I did not expect to appreciate this book as much as I did. As you can see from the cover, the book looks very much like Halo. The cover led me to believe I was in for the novelization of a space marine-type video game. What I got instead was a nuanced military sci-fi story with an interesting and diverse cast of characters, realistic geopolitics, and real-world tactics.
Knox’s Irregulars is the story of Randal Knox, the son of a national leader of New Geneva. Young Knox had been groomed for national leadership but was uninterested in the spotlight or its trappings. A couple of years prior to the beginning of the story, he surprised everyone by joining the New Geneva military and disappearing in its lower ranks.
In Irregulars, New Geneva is unexpectedly invaded by Abkhenazia, a neighboring country. Abkhenazi extremists had staged a coup and taken over power and were looking to expand their control. Guarding the border, Knox is overrun in the initial invasion and retreats from the border into an occupied city (think Red Dawn). Young but ranking, Knox organizers local militia and stragglers into a formidable resistance, aka Knox’s Irregulars. The Irregulars fight their guerrilla war in a town that is on the Abkhenazi supply line, and their constant disruptions buy New Geneva time to organize a counteroffensive. Death for the Irregulars is inevitable – the only question is how long they can hold off the invasion and whether they’ll retain their humanity while doing it.
While the plot may have familiar themes or beats, the story doesn’t read like anything I’m familiar with. The author served in the military and in intelligence and now is a diplomat. The author’s world experience leads to a more nuanced worldview than one may expect in the book. The Abkhenazi could simply be a stand-in for Islamic extremists or The Clash of Civilizations, but it is not that. While religious extremism is in play (on both sides), so is fascism, and hubris. The author’s military and intelligence experience also adds realism to the book. Tactical descriptions of battles and operations read almost like history or war documentaries. For example, the author spends time sketching out how smart submarines are used to keep wars from escalating into interplanetary affairs. Also, like many armed forces, the New Genevans are diverse in background and thought. Internal friction is often present (although it’s not a driving part of the story).
The author also deals with Christianity prominently in the book. Knox and a few others are Christians, though they do not agree on everything. For example, when violence (if ever) is appropriate, vengeance, justice, and the cold calculus of war. Bush’s opinions on his faith are clear, but I don’t see it as Bible-beating because characters are fleshed out and make realistic decisions, sometimes in conflict with their professed faith.
I didn’t give the book five stars because it starts a little slowly. The first chapter is somewhat unrelated to the rest in tone. That’s why I didn’t pick the book up again until months later when I was stuck on my bus and desperate. If you’re into military tactics, Red Dawn, and you don’t mind some faith talk, you can pick this up for $6 on Kindle!