However, evolution and society developed along different lines and as such, different ideologies emerged on those worlds. Reconciling these differences could prove to be a hurdle in not just defeating, and but merely fending off, the Slugs and future attacks. I would have liked to see a bit of an expansion on the tensions between Earth and its human allies across the galaxy in Orphan’s Alliance, which is my only real quibble about the book.
This story is set a year or two after the events of the previous novel, though it features very much the same cast of characters – Howard, Ord, Munchkin, and Jude as well as a minor character and potential romantic interest for Jason (Mimi). Buettner has naturalistically progressed these characters from the previous novel, Jude becoming more entrenched in the military, Munchkin and Mimi becoming bureaucrats. Without infodumping the reader and halting the quick narrative pace, Beuttner provided us as the reader with the right amount of information to give a clear picture of each character. This would also serve to welcome new readers to the fold, too.
As I said, Buettner continues to play games with the constant readers of Jason Wander’s novels – Orphan’s Alliance and the previous book have taken on different themes in the small picture, (i.e. each novel) while remaining true to the overall theme of interstellar threat that forms the backdrop of the series as a whole. While the first two novels dealt primarily with Jason becoming a man and Earth realizing it wasn’t alone in a hostile universe, Orphan’s Journey tackles a theme of exploration (albeit involuntary exploration) and family (both in a racial/human sense on a large scale as well as the small scale of close loved ones). Here in Orphan’s Alliance, Buettner shifts once again to focus slightly on human political alliances in a galactic scale as well as the small battle of a greater war. It’s a credit to Buettner than he has been able to maintain the same dramatic tension and pleasing character voice of Jason despite the slight thematic shifts from novel to novel.
The action and physical tension is as high as in previous volumes, too. The Slugs are preparing to attack a major outpost to the human alliance and (of course) Jason leads the charge to defend it. I thought much of this action was handled very well, both in terms of how it played out in the immediacy leading up to the attack, the attack itself, and the after effects of the attack. Again, this theme of a crucial battle in a large war is at the forefront. Buettner also continues to develop Jason’s character as he grows older and more experienced.
At this point, four books into a successful series, what can a review tell you that you don’t already know? Although Orphan’s Alliance relies a great deal on the previous books, the thematic elements of the novel allow for new readers to jump in here without feeling drowned out by the knowledge he or she might not have of the previous volumes. As for people who have been reading along with each book’s release, I don’t think they’ll be disappointed as this is a solid story true to the past novels, with an eye towards a greater story arc and resolution in the future. Buettner is carving out a nice space for himself with these books and he’s still at the point where he’s got plenty to tell with these characters and the universe he’s created.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford