Title: Dark Edge of Honor
Author: Aleksandr Voinov & Rhianon Etzweiler
Publisher: Carina Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Dark Edge of Honor
Genre: M/M Science Fiction romance
Length: 96,000 words
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
A well written science fiction story with morally ambiguous characters which started slowly but gained momentum.
Sergei Stolkov is a faithful officer, though his deepest desires go against the Doctrine. A captain with the invading Coalition forces, he believes that self-sacrifice is the most heroic act and his own needs are only valid if they serve the state.
Mike, an operative planted within Cirokko’s rebels, has been ordered to seduce Sergei and pry from him the Coalition’s military secrets. His mission is a success, but as he captures Sergei’s heart, Mike is tempted by his own charade and falls in love.
When the hostile natives of the planet Cirokko make their move, all seems lost. Can Mike and Sergei survive when the Coalition’s internal affairs division takes an interest in what happened in the dusty mountains of Zasidka Pass…?
This science fiction story begins on the planet Cirokko, with Mike, who is an alliance spy. He’s been assigned to report on the manoeuvres of the Doctrine forces who are attempting to establish control on the planet. The local Cirokko rebels, aided by the Alliance, are attempting to thwart this control. After spying on the general and his aide, Sergei, Mike is told to seduce Sergei in the hope it will get them vital information on the Doctrine’s plans.
The main strengths and weaknesses of this book rested on the characters of the heroes, Mike and Sergei. Sergei was by far the most sympathetic, but also the most well rounded of the pair. We find out an awful lot about Sergei: His background; his thoughts and feelings about the Doctrine; his worries about the future; his honour verses self-preservation or the protection of Mike; his love for Mike. All these things are taken and examined in detail as the book progresses. The scenes where we are in Sergei’s head shone brightly in the book, especially when he is under pressure or being forced into making tough decisions. By the end of the book I felt I knew Sergei intimately and I liked him a great deal. Mike, however, is less carefully drawn, to the extent that I felt I had barely touched the surface of the man by the end, and yet Mike’s thoughts are pivotal to understanding many of the things that happen in the book. This is where the book was at its weakest. We never really find out why Mike is placed on Cirokko, other than to spy on the Doctrine army; we never really discover anything about his background or his thoughts on life outside of his career, other than to show it as being a more favourable life than that in the Doctrine. Out of the two men, Mike is the more morally ambiguous. He betrays Sergei’s trust from the start, and continues to betray him but there’s very little he does in terms of soul searching other than a passing regret. I think this is partly because some pivotal emotional scenes are taken only from Sergei’s point of view and so we are denied any opportunity to see how Mike’s actions affect him emotionally. I wanted to like Mike and believe that he loved Sergei, but the lack of information about him, and the way he seemed so emotionally cold most of the time didn’t really endear him to me much.
Another difficulty for me in the book was that it was a bit of a slow starter. The first part involves Mike’s seduction of Sergei and contains a number of sex scenes, including a dub-con scene which didn’t involve both heroes. The dub con scene is only short and is an integral part of the plot, although I quite understand it may be off-putting to some readers. Whilst I understood the necessity of the sex scenes between Mike and Sergei because it showed us several things in particular about Sergei’s character, the stance of the Doctrine on homosexuality and the growing feelings of Mike and Sergei towards each other, it did slow the pace of the book almost to a standstill. I struggled to keep going with it and had to force myself to keep reading a couple of times. A less committed reader may well have given up at this point, but I was glad I didn’t because once the relationship was established, the story took an interesting turn, sped up in pace and I was hooked from then on until the end.
The second half of the book was a rather breathless ride. It’s a tough read and contains scenes of torture and disfigurement which may not be to all reader’s tastes. However, I found that the writing was at its strongest during these scenes and the high tension created by the situation compelled me through the book. It certainly wasn’t dull!
Another aspect which worked was in the science fiction setting. The ethos and rules of the Doctrine were clearly explained as the story progressed and I liked that it wasn’t made out to be some evil organisation. Instead both the good and bad points are shown through Sergei’s eyes. This contrasted sharply with Mike’s utter disdain for that way of life. The setting of the planet Cirokko was vividly realised in its gritty and dirty glory. I felt all the heat and discomfort that the heroes feel in the descriptions and sympathised with them. One slight niggle was that we never really get to find out why the Doctrine are so interested in Cirokko as a planet. I would have liked to know more about Cirokko’s strategic importance to both the Alliance and the Doctrine.
Overall, this was a complex book which examines the things that men will do in times of war. Although Sergei comes across as the more sympathetic character, both men are flawed, making many of the things that happen more about shades of grey than black and white. This comes across especially in some of the secondary characters such as Mike’s fellow spy, Pat, or the Revision officer, Nikishin. The writing is strong and those who like science fiction stories, or those set in times of war are going to find much to like about this book and I can recommend Dark Edge of Honor.