Hold Fast Through the Fire
Hardcover / eBook
Harper Voyager, July 2021, 416 pages
Greetings, readers! This month I’d like to tell you about an excellent military SF book, Hold Fast Through the Fire, the follow-up to 2020’s A Pale Light in the Black, by K.B. Wagers. I’d recommend reading A Pale Light in the Black first, because there are some references to events that occurred in it in Hold Fast Through the Fire (plus it’s also a fun read), but it’s not absolutely necessary as Wagers does a good job of providing contextual information to help the reader fill in any missing pieces.
Hold Fast Through the Fire continues the journey of the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, an Interceptor class patrol craft in the NeoG, which in Wagers’ world is the equivalent of the space Coast Guard (I think the Zuma’s Ghost is the equivalent of a cutter, but I’m not an expert; all I know is it doesn’t get stuck in any canals so I assume it’s a good ship). After surviving the adventures of the first book, the crew, led by their captain Lieutenant Max Carmichael, have bonded into one of the most cohesive and capable units in the NeoG, but nothing stays the same forever no matter how much we wish it so. Hold Fast Through the Fire starts with two crewmembers of the Zuma’s Ghost leaving, which means it’s time for one new and one familiar face to step in to replace them, but fresh beginnings are always accompanied by challenges.
While reading Hold Fast Through the Fire, I was quite happy to see that Wagers continues their excellent combination of light-on-the-jargon military SF with nuanced character development involving a broadly diverse cast of characters. Wagers’ mil SF action is still as exciting and thoroughly plotted as in the first book, and the expansion of the Yuma’s Ghost family comes complete with all the growing pains that every family faces when interpersonal dynamics are upended. While this book focuses a bit more on the newer additions to the crew, every character in the book still feels fully realized and present as their own person, and their attempts to overcome new obstacles takes everyone working in concert.
Speaking of new obstacles, the stakes for Max and her crew in Hold Fast Through the Fire are even higher than before, as an insidious group is bent on causing a war between the Earth-based military space fleet and a Martian separatist movement in order to hide their own nefarious goals. This brings a bit of a whodunnit flavor to the book that, while not an out and out mystery novel, is definitely satisfying to watch resolve. The revelations the crew works to uncover all feel fairly earned, and more importantly, highlight the importance of them trusting and relying on each other instead of trying to be a lone-wolf hero figure.
The other thing I really enjoyed about Hold Fast Through the Fire is that Wagers isn’t afraid to address the ongoing dynamics of romantic relationships from various perspectives, whether those relationships are well established or barely in the process of forming, as well as how a lack of trust can affect their development. The people in this book are nowhere close to perfect, which is what makes it fun and compelling, because none of us are, we just have to muddle through as best we can. It also does an excellent job of highlighting Wagers’ core message of trust and acceptance being the way in which we survive—both interpersonally as well as when the space ass-kicking needs to happen (and in the case of Jenks, one of the characters in the book, that’s quite literal indeed).
Overall, much like A Pale Light in the Black, Hold Fast Through the Fire is an ambitious, outstanding breath of fresh air in the military SF genre, and I would recommend it even to those who may not think of themselves as military SF fans. In the NeoG, it’s not the size of your ship that matters, it’s how you and your crew come together to use it, and I’m thrilled we get another chance to visit Wagers’ universe. Hopefully there will be many more to come in the years ahead.
Read if: You like space adventures; you’re not afraid to start a bar fight to protect your crew; your family is your family no matter what.
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