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A man seemingly alone in a downpour wanders a cold, wet street until he suddenly spies a set of diamond-paned windows pouring light out into the night. Hoping for a respite from the rain, he enters, knowing that taverns offer warmth even to those with empty purses. Before the night is over he will learn he has no memory, meet a gods champion, a war maiden, and a wizard, and fight a group of shadows. Thus begin the adventures of Kenhodan. Sword of the South by David Weber is the start of a new fantasy series set in his Bahzell Bahnakson/War God universe. You don’t have to read those books to enjoy this one because here he introduces readers to a new hero and sets us on an adventure hundreds of years in the making. Much like Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit or Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings, Kenhodan is an honorable man on a quest with a wizard; a quest which he doesn’t quite understand the ramifications of but which his nobility of character insists that he make. Fans of Mr. Weber will quickly realize that Kenhodan has fallen into excellent company: Wencit, the powerful, quirky and wise wizard and Bahzell, the War God’s champion. Those of us who are unfamiliar with the characters will quickly come to love them as we watch them match wits and mettle against the forces of darkness. That is very much the thrust of this novel, the power of light and right battling against the forces of evil. But while the weight of the world may rest upon their powerful shoulders, our heroes are full of lively good will and bonhomie. The quest may be serious but the tale itself is a fun adventure full of jovial sea captains, music, wicked wizardry, cut-throat battles, and a plethora of humor. The author takes tried and true features of the genre and spins them into a unique story in a well-imagined universe that gives readers a sense of the familiar while providing them with something fresh and new. Those looking for epic, fantasy adventure need look no further – this book provides it in spades.
If you've read Ernest Cline's other novel, Ready Player One, you'll recognize a lot of his signature stylistic moves in Armada. As in RPO, Cline includes many references to '70s and '80s culture, specifically in terms of sci-fi films, tv shows, and video games. This time, though, the video game that has swept the world isn't meant to keep the human population docile, but to train it for upcoming combat with a ragingly-mad alien species that's on it's way to destroy Earth. The main character, Zack Lightman, is ridiculously good at "Armada," so much so that he has earned a place on the Top Ten list of players around the world. Assuming that he'll continue working at a video game store for the rest of his life while becoming an even better gamer, Zack is unprepared for the truth about the game he loves so much: it's all been a training run. Cline throws into the mix the death of Zack's father when Zack was just a baby, and it's this craving for a father-figure that drives Zack to involve himself so deeply in the video-game culture that was passed down to him in the form of his father's stuff packed into boxes in the attic. Cline invites us to see Zack throughout the book as a somewhat rootless teenager, uncertain about the direction of his life and his own purpose. When news of the upcoming alien invasion is made public, though, Zack can see how everything in his life has been pointing to this moment. Armada keeps the reader guessing (and hooked) because Zack keeps questioning everything the government tells him. We start to think of a million different reasons why the aliens might really be prepping an invasion, and these tantalizing possibilities take us through Zack's official training on a moon base and then during the first wave of combat. The many connections to Ender's Game will draw in lovers of Card's books and make gamers everywhere seriously consider just how outlandish the Armada scenario really is - because, why not?! Cline's signature humor and conversational style is all here, and makes Armada a fun, if slightly trippy, read.