Sunday, January 13, 2013

Brothers in Arms by Kendall McKenna

Title: Brothers in Arms
Author: Kendall McKenna
Cover Artist: Jared Rackler
Publisher: MLR Press

Genre: contemporary, military
Length: 34,000 words


Jonah Carver is a Marine and combat veteran. He and his former Captain, Kellan Reynolds, once shared a scorching night, but then lost touch; something Jonah has long regretted. When an investigation into government corruption, and the murder of U.S. troops, ends in the killing of a V.I.P. on Jonah's watch, the FBI arrives. With them is Kellan Reynolds. When Kellan is kidnapped, Jonah has to find and rescue him. If he doesn't, not only will the investigation unravel, but he'll lose Kellan for a second time--for good.

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For those who love military fiction, this one may be a bit of a mixed bag. I like such stories, but there’s a reason fiction is written differently than after-action reports.


Gunnery Sergeant Jonah Carver is a Marine’s Marine, and something of a walking legend. He’s serving in Iraq, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a fact of his life. The one he’d really like to have the discussion with is Kellan Reynolds, who was off limits because of chain of command. Once Kellan made clear his intention to leave the Marines, they could act on their desires, but duty intervened, and they fell out of touch. This part both bothered me and was kind of understandable—mix two guys who’d rather fuck than talk with an oppressive policy where they can’t speak as openly as the subject requires anyway, and there probably isn’t going to be much communication. But still, all that incendiary sex and mutual respect, just dwindling to the point where Kellan thinks Jonah doesn’t care?

Of course that’s not true, and there are second chances, which, if everyone survives, will get taken.

Kellan doesn’t appear in the flesh until after the half-way point, though he certainly figures in Jonah’s thoughts, and is intimately involved Jonah’s mission. Part one of that mission ended in blood and death—part two has the potential for the same.

The style is very military, heavy on the jargon, and more than a little dry in spots. This is okay for the mission heavy sections, although it’s not as riveting as it could be. The story was heavy on military jargon, which was good and bad, as it lent a realistic air but occasionally slowed the story with explanations.“Person did this” and “that was that” sentence construction, with very little variation aside from the occasional passive construction, led to a certain dryness. Even the sex scenes had a military flavor to them, and while that maintained tone, it muted the heat.
“This pleased Jonah [presence of supplies]; he planned for this to be a night-long campaign, and Kellan had done a stellar job of logistics.

Jonah’s three-pronged plan of attack was in motion.
Um, okay for consistent style, but I didn’t feel the sweat particularly in the rest of it either. At least the sex scenes didn’t have endless military style acronyms. The mission sections, both in the ill-fated Grizzly section and in the tenser Kellan section, fared somewhat better with the style.

The mission sections shone for me—I like external plot, and this delivered. Possibly not the first or last treatment the particulars will receive, but well done from a grunt’s-eye view. They had a horrifying plausibility, and if I read more newspapers, I might have seen such horrors pass through them. We all may yet.

Once Kellan is taken, the pace sped considerably, and made me believe that much of the lapse in communication was that Jonah couldn’t find words—he can find decisive action for any of his people, and twice as much for Kellan.

I want these two to make it as a couple, and for the US policymakers to listen to Kellan’s wise words. 4 marbles

(Side note--the cover is noticeably better than MLR's usual.)

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