For fans of bloody, all-out war fought with technology that we can only dream of today, “Reverence” by Joshua Landeros has it, in spades. Even the most casual action fan will be caught up in the pace, so it’s not one to skip even if you feel out of place on the battlefield. From literature, humanity, religion and love – this future-Earth is only a few decades removed from the planet we know now.
Will and Luis are our main soldiers in this raging campaign of a debut novel. Having human names helps, as they are more properly referred to as Unit 21 and Unit 18 respectively. Being early builds of the United Nations Republic elite Super Soldiers, these cyborgs blur the line between man and machine readily. They blur it with blood, whip-crack wit, volleys of machine gun fire, raw emotion, strength and most of all; a succinct and perhaps higher evolved sense of right and wrong. Now, that is not entirely programming. This is where the line blurs in the best of ways.
Having held off past attacks from rebel armies looking to infiltrate and decimate the UNR, the cyborgs rally alongside the vast human army and make gory shrapnel of anyone in their way. While Luis, his counterpart, may come across as the more psychopathic of the two, he shows much turmoil when his close female companion, Bia, comes under fire. He will risk directives and his own safety for her, making him a near liability. Not as much of a liability as Will, however, as the reader will readily learn. Here is where the true nut of the story lies, aside from Luis’ apparent weakness for his lover, Will has his own all too human weaknesses and what could be seen as a glitch. Under the watchful eyes of Doctor Krenzler and Chancellor Venloran, his programming and physical systems have been assessed and reset after hibernation between battles. One thing is overlooked: his memories. Not only does the nature of these memories pose a risk to Will, but they feed a fixation on a past he can’t recall and could very well be an artefact of his cyborg mind. With the threat of mass slaughter with the upheaval of government, and his temper tested by his own doubt, he is named second in command; taking the weight of the world on his metal and synthetic shoulders.
Many will revel in the military jargon within “Reverence” and Landeros deftly peppers in more weapons and machinery that you could shake an assault rifle at, but it never feels exclusionary. Without patronizing the readers who have no knowledge or interest in armaments the conversation and montage surrounding the tools of the trade come across quite naturally, and woven into the story well. As with the life of a career soldier – something few can truly understand from the outside – it too is woven in, making the stories of the men and women we meet here very relatable.
Crossing into horror, as civil war tends to do, there are many scenes with explicit gore. Violence is never outside of the task at hand, nor would it be seen as gratuitous. Much of the fighting follows a cinematic fluidity too, as well-written action does at it’s best. As with talk of human emotion coming from a cyborg, the blood and bone is used as a result of the situations. These machines are thrust into some very human realities. Be it grappling with deep feelings, controlling emotion or how to best incapacitate a room of trained fighters who want their head on a platter – Luis and Will dole out philosophy as readily as pain. That they are designed and programmed killing machines comes as no surprise, but how much of them that comes across as painfully human is refreshing. It could be seen as a shortcut in a way, to keep from having to write in a machine mind, and use literary and plot tactics that are far more relatable… and it works. But then, are the stories we tell of machines can be seen as reflections of ourselves caught in the chrome mirror that makes their flesh at the worst of times. At their best, our better, faster, stronger progeny may offer an unclouded view.
Much of this could grind, rusted, to a halt on the page if it were not for an easy yet never too casual writing style. A highly digestible read, there were no overstayed forays into romance or comedy as too many action packed science fiction stories meander there. Nor is it all dry bureaucracy or blood soaked carnage page after page. One of many things the novel offers is balance.
With the precision of style, compelling relationships and very well crafted roles – of both human and machine – I’d rate this a very high four and a half stars of five. The only shortcoming is not an illness of the story at all, but it could have been longer. The last few chapters wrap up deceptively neatly. Not so neat as to belie the sequels, but for all of the truly careful storytelling up until a series of face-offs and revelations, a few could have done with a little more conversation perhaps. Something more to gnaw on would be nice, even after a veritable buffet where room after room becomes a smorgasbord of mangled meat. “Reverence” is a very strong, and highly enjoyable dark adventure that serves as a bridge between carnage and technology: Something that readers of horror, war, fantasy, science fiction or westerns could enjoy.