Dark Edge of Honor

Title: Dark Edge of Honor
Author: Aleksandr Voinov & Rhianon Etzweiler
Cover Artist:
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

Summary Review:
A well written science fiction story with morally ambiguous characters which started slowly but gained momentum.

THE BLURB

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…?

THE REVIEW

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.

23 comments

  • I loved this book, couldn’t put it down except for some hours of much needed sleep. It had my full attention from the beginning to the end, never got even a bit boring and made me understand and like both Sergei and Mike, no matter how flawed they were or how cold and traitorous Mike seemed to be. The love they felt for each other was very, very evident, so I had no problem with the plot and the violence and Mike’s line of action. They strongly reminded me of Vadim and Dan from “Special Forces”, btw.
    All in all, a great book, highly recommended.

    Reply
  • Absolutely. At the end of the day, the book has to stand on its own – with no help from the author. But chances are, sometimes writers do things deliberately, for a certain effect. I can hope and wish that the response is not “The author is an idjit, because” but rather “the author did this – I wonder why…” and then maybe discovers all the stuff that was – deliberately – planted. I’m not good at ruining that part of the fun for the reader. 🙂

    Reply
  • Thanks for all your comments, everyone. It’s interesting to read what the authors’ intentions are as opposed to my own reading and interpretations. It also shows that different readers have different reactions to a book. I’m all for diversity of opinion :).

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    • So many people, so many minds 🙂
      Now it would be great to find out what happens to Ulyanov and Nikishin, if I read the interview correctly 😀

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  • Aleksandr,
    Thank you for explaining these points, it does clarify things even more for me.
    Speaking of Doctrine, am I not implying that USSR is then one and only model to base this regime on, but considering the fact that I am Russian such analogy came naturally to me as soon as I started reading and by no means I am claming an ability to read and desipher your ideas and intentions as an author.
    All in all in really enjoyed the book are looking forward for more reads.

    Reply
  • Hi Hellga,

    excellent points, all, thank you!

    I’m not denying that the Soviet/Afghan war (a period I’ve been fascinated by for way longer that 2005, when I started work on “Special Forces”) was a huge influence on this book.

    I’d have lobed to do a proper historical novel about it all, but then I/we realised that basically the “Afghans” don’t get a voice. They are really just the pawns being moved around – and I didn’t really want to exclude the indigenous people – it’s their planet/culture that’s getting ravaged, so I thought it was unethical do with Afghanistan without Afghans.

    That said, the “Doctrine” is basically just any doctrine – hence the name. It’s easy to draw the direct line from Communism/Socialism to the Doctrine, but the underlying thing goes deeper. I’ve studied – and continue to be fascinated by
    – any kind of totalitarian system, whether you’re looking at some religions, Fascism, Stalinism or any other expression of the model.

    I’m especially fascinated how totalitarianism goes against human nature. The way that pressure from above affects people’s thoughts and feelings and behaviours. Sergei’s desperate need to belong to something – even somebody – and feeling apart at the same time, which, personally, really touches me.

    Another point. I did allude in the text that the Doctrine is expansionist (not unlike Islam or Christianity) – basically, they want to create all-round peace by combining everybody under the Doctrine. You might call that the Kingdom of Heaven, the Caliphate or the Communist World Revolution – doesn’t really matter. The idea is to make everybody join “the cause” and that will solve all problems (yeah, right).

    The Alliance is non-expansionist. They don’t have any idea about creating “heaven on earth”, they just try to keep an eye on what the other power blocs are doing and work by covert means rather than open warfare (a bit like the CIA, but the models are really widely available in world history).

    I’ve always seen Mike as sol highly professional and so deep undercover that he’s pushed away or most of his personal emotions/aims. The alienation the reader gets from the character is really the character’s own alienation.

    Whereas, of course, Sergei is emotionally “innocent” and even, to a certain extent, immature. In terms of emotional development, he’s like a sixteen-year-old in a candy store. He’s head over heels and “selfish” and, absolutely, naive. He has never been trained to expect being seduced by a man – it’s not something the Doctrine includes in the training. (And if you look at other double agents and big treason cases, you wouldn’t believe how naive even trained operatives are when it comes to matters of the heart. 🙂 At the end of the day, if people want to believe, there’s no way to prevent that from happening.)

    Reply
  • Fist of I do apologize for confusion, sometimes I tend to forget that people cannot read my thoughts and do not express myself very clear.

    What I meant by my reference to the war in Afghanistan is not the fact that knowledge of certain historical facts would help a reader better understand what is going on and why, but merely how it affected my personal perception of the settings.  For example – Doctrine with its “brainwashing”,  rigid set of rules and guidelines, requirements of citizens to work, live and even procreate for the benefit of society – USSR .  Locals, who are represented by multiple tribes, have complex traditions (not always clear to outsiders) grow hallucinogens and are none too happy with a sudden invader – Afghan Tribes. Alliance, which is bothered by Doctrine’s expansion sides with locals to prevent the loss of territory to the opponent – USA.

    And all of it “clicked” in my head, creating setting where goals, means and tools were no longer vague.

