For the first two novels in John Ringo’s Looking Glass series, I was able to shrug off some fairly extensive flaws because I was having fun. Not every book needs to be Literature, and no books are perfect. And sometimes you just want to read about crazy space battles with crazy aliens. I happily shrug and say, “Yes, I do like Into the Looking Glass and Vorpal Blade despite some dumb problems.”
But I’ll be damned, Manxome Foe is kind of a mess, a book with flaws that aren’t so easily shrugged off.
Manxome Foe picks up perhaps six months after Vorpal Blade. The survivors of the first cruise have made it back to Earth, attended a funeral that almost felt emotional, and are now waiting for the Vorpal Blade to undergo repairs. Eric “Two Gun” Berg is back home, trying to adjust to normalcy while feeling anything but normal.
Manxome Foe is slow to start, and Berg’s time spent home reads…well, poorly is an apt word. It’s not that I don’t appreciate his emotional state or the fact that everything about his first deep-space voyage is deeply classified; it’s that Berg isn’t really an interesting character if there are no aliens for him to shoot.
To make matters worse, he winds up running into a girl he used to know from school and falls madly in love with her after a three hour conversation. Insert gagging sound here. The whole ordeal feels so absolutely fake that I’m surprised it didn’t get edited out, but given the grammatical state of Baen books, it’s not surprising that bad writing didn’t get edited either.
This little love story is completely forgotten around the halfway point of the book, by the way. Even Berg stops thinking about his Earth-bound sweetheart.
Berg is—thankfully—quickly called away on a new mission. It seems a colony situated on a different planet has vanished, and it’s up to the Vorpal Blade to play detective. Awesome! Now this is what I both want and expect. Let’s go off and kill some Dreen!
The problem is the ground-zero planet is a month’s journey away, and John Ringo decided we need to know everything that happens between leaving Earth and arriving at our destination.
The middle of the book is boring. Very little happens other than marines not getting along and playing their music too loudly. At one point, the Vorpal Blade snatches a comet to try and extract water, but that’s kind of it. Manxome Foe is a 460 page book that’s at least 60 pages too long.
Bill Weaver and Miriam are back as our other main characters. Bill hasn’t changed much, though he gets less screen time here. I feel like he makes more mistakes this time around than in the last two books, so it’s nice to see him lack answers now and then. Other than that, he’s still Bill Weaver.
Miriam actually goes through a story arc though. Well, that’s not entirely true. Miriam starts a story arc, and Maxome Foe forgets to finish it. In the last book, the Vorpal Blade picked up a strange thought entity that can only survive in the deep cold of space. That entity returns and somehow infects Miriam’s brain, despite her brain not being as cold as space.
Manxome Foe breaks its own continuity in the span of one paragraph.
Miriam starts hearing voices that tell her things she doesn’t understand. It’s creepy at first, but quickly she makes sense of the whole situation and becomes somehow smarter than she was before. The alien inside her head also removes most of her negative qualities and in turn removes anything that made Miriam interesting.
She’s now just another near-perfect character that’s too smart for anyone’s own good, and once the alien in her head stops being creepy, it’s completely forgotten.
Thankfully, once the Vorpal Blade lands on the mystery alien planet, things pick up. They find signs of Dreen and go looking for the evil aliens. Instead of finding the Dreen, however, they find another alien race called the Hexosehr. These blind, otterlike (more animals?) aliens are about 500 years ahead of humans in terms of technology, and they’ve been near wiped out by the Dreen.
Just as the two meet and try to sort some logistical and battle plans out, the Dreen show up.
Manxome Foe is a slow burn, but once the Dreen finally arrive, the end result is a giant space battle that spans maybe a hundred pages, if not a bit more. It’s awesome, and it’s fun. It’s why I’ve been reading this series.
At a certain point, a group of marines jump ship and board a Dreen vessel in an attempt to destroy it from within. The whole thing is kind of daft and filled with machismo, yet it’s…well awesome and stupidly fun like it’s supposed to be.
Manxome Foe is a book with tons of problems, sharing in all of the ones from the previous two novels and adding some more. It’s paced poorly, has a love-story sideplot that goes nowhere, and has a small mystery with no resolution other than, “I guess Miriam is just smarter now!” The novel is an absolute mess and should be much shorter than what it is.
Yet that climax is almost worth the ride. It’s great. I love the new aliens, I love the rising jeopardy, and I love the execution/chorography to the space battles.
It just takes too long for Manxome Foe to get fun, and that’s a more damning problem than anything else.