I read this book as a judge of the 2021 Self-Published Science Fiction Competition.
Everything about this book is epic. Epic story, epic battles, and epic romance. Also, epic word count, epic paragraphs, and epic vocabulary. In some areas the grandeur works while in other areas… not as much.
A military space opera, Tholin has created a universe backstopped with detailed politics, history, and battles. The same approach with the principal characters translates to full-bodied, three-dimensional beings with distinct voices, desires, and agendas. The technologies, weapons, armor, and ships used are all intricately described, showing the author’s obvious interest in medieval knights and castles.
After a thrilling beginning where the main character is dropped into an unfamiliar time and place, the plot proceeds as expected. As much a romance as a thriller, the story is mainly told through the perspectives of the doe-eyed, naïve girl and the battle-hardened soldier solely focused on his mission as they realize their similar goals and mutual attraction. Additional POVs are surprisingly added toward the very end of the book, and I would have preferred that approach throughout.
Settings are well-described, as are the battle scenes and fight choreography. The ending felt satisfying with multiple players/factions taking part in the final battle, though in a military-driven story, I wanted a clearer showdown between the hero and villain. A secondary theme of religion, fanaticism, and freedom is explored, though no conclusion is drawn, either as material for book two or for the reader to draw their own conclusions.
Pacing, at times, really slowed for me as certain themes, historical events, or relationship aspects were covered multiple times as well as the inclusion of unnecessary detail and description for minor events. And the weakest area was simply the chonky nature of this story. The prose is as much a display of the author’s ornate writing style and extensive vocabulary as it is an engaging tale. To me, a streamlining of several thousand words and simplification of the text would make the story more approachable and more of a page-turner.
Overall, though, the positives of this book outweigh the negatives, and Iron Truth is worthy of the ‘Finalist’ label.