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Honor of the Clan by John Ringo and Julie Cochrane

Cover art by Kurt Miller

Published by Baen Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

In this volume John Ringo concludes the Cally O'Neal storyline that he has been writing with Julie Cochrane. It follows directly upon the events of Sister Time, and deals with the consequences of those events, particularly the destruction of the Darhel Epetar Group and the death of the rogue Sohon master who had been using an ancient Aldenata artifact to brainwash people. Their actions have destabilized a considerable portion of the Galactic Federation in a way that is alarming to these very conservative, very formal people who consider short-range planning to only deal with the next century and routinely think in terms of thousands of years.

As a result, the O'Neal Bane Sidhe's allies among the Indowy and the crablike Tchpth have become gravely concerned. They are now seriously questioning whether they can continue to work with these violent, omnivorous primitives. As in, if they are not satisfied that it is acceptable to continue their collaboration with humanity, they will withdraw all technical support from the O'Neal Bane Sidhe organization. And to reassure them, only a top-level negotiation with the head of clan will suffice.

Which means that Michael O'Neal Senior must go off in a Himmit sneakship to a super-secret location (can't have the Darhel getting wind of them, can we) to carry out negotiations. Never mind that Papa O'Neal is a soldier, not a diplomat. As clan head he and he alone has the necessary authority to speak for his clan on such sensitive matters. So he must somehow learn the necessary skills to become an interspecies diplomat in a universe where aliens aren't just humans in funny suits, but really alien, with different hardwired responses to things so fundamental we take them for granted. A task that will take him the entire trip, with one after another difficult lesson in the nature of communication at levels we usually take for granted.

And this couldn't possibly have come at a worse time, for the Darhel are so angry at the destruction Cally recently wrought upon them that they are breaking their long-standing covenant with humanity and attacking the dependents of those allied with the O'Neal Bane Sidhe, and particularly the families of the members of DAG, a US military rapid-reaction group that switched sides in Sister Time when given an order they regarded as both illegal and immoral. The killers try to cover their tracks, leaving faked evidence at the compromised safe house where their first victims were living that would create the impression that the killers were Mafia enforcers.

However, they did not count on a superhumanly smart five-year-old. Pinky looks for all the world like an ordinary little boy, but his skills of observation and deduction would do a Bene Gesserit proud. Although his escape was at least partly luck, being in the basement at the moment the killers attacked, it was also the result of his being able to stay clear-headed and not panic or otherwise give away his location. Hidden away in a specially rigged spy trunk, he remains safe until his uncle comes home to find the carnage, and is able to get both of them to a safer location -- with the all-important knowledge that the Mob signs spray-painted on the walls are a false trail and the real evidence points to the Darhel.

It's still not enough to keep the Tir Dol Ron's hired killers from murdering several other families, simply because there are so many of them, scattered far and wide across the country, and there's no way to get all of them secured fast enough. But the O'Neal Bane Sidhe are not people to take such a provocation lightly, and they swear to track down every last one of the killers and destroy them.

The first major break comes when one of the worst killers goes too far and ends up disgusting one of his own team. Using sociopaths as hired killers does have the advantage of getting you remorseless killers who won't hesitate to pull the trigger on a helpless grandmother or a cute baby. But it also means that they're apt to forget such details as the fact that even criminals have family. Following that critical lead, they systematically track down all the killers, one after another.

But with the US government compromised by the Darhel and effectively doing their bidding while continuing the sham of elections and representation, such major action against the hired goons of the Darhel is not going to pass unnoticed. Far from it, the US authorities are told to put a stop to it.

And conveniently, Mike O'Neal Junior has been called back from decades of service with Fleet Strike on the frontier, waging an endless war against the remnants of the Posleen scattered upon a thousand planets. He knows that if they are allowed any letup, they will be able to reconstitute their society and technology and once again become a menace that can threaten the entire Galactic Federation and even humanity now scattered far beyond Earth's confines. Thus while he has no great fondness for the way in which the Darhel are systematically using financial shenanigans to effectively enslave humanity, he regards it as something that can be survived and recovered from in time, while the Posleen are a threat that can devour everyone if allowed to recoup their strength while humanity's forces are distracted by a battle with the Darhel.

As a result of this view of where his obligations lie, he agrees to take the lead in the attack on the stronghold of the "terrorists" that held off the Darhel's mercenary armies. Thus the title of this novel takes on an aspect at once both ironic and tragic as Mighty Mike enters what is in fact an attack upon his own family -- except he doesn't realize it because he has believed all this time that his father and daughter were dead, killed in the nuclear strike he himself called down upon Rabun Gap in the closing days of the Posleen siege of Earth.

Overall, this is one of the darkest and most grim books in the Posleen series, yet at the same time John Ringo manages to infuse it with his own quirky humor. For instance, take Papa O'Neal's critical negotiation with the Indowy and Tchpth Bane Sidhe, at the most delicate and formal type of negotiation in the Galactic Federation, the Children's Banquet, an intricate ceremony with religious overtones in which one moves through a maze of small tables, performing prescribed interactions with the various beings who stand at them, and finally come to the big table, the Parents' Table. Papa O'Neal had been carefully briefed on the precise non-committal phrase he was to use at that key moment -- but when the time comes, he freezes up and then blurts out a crude slang expression. And while he is certain that he has blown everything and quite possibly put humanity in grave danger, the Tchpth are so completely bewildered by his statement that they are astonished. Apparently their translators have only learned the formal registers of English and thus do not know the slang usage of "suck" as "to be very unpleasant," and particularly the parareproductive activity that it actually references.

And then there is the surprise revelation about the Himmit during the climactic battle. We have known from the very beginning that the Himmit were latecomers to the Galactic Federation and have lived on the periphery of Galactic society. But it appears that they in fact have their own polity and a great deal more hardware than they have let on. Now the big question, hopefully to be revealed in the new trilogy that Ringo is writing, is whether their secret Himmit Empire lies somehow hidden within the cracks of the Galactic Federation, or whether it lies hidden beyond the bounds of what is known to the Children of the Aldenata.

Review posted March 8, 2009

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