Aliens Phalanx is set on a medieval world ravaged by an infestation of the Aliens, the scant remains of humanity remain hidden in a handful of ‘holds’; relying on their ‘runners’ to brave the unfriendly outside world to bring back new and supplies.
One of Lemeth Hold’s most decorated runners, Ahiliyah, barely survives a run that goes badly wrong. However, this sets her and her teammates on a path that will decide who will ultimately survive; Humanity or ‘the demons’.
Aliens Phalanx is not what I was really expecting when I agreed to review it. I really enjoyed the first two movies, and the third was okay. After this, well, the less said the better. I began reading hoping for a half-decent sci-fi novel and found a fairly deep exploration of sexism, politics and social attitudes neatly sandwiched between a medieval society’s frantic struggle for survival against the titular Aliens.
The protagonist is a 19-year old runner called Ahiliyah who, at the start of the story completes her fifth run. However, and the urgent need for extra medicine to stem the tide of a spreading illness forces her to take her team out for another perilous journey mere days after returning. Ahiliyah makes for a compelling viewpoint character, full of the contrasts that add depth to a character. She is fairly wise to the essentials of surviving the death world she’s grown up in and she’s quite intelligent. However, that is balanced by her lack of understanding of political manoeuvring and the nature of Lemeth Hold’s society even as she chafes against the restrictions it places on her. Ahiliyah’s driving motivation is to do more to protect her home and to do this she wants to become a warrior.
Unfortunately, Lemeth is very male-dominated; ‘men don’t answer to women’ and the trial to join the warriors focuses almost exclusively on raw physical strength. As a result, in spite of her considerable tactical prowess, she repeatedly fails to gain herself a place in the warriors for after she completes her required number of runs. Also, in spite of her bravery, she has her moments of panicking in certain extreme situations, making her really feel like a three-dimensional character who I never had any problem rooting for.
The characterisation is solid across the board, from her team members Creen and Brandun to people from other holds such as the Magravine; the leader of Dakatera Hold. All of this helps to add to the strong world-building. It’s pretty clear that Sigler put a lot of work into designing the world of Ataegina before he started to actually write the first chapter.
Scott Sigler’s relatively short chapters keep the action rolling along quickly and there’s relatively little filler content; nearly everything that happens advances the plot, world-building or character development. The depiction of the Aliens is spot on as well; not only are they shown to be a physical threat, they are also shown to be cunning. Increasingly shifting from hunting at night to hunting during the day to adapt to human tactics, for example.
While there weren’t many moments where I was blown away by what I was reading, Aliens Phalanx is a solid, well-crafted story that puts the Aliens in a different setting and makes them all the more credible as threats. The characters are engaging and feel like people rather than just archetypes, which can often happen in fantastical settings when the author gets lazy.
Publisher: Titan Books
Published: 25th February 2020