DNF REVIEW: A Soldier’s Duty

Jean Johnson
A Soldier’s Duty (Theirs Not to Reason Why #1)
ISBN-10: 0756406838
ISBN-13: 978- 0756406837
Science Fiction
July 26, 2011


Ia is a precog, blessed – or cursed – with visions of the future. She has witnessed the devastation of her home galaxy three hundred years in the future, long after she is gone, but believes she can prevent it.

Enlisting in the modern military of the Terran United Planets, Ia plans to rise through the ranks, meeting and influencing important people and building a reputation that will inspire others for the next three centuries. But she needs to be assigned to the right ship, the right company, and the right place to earn that reputation honestly – all while keeping her psychic abilities hidden from her superiors, who would refuse to risk such a valuable gift in combat.

To save the galaxy, Ia must become someone else: the soldier known as Bloody Mary.

Yes, there will be spoilers, big ones. It’s impossible for me to explain my reactions to the book without them.

If ever there was a book I wanted to desperately love with all my I Think I Can heart, it would be this one. It has just about all the basic soup pot of ingredients to be so very tasty. I was quite enticed into this one because the worldbuilding is wonderful, some of the best I’ve ever read. I’m somewhat of a dork about worlds that allow the reader into a very detailed explanation of what life is like for the people populating the book. This time, obviously, it’s the life of a modern military soldier, and the author does a wonderful job of building said military, thankfully, not so much around the main character, but almost in spite of her. I’ll explain that in a few.

But the worldbuilding turned out to be my most favorite part of the book to the point which I was able to read – page 311 to be exact out of a total of 398. It’s intensely rich and detailed. At times, it felt a little too detailed, though. For example, there’s a scene where Ia and her fellow recruits are in basic training, and they’re learning the details of every single weapon they’ll have cause to use at some point. There’s pages and pages and pages of very minute detail about these weapons and that’s where even the worldbuilding got to a point that it might not be enough to carry the book off for me.

The writing is awesome – there was a need, for some reason on some fronts, to point out that this author wrote romances before publishing a hard core science fiction novel, giving me the impression that this is an amazing feat and everyone else should be amazed that “she really can write” or something.

So why stop at page 311? Why not go to the end if I made it that far?

Frankly, this book suffers from some very obvious faults that turn any potentially good book into a train wreck.

1. Ia

Ia is, despite the amazing fact that this isn’t a first person POV novel, the only focus of the book character-wise. Because of this all-important mission she’s on to save her home world, everyone else is only important if they are directly important to her mission. There is no real character development to either Ia or anyone else she meets along the way. It’s as if, somehow, her mission IS the character. There are no real emotions or engagements or anything that is not directly important to said mission and this is because Ia must be uber focused or what she’s trying to do won’t succeed. She is, essentially, an empty vessel with not even a fraction of a percent of room left for developing a true relationship with anyone even. She constantly and redundantly emphasizes how every second of her life is on a auto-pilot course that she cannot deviate from. At all. Ever. Never. It’s like reading a master plan that is already figured out and therefore there are no surprises. This is such a shame, because someone as focused and capable as she makes herself, granted, through hard work and relenetless dedication, had the potential to be a very kick-ass, cool female character.

2. Deux Ex Machina

One of the biggest and most glaring problems of the book is revealed when Ia discovers who her father is. You see, her parents were lesbians and she and her siblings have different fathers. While incorporating lesbians as parents to show how, hopefully, advanced society had become was cool, it begged the question of exactly who Ia’s father was. And when she finds out, the entire story lost just about every ounce of credibility.

Deux ex machina is a plot device whereby some all-powerful, omniscient being/god/force is the ultimate reason for what happens. It is an easy out, a cop out, if you will, to explain all the mysterious, beyond the scope of our imagination things that happen. While it’s probably the humbling thing to do and admit that there are likely other forces at work than what humans are trying to do, in fiction it is often a frustrating device to use because it means that the author doesn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining things, making it seem as if something so huge and grand is happening, and there’s no way we can possibly understand so let’s just say a huge cosmic force is at work and leave it at that.

This is the type of being Ia’s father is, as it turns out, and it’s why she’s able to have these psychic visions of her home world’s future. It’s also why, whenever she’s at a most crucial part in her mission, that she can, as she calls it, “slip into the time stream” and make sure that she is adhering to the exact details she needs to be at that given time. So while she’s physically carrying out her personal god-like complex of a mission, she’s at the same time using her powers to see what will happen and compare the two to make sure it goes as it should.

But what’s the problem if she’s doing this to save the world, right? Isn’t this all a good thing?

Not really, not for the overall success of the book. Deux ex machina, in this case, not only takes the guess work out of this all for the reader – making any potential twists and surprises 100% impossible – it also turns the heroine into one of the biggest, most abused version of a Mary Sue I’ve ever read.

