Welcome to another review as part of the Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship, or SFINCS, which I am judging as part of Team Jamreads alongside a cohort of other lovely judges. For my SFINCS reviews, I will be judging each book on the following five criteria: Characters, Setting, Plot, Writing, and Enjoyment with a bonus point for Cover Art and Formatting. This review contains my honest thoughts and does not represent the opinion or final rating of the team.
This review is for The Choice of Weapons: The First Raoke Gang Novella by Alex Valdiers and is a semi-finalist allocated to Team Jamreads for review.
Ren is an officer on the rise, going from planetary conquest to conquest, until he crosses path with a senior female officer from his native Japan. His meeting with Izuna ends in a bloody duel — the first of many. As the war against other species progresses, Ren’s obsession for Izuna grows and his discontentment for army life along with it. When Izuna gets isolated on an icy hell, Ren volunteers to rescue her for what may be his ultimate mission.
The Raoke Gang series is prime entertainment with heart and brains, humor and sex (occasionally, when the story commands it), and, most of all, incredible characters running wild in the most exciting of settings: the Far West in space!
A fantasy sci-fi war across the galaxy, The Choice of Weapons gives a military fantasy crossed with space western vibe, but Japanese, as two Japanese warriors duel it out to a backdrop of war. Who will come out on top?
This is the story of Ren and Izuna, two military officers in an ongoing war that sees both officers leading men across the galaxy and conquering planets. When the two cross paths, Ren is instantly curious about Izuna. They both share a similar heritage, as they hail from Japan back on Earth, and they both carry katanas, blades which aren’t seen much in their field of work. Izuna, too, is intrigued by Ren, and the two challenge each other to a deadly duel. This then sparks a rivalry bordering on obsession for them both as they train their skills for their next encounter and a chance to duel again. They’re both intense people, but where Izuna is dedicated to the mission, it’s Ren who finds himself losing faith in the war and hanging on only for another duel against Izuna, and another chance for him to feel alive. When Izuna finds herself trapped while on a mission, Ren volunteers to lead a team into certain death to find her.
For a while, I was worried Ren’s obsession of Izuna would turn romantic, but I was pleased that wasn’t the case. I did find their rivalry to be quite childish to begin with – they’re meant to be officers! But by the end, they managed to work together and build a grudging respect for one another.
The war across the various planets honestly felt like scene dressing for our two characters to do what they need. I didn’t get a good sense of what the war was about, why it was being fought, or what exactly was going on with it. There were an interesting selection of enemies, though, including aliens and AI humanoids. We’ve also got winged horses in SPACE!
Much of the story is based around the rivalry between Ren and Izuna as they headed between conquests, all while preparing for the next time their paths crossed. I personally enjoyed the second half of the book more, when Ren leads his men to an icy planet on an ill-fated rescue mission. This gave us a chance to see the brutal reality of war as they struggled with the environment and encountered losses. The ending felt satisfying, though I still didn’t get a good idea of what the war was about in the end.
The writing moves between the two POV’s well and the descriptions of the various duels were harsh and bloody. If you’re a fan of fantasy duelling, then this is for you.
Unfortunately, military fantasy just isn’t for me, and I didn’t get an idea for the stakes of the war, nor did I care for Ren and Izuna’s feud, which I found to be unrealistic given the serious military setting. This story would definitely be better received for fans of military battles and duelling. This story also had an odd sex scene in the middle of it that didn’t really need to be there. For me, this was a clear case of sexual assault of the main character, except I don’t think the author or other readers saw it that way.
Cover Art and Formatting
The cover art is beautifully done and I personally love the profile of both characters together.