Master Sergeant by Mel Odom

Master Sergeant is a well-written military sci fi that reminded me greatly of Korean and Viet Nam heroic war fiction of the 1970s. The villains in this first novel are corporations (though that will change to the Phrenorians in future books), and as a result this feels very much like a prequel to a series. More of a background on main character Frank Sage and his nemesis Phrenorian warrior Zhoh before they commence a very personal war. As with the Viet Nam/Korean war era, it’s a lot more about the politics and civilians, and interactions with the military brass, than the fighting itself.

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Story: Six years of training has left Master Sergeant Sage with a burning desire to be back on the front lines of battle. He is a soldier at heart and all he wants is to confront and kill enemy soliders – be they Phrenorian or human. Released finally back into the war effort, he lands on Makaum – a planet settled in history by terraforming humans but now contested by the descendants of the terraformers, the alien Phrenorians, and the Terran Military. Sage will shake things up greatly on Makaum as he works to undermine illegal drug activities by an unpleasant corporation. In the background, Phrenoan elite warrior Zhoh GhiCemid watches carefully as he recognizes a worthy adversary in the Master Sergeant. But Sage will also have to deal with the military Brass – from incompetent superiors to those too busy feathering their own nest to care about the soldiers under their command. It’s a war on all sides for Sage – and the only outcome of failure in any aspect is death – not only for him but for those he is trying to protect.

There are several POVs in the book: Master Sergeant Sage, a local young hunter Jahup, and the head of the Phrenoian component on the planet, Zhoh. I would have preferred only Sage, however, and didn’t feel there was much for Zhoh or Jahup to do except start a mutual admiration society over Sage. I’m going to have to assume that the psychology/personality of those two we’re given in this book will bear fruit in later volumes as Zhoh and Sage will wage a war over Makaum.

The universe is well built here and Odom has clearly spent a lot of time setting up the intricacies of not only Makaum but also the Phrenorian war. There are other alien species (many, in fact) but primarily it is the ‘sting tail’ Phrenorians that concern the Terran military. The plot centers on the fragile cease fire around the Makaum decision on which ‘off worlder’ they will ally with – an important choice because clearly there is something very different about the planet. Something that the Phrenorians have sent their best warrior to secure.

Obviously, we are being set up for an epic story of two alpha males (Sage and Zhoh). And truly, this is a very macho book – manly males who have their own agenda and fight bad guys or save lives with aplomb and lots of guns/explosives. Fortunately, the women are no slouches either, though I’d expect them to be growing hair on their chest after being around all that machismo.

In all, an emphasis on military here – guys with guns taking out bad guys. The sci fi aspect is well done as well but this isn’t space fleet opera (E.g., Jack Campbell) or intricate space politics (e.g., CJ Cherryh).  Most characters did feel a bit like caricatures or martial stereotypes – hence, the 4 out of 5 star rating.

Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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