My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Like with most of Drake’s books I have read, afterward I find myself thinking… ‘Well, that was almost good.’ It’s just on the border of OK and Good. This one was good in premise, and it had its moments of intensity, but for the most part I have to call it lackluster. Something about it just felt like I was thrown into the middle of a story without enough context to understand what was happening. You eventually get the info you need, but it’s like having someone explain an inside joke after everyone is done laughing about it… it falls flat.
One word of caution to anyone reading these as part of the Complete Hammer’s Slammers omnibus… ORDER MATTERS. I suggest you read in the order shown in the original, and not the order of the omnibus version. I did not realize this, and I think this is why I felt contextually lost as I mentioned above.
Anyway, I’m going to write about the individual stories (but not the interludes) in detail and give them ratings. I’ll try not to get spoiler-y, but be cautious reading from this point forward. Overall I give the book a rating of PI – 22 stars over 7 stories – (3.14 stars) and call it an OK Read.
But Loyal to His Own (4 stars)
An introduction to the origins of Hammer’s Slammers. General Hammer must defend his troops from political plotting of the Friesland President who sent them out to fight in the first place. Now that they have won (at any cost) he fears they are too powerful and can’t be redeemed. His solution to that problem is not something Hammer will let happen.
This is a good story. It should be read first before anything. It is key to understanding the background for all the others.
The Butcher’s Bill (2 stars)
Introduces a recurring character, Danny Pritchard, who serves as a conscience (albeit maybe an ignored one) to Hammer’s Slammers. In this story, the client who’s hired the Slammers is naïve to the costs of war. They want to stop once they realize what’s coming, and Mercenaries live off their reputations, and blood has already been spilled.
Under the Hammer (3 stars)
This is a decent story introducing another minor recurring character, Rob Jenne, who gets his first taste of combat on his first day on the job.
Cultural Conflict (5 stars)
This is the best story in the book IMO. A tanker crew whose boring assignment is canceled runs afoul of local flora/fauna. A sentient hive mind tries to defend itself, but the supertanks of Hammer’s Slammers are not a natural enemy. There is another minor recurring character intro in this one also, Sgt. Horthy.
Caught in the Crossfire (4 stars)
A competing Merc group is trying to set a trap for Hammer’s convoy. They are using a village populated by women and children (whose men-folk – save one too injured to go – have been conscripted) to do it. One of the women, Margritte, is made a widow and has nothing left to strive for except revenge. She too becomes a recurring minor character in later stories.
Hangman (3 stars)
A competing merc company and the Slammers have been transition from fighting on either side of an ethnic war to keeping the peace in it. Unfortunately, the opposing mercs have too many cultural ties to one side and surreptitiously begin to aid them, while the Slammers can do nothing that won’t jeopardize their own contract. That’s why Danny Pritchard and his crew must allow one atrocity to trigger a reaction that will prevent a larger one. This story highlights Pritchard’s conscientious but loyal personality, and the dichotomy of war as a means to peace.
Standing Down (1 star)
While this story puts a period to the quest for a home for the Slammers, it is scattered and not very memorable. Hammer returns his company to Friesland to help put a dictator in power… the dictator ‘dies’… Hammer becomes ruler and is about to marry the daughter of former President Tromp to cement a political alliance. Holdouts die mercilessly.