Grunt Traitor by Weston Ochse
Please note Grunt Traitor is a direct sequel to Grunt Life and it is entirely possible that this review may contain spoilers if you haven’t read the first book in this series. I recommend that you read Grunt Life immediately. Not only is it extremely good but this review will make a heck of a lot more sense once you have accomplished that simple task.
Their spies were among us for years. They mapped our electrical infrastructure, learned our weaknesses, until finally they flipped the switch and threw us back into the Dark Ages.
Only OMBRA and its battalions around the world seem capable of defending Earth from the next wave of attack – terraforming. But at what price can we gain our freedom from these yet to be identified aliens? They’re pushing the human race to the edge of extinction if we can’t find a way to change things. But what will we have to change? What will we humans become to survive this threat. This is a time for heroes. For killers. For Grunts.
Benjamin Carter Mason will be asked this question over and over as he dives deep into the nasty heart of an alien transformed Los Angeles. And in the end, he might be the last person on Earth defending not just our lives, but our humanity.
This second novel in the Task Force OMBRA series continues the ground eye view of an ongoing alien invasion. This book picks up around six months after the events of book one. In that time, both sides have had their share of successes and failures. The beachheads that the alien forces created are now well established, while human forces employ increasingly desperate measures to try and force the invaders back.
The action again follows Ben Mason as he attempts to survive in the ultimate war against a race of beings that humanity hasn’t even begun to understand. Though considered a hero by many, he is still near the bottom of the chain of command. Seeing the story unfold from his perspective, you get to see how prolonged military action changes a person. The direct contact with the aliens has left its mark on Ben. Mason’s sanity has been tested to the limit, and has nearly fragmented into separate pieces. On one hand, he has become almost entirely de-sensitised to the violence he sees, but on the other he still manages to hold onto a sense of hope, however fragile. This will sound terrible, but I like that Ochse really puts his characters through the ringer. I just think it makes them come across that much more genuine and real.
One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this book was the introduction of other human factions outside of Task Force OMBRA. It’s interesting to see how these different groups all have their own ideas about how the war should proceed. Even though our existence is hanging by a thread, religion, politics and money still manage to be a factor. Ochse does a very effective job of tempering all the battlefield heroism by reminding the reader that humans are also tend to be incredibly self-centred, self-serving and greedy. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, the end of the world bringing out the best and the worst in us all.
With Grunt Traitor, the Task Force OMBRA novels continue to have a suitably dark tone, and they are all the better for it. Mason is undeniably a broken man and watching how he, and his fellow grunts, deal with each new horror is fascinating stuff. Ochse is using his military science fiction to explore the very personal effects of post-traumatic stress and you get a real sense that what is being revealed in the narrative are Mason’s innermost feelings and thoughts. This writing doesn’t shy away from the personal cost that a soldier is forced to pay. More importantly Mason isn’t perfect. He makes mistakes and is forced to try and live with the consequences of his actions. I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again, a flawed character is always far more interesting to follow.
The novel ends with what feels like a lull, the calm before the inevitable storm. I do hope this means that there will be another book to come? It strikes me that there is still more of this story left to be told, battles still to be fought. I look forward to each new Weston Ochse novel. Along with the Seal Team 666 novels, this series has become a firm favourite.
Grunt Traitor is published by Solaris Books and is available now. Highly recommended.