Next on the pile is Valor's Trial by Tanya Huff.
This is the fourth and final book in the Confederation series, also known as the Torin books. The important characters have a lot of history that's not covered in much detail in this volume, so it would be best to read the series in order, although it's mostly furious action which will be furious action with or without all the background.
Most of what happens in this book is direct combat or at least Marines going through really tough circumstances and showing off their stuff. The whole series is hardcore military SF, so maybe it's just my mood, but somehow this book seemed more violent than the previous ones and a little too bloody for my taste. The personal story of the characters is rather predictable -- once it's set up you know where it has to go -- but it's still gripping. The overall plot situation, though, where the series couldn't go on without a very radical change in tone. I can't really say more, except to admit that I failed to see a really major part of the plot coming, even though I should have known it from the beginning. I could chalk this up to the story being too riveting to give me a chance to think, but (with apologies to Tanya) I'm afraid I have to blame myself for just not looking. I'm certainly not alert enough to be any sort of military person, much less one of Gunnery Sergeant Kerr's marines.
7 out of 10. It was just too violent for me -- at least this week.
**** PLOT HIGHLIGHTS -- SPOILERS ****
Torin and Sh'quo company are sent off to a battle in relatively good order, where they get hit by a super-weapon that turns everything to glass for 30 km. Torin wakes up in a cave in a tunnel, where she discovers that she's a prisoner in an automated prison without guards. After personally kicking the asses of the bullies who'd taken over and were starving the others, she leads an escape. Their squad has nearly found a way out when they encounter a similar sized squad of Others, and they manage to make common cause to help each other get out. By the time they've made it across the lava field, the two squads have sort of become friends.
While this is going on, Craig refuses to accept that Torin is dead, so he convinces the reporter Presit to come with him to the site, where she manages to extract a story from the scientists who are looking for DNA traces and not finding any. Then a force of Others attacks. Presit convinces Craig to try to follow their ships through Susumi space using a program that's not supposed to exist, and they wind up lost. Of course they're in the same system as the prison.
Somewhere in here, we suddenly realize that the aliens from Big Yellow have set the whole thing up. (It should have been obvious all along.) Torin shuttles Craig and Presit down to the planet and has Presit do a live feed through Craig's ship's distress beacon to the whole galaxy as she first unmasks the aliens and then gets them to admit that they've been directing the whole war with the Others from the beginning to make it easier to "collect data". They've now collected "sufficient data", and all through the galaxy they pull themselves out and disappear, leaving two powerful empires pissed off enough at the common enemy that they should be able to make peace and realize that they never should have been fighting in the first place.
The extent to which the Grey Ones have been completely in control of the whole show, and now just leave because they feel like it, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Torin is allowed to resign from the service, since with her whole company gone she is personally adrift and with her personal reputation she's too much of a hot button to be effective as a non-com any more. She and Craig ride off into the sunset, presumably to live happily ever after.