Review: An Oblique Approach (Belisarius book 1 of 6)

An Oblique Approach - David Drake, Eric Flint

Originally read April 20, 2014


I had rather hoped I would hate this book.  Seriously.  Many years ago, when I first purchased my Kindle, I downloaded dozens of books from the Baen free library.  That included the first four books in this series.  Those books, along with many other free and cheap books that I downloaded around that time period, have grown into an overwhelmingly large backlog of books that I’m still trying to work my way through.  So I thought, if I didn’t like this book, then I could delete the other three books and make a nice little dent in my list of unread books.  Of course, I could have just deleted them anyway.  Nobody is forcing me to read them.  But it seems like, since I have them, I should at least make the attempt.  Who knows?  I might really like them.


As it turned out, I really liked this book!  I didn’t expect to.  This is a military science fiction book set in sixth-century Earth.  The story centers around a real-life Roman general by the name of Belisarius, but quickly turns into an alternate history situation due to the science fiction element.  I enjoy science fiction, but I haven't read that many military stories and it's not something I would normally seek out.  Additionally, my knowledge of history is pathetic, so I don't have the background knowledge necessary to truly appreciate the cleverness of an alternate history story.  As I read, I found that the military aspect was quite pronounced whereas the science fiction element was barely there at all.  The science fiction element has a major underlying influence, and it wouldn’t be the same story without it, but it’s not front-and-center in the story and so at times I almost forgot about it. 


So, on the surface, this wasn't a book I would expect to like.  However, I really enjoyed the story and, most of all, the characters.  Their dialogue was funny -- often "laugh-out-loud-uproariously-like-a-total-geek" funny.  I cared about the characters, and I was always eager to find out what would happen next.  I even enjoyed the military parts, because it wasn’t just death and mayhem.  There were tactics and strategies and interesting character interactions.  Maybe I like military stories after all.


In spite of how much I enjoyed the story, I did sometimes feel like things were a little too over-the-top.  There was a lot of black and white in the story and not many shades of gray.  Brilliant, amazing heroes of great skill.  Horrible, vile villains who couldn’t see past their own evil desires which brought about their ultimate downfall.  It also seemed like everything Belisarius did worked out exactly as he planned.  Of course, he was a brilliant, amazing general of great skill.  And he had brilliant, amazing allies of great skill.  And he had some additional advantages as well.  But I kept expecting some missteps or setbacks.  The lack thereof was unrealistic enough to sometimes pull me out of the story.  These are the main reasons this book didn’t get a five-star rating from me.  However, despite that, I always found myself rooting for everything to go well for the heroes even while I was complaining internally that things always went well for the heroes.


The story may be a little lacking in realism and grit and despair, but it was a very fun story and it made for a good change of pace.  I’m glad I gave it a try and didn’t just delete it with the assumption that I wouldn’t like it.  It looks like I won’t be deleting those other three books, either!