2018’s Cross Fire is the second volume in Fonda Lee’s Exo series.
While the crisis in the previous novel was successfully handled, that did not bring Donovan Reyes’s father back to life, nor did it resolve the fundamental problem of how to reconcile the Commonwealth’s strategic goals with Earth’s defensive needs. Earth is, after all, merely one of a great many worlds in the Mur Erzen Commonwealth and not a particular rich one. Defending it from the Rii could prove expensive.
The zhree who invaded Earth have a simple, economically justifiable plan: abandon the Earth to their rapacious cousins.
The zhree are inhuman but not inhumane. Aware that Rii occupation will likely result in the reduction of Earth to a lifeless cinder, the zhree plan to salvage what they can. Humanity’s elite, about 1% of the total, will be evacuated and Earth’s biosphere will be thoroughly documented. Those humans who die horrifying deaths on Earth can die with the comforting knowledge that some humans survive elsewhere and that Earth’s other lifeforms may someday be recreated in a form useful to the zhree.
Not being idiots, the zhree are not sharing this plan with the general population. The condemned might disrupt the evacuation if they knew it was happening. Only a handful of humans are aware that Earth is about to be abandoned.
Zhree security proves more effective when dealing with humans than it does protecting against the Rii. Without warning, a Rii ship appears in orbit around Earth. Several cities are destroyed outright and many others are attacked. Those unlucky augmented human soldiers who try to defend their cities discover that the failsafes that prevent humans from using their augmentations against zhree cannot tell the difference between zhree and Rii. For many of the human soldiers, this is the final discovery they ever make.
Donovan believes he may have a way to disable the failsafe. He does not have the medical know-how needed, but he knows who does. Unfortunately for Donovan, gaining access to the person in question means cutting a deal with the doctor’s bosses: Sapience, the notorious Terran separatist terrorist organization.
It is a total coincidence that I reviewed two books with child-soldier protagonists back to back. It’s also a coincidence that I am reviewing this the very week that Fonda Lee was nominated for an Aurora award. Congratulations, Lee!
The settings of Freeport and Cross Fire are alike in another way: they are not worlds where there are two or three well-defined sides. In this book, not only are humans divided into pro- and anti-zhree factions, each group has its own sub-factions. This is also true of the zhree; it may be true of the Rii as well.
Boy, it sure sucks to be a colonial people, subjects to a vast empire. The odds are very, very poor that the bosses will ever put the well being of the ruled over the convenience of the rulers. That said, as vast, unfeeling empires go, the Commonwealth is not that bad. They may be willing to abandon the planet to certain doom, but at least while they were running it, they did not orchestrate deliberate famines or use severed hands as currency. Not that we are told, at least.
Unlike the French in Africa or the English pretty much everywhere, the zhree do not appear to have exacerbated existing ethnic tensions by using specific groups as the zhree’s designated proxies. This may be less because the zhree are decent chaps at heart and more because most of them find it hard to tell one sort of human from another.
Poor Donovan’s character development drives much of the plot, as he gradually grasps the true nature of the human-zhree relationship: regardless of any loyalty that humans may demonstrate to the zhree, the majority (but not all!) zhree see humans as disposable.
The plot moves along at a brisk pace. The book is complete in its own right but does leave room for at least one sequel. More sequels if the Rii don’t exterminate all of humanity in the next book.