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Hour of Judgment
Susan R. Matthews
Avon Eos Books, 260 pages

Hour of Judgment
Susan R. Matthews
Susan Matthews grew up across the US and in Europe and India. While in the US Army, she served as the operations and security officer of a combat support hospital. She works as an auditor for The Boeing Company and recently graduated from Seattle University with an MBA in accounting. She lives in Seattle.

Susan R. Matthews Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Prisoner of Conscience
SF Site Review: Prisoner of Conscience and An Exchange of Hostages

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Kim Fawcett

Too many books glorify war in their quest for exciting plots filled with action and heroes. Too few deal with the everyday realities of war -- suffering and death, hatred and oppression, sacrifice and loss. Susan R. Matthews' books don't shy away from this less palatable side. Her latest book, Hour of Judgment, is third in a series that chronicles the slow unravelling of character Andrej Kosciusko's soul as the military twists his healing skills to the art of torture.

In Andrej's universe war rages in the background. Battles are fought, planets conquered, and cities stripped bare by the victors. So, on board his ship, the Ragnarok, accompanying a new governor to the recently subjugated planet of Burkhayden, it is business as usual. The change of ownership can only be a good thing for the oppressed Nurail who inhabit the planet.

But things go wrong when the Ragnarok's First Lieutenant, G'herm Wyrlann, goes down to Burkhayden for a little R&R. Wyrlann's idea of entertainment involves dreaming up ways to outdo Andrej's tortures. He reenacts some of his more sadistic fantasies on a Nurail slave woman, leaving her mutilated and near death.

The incident stirs up angry feelings among the Nurail populace, and the change of ownership can't happen too soon. But when the new governor hosts a ball to celebrate the changeover, he unwittingly hosts an assassination as well. Wyrlann lies murdered in the garden before the evening ends, and Kosciusko's manipulative captain sets him to extract a confession from a close friend of the assaulted woman. The man pleads innocence, but Kosciusko's own lust for the torture threatens to cloud his judgment. And with his own sanity in the balance, the answers he finds and the actions he takes may ultimately break him.

Hour of Judgment is the third book in a series, and has to be viewed in context. The first book, An Exchange of Hostages, was a personal tragedy; the story of how talented doctor Andrej Kosciusko is forced to train as a torturer. The second book, Prisoner of Conscience, involved an even greater tragedy -- an actual holocaust. Matthews excels at writing devastating stories, but Hour of Judgment falls short. It lacks the human interest that made the first book so very gripping, and the scope that made the second book intriguing. It's a small story about a single incident and its repercussions, which unfortunately makes for a lot of pages about fairly little.

Matthews does throw in a subplot to liven things up -- Someone In Power is out to get Kosciusko. This thread promises to add a nice element of paranoia to the book, but in the end doesn't mesh well enough with the main plot. A weak main plot and an incongruous subplot... hmmm... I get the sense that Hour of Judgment is intended to set the stage for future books more than anything else. This is not entirely bad, though. I certainly look forward to seeing where Matthews will take Kosciusko given the threads she's established in this book.

Matthews still shows several of her usual strengths in Hour of Judgment. She continues to explore the universe she's created, fleshing out in particular the Nurail culture she developed in the first two books. The differences between Matthews' various cultures result in prejudice and sometimes fatal misunderstandings. Sound familiar? Pointed, and subtly done. Matthews also demonstrates a true skill for creating poignant moments. And somehow she continues to make Andrej Kosciusko, a man with terrible acts to account for, worthy of our sympathies.

While Hour of Judgment does not live up to the promise of Matthews' earlier books, it does leave Kosciusko in an interesting situation for the next one. The stage is set, and if Matthews can return to the tight plotting and strong storylines that drove her first two books, her next might be worthy reading.

Copyright © 1999 by Kim Fawcett

Kim Fawcett works, reads, writes, and occasionally sleeps in Ottawa, Canada. A day job working as a contract technical writer hinders her creative efforts, but has no effect at all on her book-a-week reading habit. She dreams of (a) winning the lottery, (b) publishing a novel, © traveling the world, and (d) doing all of the above all at once.

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