On the surface, the main conflict seems straightforward enough, however, readers will soon realise that there is far more to it than just killing Nazis. There are factions within factions on both sides, each with their own personal agendas and Larkin weaves the various strands of the inevitable conflict between these groups with expert precision.
Caught in the chaos of it all are common soldiers like Sergeant McCabe and Private Jenkins. McCabe is very much the main protagonist, given the most page time and whose story is linked the closest to characters and events of Big Red. Early on, he finds himself assigned to a covert black ops unit called Majestic-12 whose gear and tactics are alien to his experience of war. McCabe struggles between his orders and the frustration of not knowing what these mysterious soldiers’ objective is as he is thrown into firefight after firefight. It begs the question, should soldiers simply follow orders? McCabe challenges this preconception which results in some tense confrontations with a particular member of Majestic-12 that readers of Big Red will know very well. Larkin explores the horrific reality of war through the eyes of young Private Jenkins, with some truly shocking moments that hammer home to readers that there is nothing glorious about war or revenge. It is bloody, terrifying and traumatising. Jenkin’s viewpoint was my favourite as Larkin explores the impact war can have on the body, mind and soul.
Larkin also takes a bold leap by exploring perspectives on both sides of the war. I love when authors write from the bad guys’ perspective and you can’t get much worse than a fanatical Nazi colonel and mad SS scientist. The lesser of these villains is Wehrmacht general Seidel who finds himself completely unprepared by the allied assault. As I mentioned already, there are factions within factions, even on the Nazi side, and this leads to some of the most intense and shocking moments throughout the novel. Furthermore, the conflict here provides readers with a much better understanding of the setting at the beginning of Big Red.
Complimenting Larkin’s excellent characterisation is his ability to write impressive heat-pounding action sequences. From the D-Day-inspired opening as the allies airdrop assault the dunes of Mars to panzer ambushes, suicidal charges and some truly intense close-quarter combat scenes, readers are thrown right in the thick of it time and time again. Throughout it all, Larkin mixes up the action before it can get even close to repetitive and places a major emphasis on the camaraderie of soldiers in the midst of battle.
As much as I loved the focus on action, I wish there was more exploration of the overarching plot. Big Red left me with loads of questions. Some are answered here, but many aren’t and I have even more questions now than I did after the first novel. This is the mere beginning of a much greater war that Larkin hints towards throughout the course of the book, including talk of galactic conquest, and I am very excited to see where he goes with the story.
Some readers might initially associate Blood Red Sand with the Iron Sky film series, thinking the only difference being the Nazis settled on Mars instead of the Moon, however, that would be a major de-service to what Larkin has created here. Blood Red Sand is top class military sci-fi with plenty of heart pounding action sequences, excellent characterisation and a growing sense of mystery that readers will crave to uncover. If you are even a little interested in military sci-fi then I highly recommend this.
I received an arc from the author in exchange for an honest review.
On one final note, something that I felt was better said outside the review, I just want to acknowledge Larkin’s decision to dedicate this book to the men of ‘A’ Company, 35th Infantry Battalion of the Irish Defence Forces, for their heroic actions during the siege of Jadotville in 1961. The grandad of someone very close to me was one of those men so Larkin’s dedication really resonated with me. Much respect to him!