Mark W. Tiedemann,
Metal of Night
(Meisha Merlin, 2002)

Metal Of Night begins with great promise. Lt. Cira Kalinge is introduced through a painful letter to the family that has rejected her and the introductions of the conflicted and defensively normal Alex Cambion and the cheerful, outgoing reporter Tory. Within pages of meeting them and the rest of their armada, the soldiers under their command have been decimated, both lieutenants are missing in action on hostile ground and the minor insurrection they were sent to quell has turned into a planet-wide rebellion.

And then the drama fades away. Apart from Cira's struggle to survive and Alex's bizarre captivity in his father's base, there's political intrigue, dark government secrets and alien visitors manipulating human settlements for their own reasons. But none of it feels very pressing, and I was only able to get through this larger history with the promise of the more focused subplots.

When Metal of Night caught me, it caught me well; I resented being pulled away from Cira's painful shoreleave at home, from Alex's attempts to recover his memory and from almost every scene of Tory's. But the moments of interest are scattered and the time in between falls very flat. Cira, Alex and Tory are, if not always likeable, compelling. More importantly, they each have their own tightly knit plot arc. Cira's struggle for belonging, Alex's desperate search for identity, Tory's newsman quest for the truth and a good story, all have an urgency and, within the flow of the larger story, make a complete cycle. The subplots tied to the three main characters provide enough background and drama to fill a book on their own.

But that larger story feels loose and aimless. Part of it can be blamed on the rebel characters: Alex's father Maxwell and unknown brother Nicolan, the rebels who fade in and out of the story, the assorted secret agents. There are too many characters and not enough motivation to go around. It's true that war is rarely black and white, and everyone on opposing sides tends to think that their motivations are "right." But it was unclear what the motivations of the rebels, and especially the profiteers, were. The brief political discussions did not provide enough desperate differences of opinion for a powerful man like Maxwell to try and change governments, and the several double agents floating along don't seem to have any motives they've figured out, let alone ones they can share with the reader. Only the alien Setis have a clear reason for wanting revolution and favoring one side, and they're too hidden to give the plot much support.

Despite its stumbling pace, Metal Of Night is still a good book. But it comes achingly close to being a great book, if only the plot hung together a little more tightly or certain character were made a little more human. The story's structural problems are made more obvious by Tiedemann's consistently polished writing. It's as though he knows exactly how he wants to sound but is unsure of what he wants to say. I look forward to more of Tiedemann's work when it has a little more drive.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 15 March 2003

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