Uncommon Purpose by P J Strebor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Uncommon Purpose (The Hope Island Chronicles Book 1) by P.J. Strebor
Uncommon Purpose is a great science fiction that blends a sort of political and military setting readers are familiar with in such novels as David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. Development of characters recalled for this reader the feel of many of his favorite Heinlein characters. P.J. Strebor brings to the table his own blend of elements such as family honor, redemption and revenge along with his own twist on a few tropes.
It starts in a universe with an uneasy peace, after a great Franco Pruessen war that led to the Pruessen's unleashing a terrible bio-weapon that was designed to save them, only to have it backfire in a devastating way; leaving the League little choice but to quarantine one whole area of space; all leading to the formation of the Prussen Empire; and the present situation where Prussen headhunters make occasional raids across the quarantine borders to obtain slave labor from the League worlds.
The story seems to start slow, but that's because there are the equivalent of fifty pages that encompass world building and introduction of the main character: Nathan Telford. The first five chapters could easily read as a short story that introduces us to the universe of Nathan Telford and acts as a means of showing the tragic beginning of the main character of the story; while pacing of conflict and tension make this stand well alone. The Telford ship Bellinda is overtaken by Pruessen headhunters and despite the best laid plans, the self destruct meant to save them all from slavery is disrupted. We have the quick thinking of Jasper to thank. I say that because without his actions there'd be no story for us; but I'll leave it there for the next reader find. It's the story of how they endure and escape.
The real story begins in chapter 6 when the Navy Monitor boat Impudent detects a crashed ship on a plague ridden world that has been quarantined for several years due to the terminal nature of the Pruessen plague. Further examination proves that there is one life sign and that the ship is Belinda, which now has been missing for over six years. We meet the brave and possibly foolhardy Ensign Ellen Gabreski for a small time and I do hope we see more of her down the road, but this isn't her story. Nathan is only 14 years old at this time and will have to learn a lot before he might begin the path to revenge. The reader will eventually find out everything that happened to Nathan in those six years. Yet we learn only a small amount about Nathan beyond the scant amount already seen in the first fifty pages; and in part I think this is because Nathan harbors a deep and dreadful secret about his life after escape from the Pruessen's and the reader will have to wait for a majority of the book to learn what that is.
One important thing we do learn is that Nathan has an odd talent he calls Prep; which he seems to have acquired while on the plague world of Delos.
Before getting on with his life, Nathan will have to deal with a forced gag order to tell no one about what's happened to him. There are good reasons, but those take us too close to spoiler area.
When Nathan finally arrives on Kastoria to live with the Penkovskys the reader begins to find out more about him. Most of this is done quite well from other character's point of view, with less focus from Nathan’s point of view and I think that’s again because of his secret and getting too close to his thoughts might reveal too much too early.
The novel dips deep into a trope area at this point, but P.J. Strebor uses it well. We have the typical male, Nathan; and his female friend, Moe, who decides to turn him into her project. As can be expected; if there is ever anything more than friendship desired here, it is doomed to tragedy. More importantly there’s the thread about the agreements between parties to keep the past a secret that predictably leads to danger for everyone close to Nathan.
This quickly becomes a novel about Nathan balancing his training toward the proper way to wage war and his desire for immediate revenge for his family and the inevitable mess caused by his need to keep his past a secret.
I recommend this to all fans of the Military-Procedural-Political Science Fiction. It has a well rounded science base that lends well to the suspension of disbelief. For me: Uncommon Purpose stands as a superbly well done first novel from an author with a lot of promise.
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