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Children No More by Mark L. Van Name

01/11/2010. Contributed by Kelly Jensen

Buy Children No More (Jon & Lobo book 4) in the USA - or Buy Children No More (Jon & Lobo book 4) in the UK

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pub: Baen. Children No More (Jon & Lobo book 4) by Mark L. Van Name. 400 page hardback. Price: GBP 14.03 (UK), $15.84 (US). ISBN: 978-143913-365-1.

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While every Jon and Lobo novel is worth reading, ‘Children No More’ by Mark L. Van Name is the story fans have been waiting for. In between the fast-paced action, plot twists and humour part of Jon’s own tale is told.

Fourth in the series of novels featuring Jon Moore and his companion, the sentient PCAV (Predator-Class Assault Vehicle) named Lobo, ‘Children No More’ begins with a series of disturbing holographic messages. They sent to Jon by a former colleague, Alyssa Lim. She has a job for him and Jon is interested. Children are being turned into soldiers by rebels on the planet Tunami and if Jon has a weakness, it’s children. He cannot sit by while a child is suffering and this time there are over five hundred who need his help. Jon accepts the assignment and in the process both he and the author pull together a team of players from the previous novels. Jack and Maggie from ‘Slanted Jack’ are back and former members of the mercenary outfit, SAW, also return. While I always enjoy meeting new characters invented by Van Name, being reunited with previous favourites was a treat.

There is a personal side to every story about Jon and, to some extent Lobo, but more so in this one because of Jon’s childhood. The trials he faced during his formative years are touched upon during all the three previous novels in this series, but the inclusion of chapters set on Dump Island make ‘Children No More’ both more interesting and heart wrenching in turns. Mark Van Name has taken this personal journey, however, and given it a plot beyond the scope of reformation. He's added in obvious and not so subtle schemes and twists that keep you interested in the main plot, that of rescuing the children from the rebels, while revealing much of Jon's past at the same time.

The Dump Island chapters were very stirring. I loved reading them as much as they saddened and angered me. I detected a change in the author’s writing in these flashbacks. It became more personal. This is Jon's story. Although I’d like to see a more light-hearted novel next, I cannot deny that I would also like to learn the next chapter of Jon’s tale, that of what actually occurred on Aggro.

There are lighter moments in this novel, too, and the humour any follower of the series has come to expect. Lobo is at his sarcastic best, even when he is struggling to understand the depth of Jon’s connection with the children and the situation.

This line in particular had me smiling: ‘For some reason I don't understand, every now and again, with decisions that are particularly emotional, you waste a great deal of time denying conclusions you've already reached.’ This is typical Lobo and it illustrates not only his relationship with Jon but the struggle Jon has with his own emotional reactions to certain situations.

Unlike previous Jon and Lobo novels, the action did seem to slow a little towards the middle of the book. I found I did not mind this so much. The issues the author explores here are worth taking your time over because we get to see a much larger portion of Jon's childhood and a much deeper understanding of his character. Besides learning Jon’s personal story, Mark Van Name looks at other issues here, the differences between weakness and strength and what it is to be a child, a soldier and a human being. There are many poignant and moving moments, either in action or thought. Ideas that crop up in the wrong places but that would naturally occur were you taking part in the action: The human reaction to killing someone, the ways in which the boys bond and the fact that the children are desperate for an influence.

At first, I thought Jon would be helping these boys because of his unique perspective on the situation, but it soon became obvious that he hoped to be helped and maybe even healed a little by the process.

There is a scene where the children dance in the rain, being children, the adults join them, remembering being children, that I found really touching. It was one of those lighter moments that carried heavier import. I got all sniffly. I’m not used to doing that in a Jon and Lobo novel.

Of course, it would not be a Jon and Lobo book without some communication with appliances. Jon eavesdrops on everything from security cameras to parachuting harnesses, tuning out after the machine conversation inevitably devolves into an exchange of bragging rights. I always find the fact that he has to either flatter or insult appliances to gain their cooperation very amusing and the part where the parachute harnesses all answer in unison about the lack of thanks they get from their users had me laughing out loud.

As always there is a scene of adrenaline rush. This time it’s a parachute jump with talking, yelling, bragging harnesses that seem to get more out of the action than the soldiers wearing them.

Finally, I’d like to mention the afterword. Comments from the author regarding his own work are always welcome but, in this case, Mark Van Name had a bit more story to tell. This novel had a more personal edge than simply telling more of Jon’s own tale and he briefly talks about his own experiences while touching on the plight of child soldiers in the world today. A sober conclusion in keeping with the deeper nature of this novel.

He also talks about Jon’s departure from his usual modus operandi: ‘I also knew in that same flash of insight that the book would let me depart from the classic outsider hero story structure and instead force Jon to do the one thing outsider heroes never do: Stay after the fighting is done.’

I wonder if we will see more of this behaviour in future novels. Despite his journey though painful memories, perhaps Jon takes more away from Tunami than the satisfaction of having saved all those children.

Kelly Jensen

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