Ok let me say one thing first so that no one else makes the same mistake I did: This is not a typical military sci-fi 😅 if you are expecting a war with wall to wall action, you will be disappointed. Once I realized A Talent for War is a historical mystery in space, and adjusted my expectations, my enjoyment grew tenfold.
Basically picture Sherlock but on other planets and in space. There is an ethical debate on war, tough and exciting situations, futuristic technology, aliens, and many war stories, but we are learning about a 200 year old war through Alex Benedict’s eyes as he tracks down clues to try to explain why a large passenger transport carrying his uncle disappeared.
You want Sherlock in space, 100% keep reading. I originally picked up books 2-4 in this series at a yard sale, then bought this one so I could start at the beginning. Reading in chronological order is not necessary though to enjoy the series
Bookish Quick Facts:
- Title: A Talent for War
- Series: Alex Benedict, #1
- Author: Jack McDevitt
- Publisher & Release: Ace, 1989 (mmpb)
- Length: 310 pages
- Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ once it gets going, this really turns into an absorbing mystery
Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:
Christopher Sim changed mankind’s history forever when he forged a rag-tag group of misfits into the weapon that broke the alien Ashiyyur. But now, one man believes Sim was a fraud, and Alex must follow the legend into the heart of the alien galaxy to confront a truth far stranger than any fiction.
Here also is the back cover because the synopsis doesn’t quite match:
Speaking of the cover, I can’t believe Stephen King blurbed the front cover back in the 80s! I always wondered what sci-fi he reads..
Ok so finally, here are my thoughts!
If you come into this one expecting a slow burning mystery you will be on the right track. I loved discovering the true history along with the main character as he read through archives, talked to descendants of fighters and resistance advocates, saw it through interactive video, and eventually went out to discover the “artifact” in question.
Plus there’s the present day mysteries of ‘What the heck happened to the transport carrier with all those people on it, why did it just disappear?’ Was it an accident or foul play? Then you trace back in history to which stories are true, false, embellished, which leaders are frauds? The clues leading back from Alex’s uncle’s library through time present a rather tragic puzzle of the history humans manufacture and the legends we create.
I think those are the main themes too. Who writes history and what shape does it take? How concrete is the truth that evolves 200 years down the line? What does humanity need to hear to move forward? Who even creates the heroes? This book reminded me a lot of the Civil War in American history, in the way that the South created a totally glorified mythos and down the timeline erected many monuments, the motivations for which the general public are just now broadly being educated about.
There’s a lot of good sci-fi here too. Some of my favorite aspects included his exploration of old time battle ships and deficiencies in early space travel. There are also the terraforming marvels on various worlds like Fishbowl and plenty of ‘ooh-ahh’ moments in the stars. The holo-sim reenactments would be cool too if they actually existed.
Alex Benedict is a likeable enough character on his own, but McDevitt isn’t the best at character building. His female sidekick showed up fairly randomly and for some reason latched onto Benedict. None of his females have a lot of personality although for me it’s a not a big deal. The characters aren’t the focus at all even though I was definitely rooting for them.
I docked a star because there were way too many names and places to keep track of. Some were dead ends and it’s ok to forget them but I feel like I didn’t entirely grasp everything.
All in all, I really liked this book. I had to google what the prologue and epilogue referred to and had a huge AHA moment. Once A Talent for War got going, I really got lost in the mystery and surprises and tension building in both the present day, and past times. I love reading history and considering how it is written too. If you also like history’s mysteries and science fiction, I would totally recommend this one
Thanks for checking out my book review of A Talent for War by Jack McDevitt! As always, all opinions are my own ♥️