3. Mary Sues and Why Ia is One

So everything that Ia does is perfect. Sure, she has to mentally and physically prepare herself for this mission. She herself must exert effort to endure that her home world is saved hundreds of years in the future. It sounds like a very noble, exciting thing and it sounds like an incredible idea for a story. She gets hurt a time or two, but she never has any setbacks. She never makes a mistake in the least bit that jeopardizes the mission. Because she can simultaneously slip into the time streams, she can literally do no wrong. Every interaction she does have with another character is as carefully and coldly planned out as everything else, so every person she encounters is someone for her to use to make her mission a success. And even though people begin to notice that she’s a little too perfect – a stun from one of their weapons, while it knocks out everyone else cold in basic training, Ia is of course immune to these, and this is the first time people begin to notice her oddities – no one ever questions it to the point that her mission goes off course. Ia literally has every detail and person involved wrapped around her pinky finger.

And that bit in the blurb about how she must earn her reputation honestly? What a joke, because if you’re doing so because of a significant advantage over every normal other human on the planet, you’re not doing it honestly. She manipulates every single thing that happens in order to gain that reputation, including faking some things.

Ia does have help from others (that know of her plans) to ensure her plans are carried out, but they’re in the form of very influential and powerful people. I mean, of course they are, right?

Some other cases where Ia’s Mary Sueness is on display:

A. In basic training, one of her commanding officers notices her perfection and seems determined to teach Ia a lesson, that basically there is no “I” in the military. He basically makes her haul an enormously heavy piece of machinery back to their training camp. Now, even though the guy said this because there should be no way in hell anyone could do this, let alone small-bodied Ia, she does. She straps herself into a harness contraption and hauls a bus-like vehicle, with people inside it no less, back to friggin’ camp. And even though people are really damn amazed by it, and even though, yes, it almost kills her to do it, she does it. And no one really questions the over-the-top craziness of this, not to any point that really interferes with Ia’s mission. Not that I don’t want her to save to F-ing world, but come on. She can save the world and haul thousands of pounds of dead weight too?

B. On one of her first real hands-on mission for the military, Ia does her job in the nude. Yes, in the nude. Never mind that her being nude works (her protective suit she was wearing was made of metal at the time, and enemy fire/lazers could detect the metal), the situation was so ludicrous that I just couldn’t gel with it. And again, even though at first folks are all WHAT ARE YOU DOING? she again gets away with her bizarre behavior.

The biggest reason I decided to talk about why I couldn’t finish this one is because I was so excited about it at first. The worldbuilding, again, was phenomenal. The concept is crazy good-sounding. Unfortunately the execution is like one of the biggest No Nos I’ve ever read. Mary Sue characters who execute everything they do to the point of unquestioned perfection just aren’t that interesting, and I’m sad to have to say that because Ia truly could’ve been  a great female heroine.

But great female – or male for that matter – heroes aren’t perfect. People that “inspire others for the next three centuries” are flawed and faulty and their efforts are more admirable for what they must overcome along the way. This wasn’t that. This was lackluster, dull and full of way too much perfection to ever be interesting in the long run.

Rating: DNF

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  1. I’m not surprised you found this to be a DNF. I had big issues with Johnson’s paranormal romances as well.

    Seems like the heroine is too perfect to be taken seriously.

    • *the heroine is too perfect to be taken seriously*

      Yes – exactly. While it wasn’t exactly easy for her to pull off everything she has to, she nevertheless does pull off everything she has to with no speed bumps of particular note along the way. What’s so great about that?

  2. Interesting. I saw this book in Barnes & Noble last month and was tempted by it, but I just stuck it on a wish list to peruse later. Thanks for this review. I’m still not sure if I’ll check it out, but at least I have something to judge with!

    • No problem! If you do decide to read I really hope you enjoy it and I know I’d love to hear your opinion. ;)

  3. I read it all the way through and completely agree with your review Kenda. I really wanted it to work but the heroine was not only Mary Sue but out-honoring, Honor Harrington it seemed to me. So sad.

  4. Also if you want to read something that is good then there are Tanya Huff’s ‘valor’ series and Elizabeth Moon’s ‘Serrano’s Legacy’ books. You have two heorines – Heris and Esme – I especially Love Esme’s growth as a heroine.

  5. Thanks for saying so! Reviews I’m reading everywhere else seem to love this one for the most part. Was starting to get that alone feeling lol.

    And thanks, too, for the book recs! I will check them out. :)

  6. I’m sorry it didn’t work for you. I can see why it would be a DNF for many readers, but I still really liked it outside small stupid things like the impromptu singing.

    • *If not, I can come back and argue. My favorite thing to do! ;)*

      I haven’t noticed that – at all! *innocent eyes* :D

      The cover is striking, but it’s somewhat annoying that they decided to sex it up because the heroine isn’t concerned with being sexy at all. This was meant to be a good, riveting hard-core scifi…so they made sure folks would buy via a nice chest/huge gun combo. Not that I’m surprised.

  7. OK, this is the review I’ve been totally waiting for. I saw this one online and have been debating if I wanted it but I didn’t see anyone I trusted who’d reviewed it yet and you’d given it a DNF. Thanks for going into why it was a DNF. The naked thing and the lack of surprise with the heroine already having her life planned are turn offs for me too. Sounds like one to borrow perhaps, but not buy.

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