Yesterday, the second book of Marko Kloos’s Palladium Wars series was released, and in December we’ll get the seventh book of his Frontlines series. Kloos first came to my attention when he was recommended by a friend who generally dislikes military fiction, so I had to check him out. After reading all of his currently published novels, it’s easy to see why it appeals to fans of the genre (like me) and to those who aren’t typically into it (like my friend).
In breaking down some of the reasons these books are so good, I’m going to focus primarily on Frontlines, because the series already includes six published books and a handful of short stories, and hit The Palladium Wars in the last section.
Let’s get into it.
The protagonist of Frontlines is Andrew Grayson, a teenager living in an economically divided society where the only chance for upward mobility is to gain a highly competitive spot in the military. Andrew is smart and committed enough to make the cut, and the series begins with him heading off to basic training. What I really like about Andrew is that he feels like a person instead of a “type”, especially as the series progresses. He’s honest about his motivations, realistic about his circumstances, and believable in his internal conflicts. He isn’t an action hero or an obsessive patriot, but a soldier who does his duty while sometimes (appropriately) questioning the ethics of carrying out his orders. That isn’t to say he doesn’t sometimes act according to his conscience (being vague here to avoid spoilers), but when he does that he still avoids becoming a cliche. Instead of morphing into an “outsider” or “rebel” archetype, in these situations Andrew is still the same guy, reacting to new situations in a way that makes sense for his character.
Andrew is unquestionably the star of the series, and Kloos doesn’t develop supporting characters more than he needs to, but that’s actually a good thing. He gives the rest of the cast exactly as much page time as they need, with more significant characters gaining depth as the story progresses. The reader gets to know them just as Andrew does, over time and repeated interaction, and they have their own complexities. My personal favorite is Sergeant Brianna Fallon, a career soldier and Medal of Honor winner who has her own ideas of what honor (and military discipline) really mean.
Military science fiction can really bog down on the action beats if the author spends too much time focused on the technology aspect of the combat. Marko Kloos knows better. The action of Frontlines gives you exactly as much information as you need about the technology to understand what’s going on, and that well managed economy of detail carries over to every aspect of the action beats. He does an excellent job of keeping you in the moment, and in Andrew’s head, throughout the combat sequences.
Beyond just being well-handled, the combat is also fun to read.s The action is fast-paced and kinetic, only slowing down to highlight particularly intense moments. Kloos doesn’t shy away from the brutality of realistic combat, but never descends into full on gorefests either. If I had to sum up the action in one word, it would be balanced, and that extends to how much overall action the series contains.
Plot and Setting Development
Just as Kloos’s characters are dynamic, so is his world. The events in the books create serious and realistic changes in culture, government, and the military, so the series never gets stale. Too often genre authors fall into the trap of drawing out a particular situation or conflict for way too long, and the readers start to lose interest. Kloos isn’t afraid to bring one thing to a conclusion so he can move on to the next stage of storytelling, and so I was able to read the series straight through without ever needing a break.
Kloos, a veteran of the West German military, has been praised for his realistic depiction of military culture. Not being a veteran myself, I can’t speak to that with any authority. What I can say is that it feels real, and immersive. I can’t emphasize this enough: the fictional world in these books makes sense. Through characterization, plot, and description, Kloos achieves that ever-elusive feeling of rightness.
As I discussed in characterization, Kloos’s protagonist, and others, face internal and external conflicts. He doesn’t shy away from questions of inequality, morality, responsibility, or PTSD (a fairly major element in a few of the novels). To paraphrase the friend who suggested the series, it has a hell of a lot of depth.
So, what about that other series?
Ah, yes, The Palladium Wars. Book one, Aftershocks, was published last July, and contains both a new world and a new situation. In this series, the war is technically over, but the aftermath definitely isn’t. This time, Kloos gives us four protagonists: a veteran of the losing side, an active duty soldier on the winning side, a spaceship captain, and a young scion taking the helm of her family’s closely monitored corporate entity. Interesting world? Check. Compelling characters? Check. Solid plot, conflicts, and themes? Check, check, check. All the signs point to this series being another success, and I’m really stoked to start reading the second book, Ballistic, which I’m going to do the second this post is finished.
Why not join me?