Review: Sentenced to War, by J.N. Chaney and Jonathan Brazee

Nathan W. Toronto

June 15, 2022

Editor's Note: Bullet Points occasionally reviews novel-length speculative fiction written by retired or active military members. Please reach out if you'd like to see a particular work reviewed.

Sentenced to War is the perfect beach choice for the military science fiction reader. Reader beware, though, because the battle sequences feel so realistic that readers might picture Perseus Union marines assaulting the beach. With seven books in the series, readers might also spend the whole summer learning how to turn back a terrifying and planet-hungry Centaur enemy.

This novel offers a twist on classic military science fiction narrative: a civilian who never expects to join up learns a lot about him or herself in training and combat and winds up defeating a nasty alien horde. The twist is that the hero, Rev, is given a choice after a minor traffic violation: serve for thirty years in a relatively safe support role or become a marine raider, which comes with a much shorter term of service but a much higher mortality rate. This opens up the story to explore the role of camaraderie in Rev’s story, which is where this novel absolutely shines.

Sentenced to War receives four bullets because it is a compelling human story. The book’s premise may seem formulaic at first, but Chaney and Brazee simply nail the role of camaraderie in group cohesion, combat effectiveness, and leadership development. From linguistic tics to interpersonal interactions, Sentenced to War makes the reader feel like part of the group. In addition, Rev’s relationship with his onboard artificial intelligence augment—and the role this plays in the story—reveals a great deal about Rev’s underlying human struggle.

At the same time, the backstory leaves some questions unanswered on military recruitment and politics. How does a society that must enforce thirty-year conscription (the only real-world examples currently are North Korea and Eritrea) not confront more resistance to the war effort? Yes, the rally-around-the-flag effect might contribute to a sense of acquiescence in this level of resource extraction by the state, but historically states that have conscripted like this have also had to completely militarize society. This level of militarization is not evident in the carefree way in which Rev begins his journey, drinking beer, listening to music, and carousing with friends in the park, his eye on a vocational career distant from government control.

This (admittedly querulous) qualm is easily absolved in the flow of the story and pacing of the narrative. The book moves quickly to the real meat of the story, focusing with appropriate intensity on the choices that Rev makes and why he makes them. The learning that Rev experiences in training and combat is compelling, reflecting a theme that drives a great deal of military science fiction. Based on this, fans of Ender’s Game, Ancillary Justice, or The Murderbot Diaries would find Sentenced to War enjoyable.

But readers should watch out for incoming yellowjackets if they’re reading Sentenced to War on the beach.

Jonathan Brazee is a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel with a penchant for travel and indulging his eclectic tastes, including photography, rugby, cooking, and equestrian sports. He has been writing fiction since 1979 and is a two-time Nebula Award and one-time Dragon Award finalist. He is the author of the Ghost Marines and United Federation Marine Corps series.

J. N. Chaney fancies himself quite the Super Mario Bros. fan. When he isn’t writing or gaming, you can find him in the Renegade Readers Facebook Group. He migrates often, but was last seen in Las Vegas, NV. Any sightings should be reported, as they are rare. His most recent novel is Backyard Starship: Kingdom Come, with Terry Maggert.