Before reading The Chaplain’s War, I had only read one other work by Brad R. Torgersen (“The Bricks of Cassiopeiae“). Even though I enjoyed that story, Torgersen was still an unknown quantity to me when it came to lengthier works, and skill in short works does not always translate smoothly into skill with novels. In this case, it was a very smooth transition.
Harrison Barlow joined the the Fleet in an effort to help defend humanity and its various worlds against the Mantes, insect-like cyborg aliens who seemed bent on conquering the entire galaxy and destroying any competing intelligent life. After his ship was damaged and crashed on an alien planet, Barlow and the survivors learned to eke out a bare subsistence from the soil of Purgatory, their new home, while being held prisoner by the Mantes.
A few year later, after Barlow brokered an uneasy ceasefire between humanity and the Mantes, war broke out again due to treacherous and untrusting people on both sides. Barlow used his fragile friendship with the Queen Mother of the Mantes to try to get both sides to see reason and step back from all-out war in order to prevent humanity from being completely destroyed.
I really liked the format of the story in The Chaplain’s War. Torgersen alternated between one chapter in the story’s present and one in the past throughout most of the book, which worked amazingly well to slowly reveal information in the story. Even though this novel is based on two previous short works, they are blended so seamlessly that those who haven’t read the previous works will never be able to tell.
The aliens were really alien, and Torgersen skillfully guided the reader through the journey taken by the Mantes and Barlow as they grew to better understand each other. I really liked how a common reference was slowly built between them, and the Mantes turned out to not be as alien as humanity originally thought.
The topic of religion and beliefs is not often (anymore) discussed in science fiction, but Torgersen incorporates this exploration in a wonderful way which doesn’t preach and yet delves deeply into why people hold their beliefs and how people come into their beliefs. It is especially interesting from the point of view of the Mantes, as their culture has no such beliefs for comparison.
I was extremely satisfied at the end of The Chaplain’s War, which doesn’t often happen. How the issues and conflicts were resolved left me wanting more because I cared about the characters and found the world they inhabited to be fascinating. Torgersen is going to be an author to watch in the coming years.
Release Date: October 7, 2014 (USA)
ISBNs: 1476736855 (9781476736853)
Publisher: Baen Books
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (brief mention of drinking)
Language: 3 (occasional expletives, some stronger)
Sexuality: 1 (very brief)
Violence: 3 (war, graphic descriptions of death, battle scenes)