Recently I was approached by W.C. Bauers, and he graciously offered me free copies of his debut book Unbreakable, and his upcoming book, Indomitable for review. Upon seeing their kick-ass covers, and reading their intriguing blurbs about a marine trying to survive in a hostile political situation, I said I would be happy to take a look. I recently finished reading through both novels and my feelings are mixed. It is rare for me to read books that work for me in so many ways, while simultaneously falling short in others. I believe these books will be extremely polarizing, rising to the best-in-class for some readers while being completely unreadable for others. Please use this review to find out if you would fall into the former or the latter.
The first thing I need to praise Bauers on is his ridiculously meticulous and granular world building. Seriously, if Bauers told me he had a 3-story tall white board for world planning I would believe him. The amount of details that are carefully planned out and worked into the story borders on the psychotic (in a good way). Bauers has clearly spent an inordinate amount of time planning out his world, military, character back stories, character interactions, technology, and everything else. These details can both feel engrossing and completely overwhelming depending on how you read books. I found that Unbreakable and Indomitable were not books that I could passively read on the beach. They require serious investment of time and attention, or you will get lost instantaneously. This can be either a really good thing if you are digging the book, as it transports you into its fully realized world, or a bad thing as you have to slog through descriptives with the density of lead as you make your way through scenes. Next up we have the combat which, while infrequent, was pretty spectacular. Bauers has a real talent for describing everything from hand-to-hand combat, mech-suit brawls, and spaceship dogfights. The moments of high velocity battles added a lot to my enjoyment of the series and I would rank Bauers highly among his contemporaries when it comes to action in books.
On the other hand, he also has some areas where I felt the book could have been improved. The political intrigue in the story was fantastic, but short lived. Instead the books favored spending time on the personal trials and tribulations of its protagonist, Promise T. Paen (promised pain, really? That’s worse than my puns, touche). In book one, I found Promise just north of intolerable and had a really hard time getting behind her character. She seemed frankly a little too angsty to fit in at her officer role in the military, and I found her constant complaining exhausting. This does improve noticeably between books one and two, as Promise mellows out and becomes a more reasonable human; so I believe Bauers is finding his character range and will get there. There are some supernatural elements to her story that I cannot understand the purpose of, as it adds very little impact to the plot. Bauers seemed like he had an impressive grasp of the logistics involved in military operations, but might need to think a little more about how his main character would react to certain situations. Luckily the support cast is actually pretty fantastic, but as the books spend almost all their time with Promise, that only goes so far.
While the characters became much better written, and deeper, between books one and two; I thought the pacing actually moved in the opposite direction. Unbreakable has a very clear and direct plot that moves quickly from one impressive set piece to the next. It never slows for a second and is a ride from start to finish. On the other hand, Indomitable meanders a great deal, and at the end of the story I thought it suffered a little from a lack of focus, despite enjoying its story more.
I have seen other reviewers say that these are books that “any fan of sci-fi military stories will enjoy” which I completely disagree with. If you really enjoy sci-fi military stories, you likely will love this, but if you are someone who drops by the genre occasionally like me, it might be hard for you to penetrate. While these books were not my favorite, I think Bauers has more potential than anyone I have read in a while in Sci-fi. If you love Sci-fi world building and the intricacies of the military, this book series might be for you.
Rating: Unbreakable – 6.5/10
Indomitable – 8.0/10