Bane of Kings reviews the second novel in The Subterrene War Trilogy, entitled Exogene, written by Tc McCarthy and published by Orbit. Although this is the second novel in a trilogy, it can effectively be read as a standalone, although the first novel is awesome and should be brought anyway. This novel was released in March.
“Excellent military sci-fi. Dark, page-turning, this is one of the best science fiction novels that you’ll see in 2012. Enjoyable, and not to be missed.” ~The Founding Fields
Last year, I read and enjoyed Tc McCarthy’s début – the first in this trilogy, named Germline, so much that I knew I had to get my hands on Exogene as soon as I could. Germline was so good in fact, that I named it the best début novel of 2011, which included novels from both fantasy and sci-fi. So, naturally – I would have had high expectations for Exogene. And, were they met? Yes. Oh, hell yes. Exogene was amazing. No, I mean it. Really, really amazing.
Exogene (n.): factor or agent (as a disease-producing organism) from outside the organism or system. Also: classified Russian program to merge proto-humanoids with powered armor systems (slang).
Catherine is a soldier. Fast, strong, lethal, she is the ultimate in military technology. She’s a monster in the body of an eighteen year old girl. Bred by scientists, grown in vats, indoctrinated by the government, she and her sisters will win this war, no matter the cost.
And the costs are high. Their life span is short; as they age they become unstable and they undergo a process called the spoiling. On their eighteenth birthday they are discharged. Lined up and shot like cattle.
But the truth is, Catherine and her sisters may not be strictly human, but they’re not animals. They can twist their genomes and indoctrinate them to follow the principles of Faith and Death, but they can’t shut off the part of them that wants more than war. Catherine may have only known death, but she dreams of life and she will get it at any cost.
Catherine is the main character in this story, and like in the previous novel, Germline, which focused entirely from the 1st Person POV of Oscar, who was the lead star in that novel, the set up is very much the same here, apart from the occasional bit third person. Catherine is a strong, memorable protagonist, and she has to be in order to survive. She’s a very different character to normal humans, in such a way that normal humans (that will, of course, be the readers) will find a difficult way to connect to. However, she’s likeable enough to root for rather than the Russians or other enemies that she faces, and she’s memorable enough to stay around in your head longer than Oscar did. However, just like Germline, the secondary characters aren’t anywhere near as memorable as Catherine, which is a bit of a let down, however – don’t be put off by that.
Much like the Warhammer 40k novels published by Black Library, Exogene is a war story. The pace is fast, action-packed and relentless. There is no letting up as Catherine finds herself thrust from one adventure into the next, meaning that the pace is consistent, and there is no dull moment from page one right until the very end. McCarthy knows how to keep the reader hooked, and Exogene is another page turner.
This is a bleak novel, with a grim-dark setting similar to the aforementioned Warhammer 40k novels. However, both Warhammer 40k and Exogene are very different beasts, but one of the things that they share in common is that there are no happy endings. If you’re looking for a book with deus ex machina where a hero comes to rescue the heroine, or vice versa, then Exogene is clearly not the book for you. However, if you’re looking for a book about war where all the bets on character safety is off (as they should be in novels with all out warfare), then Exogene is certainly the book for you.
And that is why I really enjoyed it. Another added bonus is the fact that Science Fiction is a genre notorious for the fact that it rarely produces strong, female lead characters (I can only name one off the top of my head, and that is Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar), so Tc McCarthy has created something somewhat unique here. Catherine is a strong, awesome protagonist and is not one that you will take a dislike to. The novel isn’t bogged down with introductions to the characters, nor with world building, and that’s where McCarthy has managed to do something awesome here. Catherine’s story is told through a variety of flashbacks, but these don’t slow down the novel’s pace at all, you won’t want to be skipping any of these.
I’m finding it hard to pick a favourite between Exogene and Germline. Both have different aspects of the war, and both have different pros and cons. Both novels, can – as mentioned before, be read as a standalone, so if you don’t like the blurb of one of them you can read the other. Then, go back and read the one that you didn’t like the blurb of next. Both are awesome, and Exogene is easily on my Best novels of 2012 list. I really enjoyed it, and you should too.
All that said and done, I’m wondering how McCarthy can tie everything together in the final novel in the Trilogy, Chimera, which is published in the summer, and one that I am highly anticipating a release for. I can’t wait to see what he does with the conclusion, and if the first two novels are anything to go by, then the third will hopefully be just as awesome.
The Subterrene War Trilogy: Germline, Exogene, Chimera (Coming Soon)
Bane of Kings is one our most senior book reviewers here at The Founding Fields, based in England. He’s a prolific reviewer that has contributed to many things here and around the internet.