    In general, Mike is a special opp, whose mission is to gather intel and provide local resistance with information vital in disrupting Doctrine’s invasion and attempts to settle on the planet.  Reader also finds out that his mission is not “completely voluntary” and I believe at some point he said that his situation was similar to Sergey’s and he did not have that much of a choice. Seigei is somewhat idealistic, young office of an invading army, who does believe in the regime he serves, but at the same time realizes that he is different (his taste in partners is not approved in Doctrine’s society) from his fellow bothers-solders, which  somewhat “misplaces” him and creates a source for the future personal and emotional conflict.

    I was, however, a little put out by how fast he hooked up with Mike and that he did not have any qualms or suspicions about him or nature of their relationships. He not only very easily decided to continue the affair, ignoring potential risks, but even decided to bring complete strange (sex aside), he knew nothing about into “internal circle”, which provided Mike with access to vital strategic information.

    Also, I did not consider Alliance being on a higher moral ground. Just because they were working with locals (reference to US vs. USSR dynamic again) it did not mean to me that they were on the planet for the greater good of the local population. In my eyes, they had a goal of preventing the Doctrine from spreading its influence and if that required siding with locals, so be it. Locals on the other hand went with “enemy of my enemy is my friend” and since they were not “so hot” about being swept by the Doctrine, working with Alliance presented a good alternative for the moment.

    Besides, as far as I remember there were no claims that Alliance would not have been interested in getting a hold of Cirokko if the circumstances were different (I do agree, however, that not knowing why the planet had such a strategic significance was very frustrating). Hence, no higher moral ground and therefore no moral ambiguity in terms of “good guys were supposed to behave honorably”.

    It is a war after all, and therefore, all means are justified.

    Please note that none of the above reflect my personal feeling on the situation, I am merely stating the facts.

    I hope this explanation makes it less confusing for you Sirius. I thoroughly enjoyed the book!

    Jenre, if my comment contains too many spoilers in your opinion, please delete. I would not wait to spoil reading experience for other people.

    Reply
    • Hellga,

      Excellent comments. I thoroughly enjoyed the book as well, and I felt much the same way as it seems you did. I’ve been sitting back reading all of this since yesterday, really wanting to jump in but unable to find the right way to explain what I wanted to say. Now I’m sitting here full of a lot of “yes, that!” Good points all. 🙂

      Reply
  • Reasons why Mike was on the planet did not seem vague in the least, probably because to me whole setting (planet, conflict itself, locals and two major opposing players) clearly resembles Afghan War in late 1970s-1980s with USSR being the Doctrine and USA being the Alliance. With that in mind and having read author’s epic Soldiers I guess I had necessary background not to have any questions about goals, motives and methods. Mike’s emotional coldness also did not seem confusing to me since at the beginning he was on a mission and Sergei was his tool to accomplish it (personal disapproval of the situation aside) and only LATER Mike developed feeling for him. Mission however, still comes first, no matter what.
    And while I agree that Mike’s continuous betrayal of Sergei (to the point of getting him tortured and taking advantage of it to achieve the goal) was not redeemed nearly enough by the end of the book. As well as Sergei’s complete forgiveness was not justified or even deserved by Mike, despite coming through as savior of not only Sergei’s life but ultimately his identity. I did not have a single doubt about feelings on either side even for a second.

    Thank you for your review, it gave me an interesting perspective and some good things for thought 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Hellga

      Thanks for your thoughts!

      I’m afraid I don’t know much about warfare, tactics or past conflicts so the things that seem so obvious to you needed to be much clearer for me in the book. I also haven’t read Aleks’ Special Forces books so again, I needed more of Mike’s thoughts to understand his motivations towards Sergei. In particular I’m not sure how much of what happened with the initial sex scenes were just about Mike doing his job. It seemed that he was developing feelings during that time but we don’t get much in terms of Mike really thinking through the implications of falling for the enemy.

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    • Huh, that makes me very worried, I can deal with violence to some point, I cannot really deal with one of the guys personally doing bad things to another guy and then it is becoming love. I am also not sure whether being aware about certain historical points and that conflict is drawn with those events in mind should even come into play if that makes sense. I have no doubt that I will recognise the war in Afganistan as source of author’s inspiration if I decide to read the book, however for me the reader who is totally unfamiliar with real life basis for the story should find the character fully drawn and the fact that Jenre did not find that character to be fully drawn does not sit well with me. IMO of course.

      Reply
      • I cannot really deal with one of the guys personally doing bad things to another guy and then it is becoming love

        That doesn’t happen with this book, Sirius. The feelings/love happens first followed by betrayal.

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  • Jenre

    Great review.

    Would you say that the reasons the characters were clearly defined on the one hand (Sergei) and less so for Mike could be because different authors wrote those characters? Perhaps it was deliberate that Mike was ambiguously drawn.

    This sounds like a fascinating book and I love sci fi so I’ll definitely get a copy.

    Reply
    • That’s quite possible, Wave. Although Mike is supposed to be the ‘good guy’ because he’s on the side of the natives rather than the invading army, he’s the one who behaves in the least honourable fashion. I wanted to know him better and get into his head more, so it was a frustration that he remains ambiguous.

      If you love sci fi, then you’re bound to like this book.

      Reply

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