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Literature / Angel in the Whirlwind

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Angel in the Whirlwind is a series of Military Science Fiction/Space Opera novels by Christopher G. Nuttall.

It's the year 2420 and humanity has largely recovered from the cataclysm of the Breakaway Wars, but war looms between two new power blocs: the mercantilist Commonwealth of Tyre and the tyrannical Theocracy. In the face of the coming war, the Commonwealth has taken the unprecedented step of forcibly annexing the strategic Cadiz system and is now mired in a bloody war of occupation with the locals.

In the middle of this mess is Lady Katherine "Kat" Falcone, the youngest daughter of the powerful Duke Lucas Falcone, who has been prematurely promoted and placed in command of the Commonwealth Navy's newest heavy cruiser, HMS Lightning, charged with inspecting the defenses of Cadiz for the King. She finds that the situation is worse than anyone expected: the fleet holding the system is in horrible disrepair, the admiral in charge has his head jammed firmly up his own backside, and war isn't coming in a couple years, it's coming within weeks.

Stuck with a first officer who mistrusts her, an armada in disarray, and enemy agents in abundance, can Captain Kat Falcone get the Commonwealth into fighting shape before all hell breaks loose?

Books in the series:

  • The Oncoming Storm (2015)
  • Falcone Strike (2016)
  • Cursed Command (2017)
  • Desperate Fire (2017)

This series contains examples of:

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  • Aborted Arc: There's a bit of buildup behind finding out who Admiral Morrison's backers are but this is never resolved until the "Embers of War" sequel series.
  • Altar Diplomacy: Among Commonwealth nobles, the first few children can expect to be married off for political reasons (the "heir and a spare" phrase is used), but as the youngest of ten, Kat is essentially free to date whomever she likes.
  • Arc Villain: Admiral Junayd in the first two books. He's an experienced, pragmatic Anti-Villain and apparently a family man. So much the latter that he fakes his death in battle and defects to the Commonwealth after Kat beats him for the second time, in order to shield his family from retribution.
  • Authority in Name Only: Subverted. In peacetime, King Hadrian is the commander-in-chief but otherwise has little political power. However, Tyre's laws grant him absolute power in wartime. It's mentioned, though, that this has never been tested before and will likely produce some law changes after the war ends.
  • Black-and-White Morality: The conflict between the Commonwealth and the Theocracy shows the liberal educated technologically advanced Commonwelath versus the purely evil misogynist oppressive Theocracy. This can border on Narm for some readers, though, given it is partially based on The War on Terror.
  • Covers Always Lie: The service uniform of the Commonwealth Navy is black in color, but for some bizarre reason the cover art of all the books depicts Kat wearing her dress whites on the bridge.
  • Cult Colony: Ahura Mazda, the capital system of the Theocracy, apparently started off as this and takes its name from Zoroastrianism's equivalent of the Abrahamic God. Its "One True Faith" is essentially extreme Wahhabi Islam with the serial numbers filed off.
  • Earth That Was: The entire Sol system was pulverized by Colony Drop in the Breakaway Wars a couple hundred years ago. Only a few asteroid colonies remain.
  • Epunymous Title: Falcone Strike.
  • Feudal Future: Tyre's aristocracy started out as a plutocracy, with the heads of Mega Corps essentially declaring themselves noblemen en masse and the richest and most powerful among them becoming the royal family. This remains the case: getting rich as a private citizen allows you to buy yourself a peerage.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling:
    • One of Kat's older sisters is a party girl and scandal magnet; Kat went to Military Academy instead.
    • William has one of these, himself, in Scott as while he's a Commonwealth Naval officer, his brother is a smuggler.
  • The Good King: King Hadrian is passionately devoted to his people and has a sharp mind for politics.
  • Inappropriately Close Comrades: Kat and Marine Major Patrick Davidson were lovers as junior officers on a previous post but broke up when they were reassigned separately. However, in The Oncoming Storm Pat is made Marine commander of Lightning, which is already a billet that tends to act as confidant to the captain (since technically they're outside the captain's direct chain of command). The two initially try to be Just Friends, but after Kat has a brush with death in an insurgent attack, they decide, "screw the rules, we could both die tomorrow" and become an Official Couple.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Kat is the youngest of ten, and as such is essentially free to do whatever she likes without worrying about having to take over her father's MegaCorp or an Arranged Marriage.
  • No-Sell: An APC Kat rides in in the first book takes a direct hit from an insurgent-fired rocket while ferrying her to meet Admiral Morrison upon her arrival. The rocket detonates on the hull without causing any damage and the crew barely reacts.
  • No Woman's Land: The Theocracy treats women like chattel and are prone to making them Brainwashed and Crazy.
  • Off Stage Villainy:
    • William suspects his brother Scott of transporting illegal arms and slaves during his decades as a smuggler, but Scott spends most of his appearances as a reliable (albeit cynical and mercenary) source of information about their enemies.
    • Speaker Nehemiah is a leader of a brutal and oppressive government waging a war of oppression, but most of his POV scenes have him being uncomfortable about the scorched Earth policy his peers are employing on their own home world and showing concern for his family (and even some reluctant So Proud of You moments for the rebellious daughter who derailed his nation's plan).
  • Orbital Bombardment: Usually accomplished by kinetic impactors fired from orbiting ships. It's treated as a form of artillery strike, destructive but highly focused, since a planet is no good to anyone if it's been completely glassed.
  • Passed-Over Promotion: Kat's first officer Commander William McElney is considerably older than her with much more time in the service, but he's a commoner and not a native of Tyre. Understandably he resents being passed over in favor of nobles pulling strings, but Kat manages to win him over: she didn't want the promotion yet, either, and goes out of her way to not step on his toes and pay attention to his advice. He's finally promoted in Cursed Command.
  • Religion of Evil: The True Faith has so far shown no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
  • Schizo Tech: In the vein of the contrast between American megacities and rural areas, the Commonwealth core worlds like Tyre are heavily built up and urbanized with gleaming skyscrapers and the like, while fringe and independent worlds are considerably less populous and more agrarian. Also, both sides' fleets include a lot of United Nations hardware left over from the Breakaway Wars that is essentially on its last legs.
  • Spanner in the Works: During a patrol, Kat intercepts a ship carrying a princess of the Theocracy who is trying to defect. She alerts Kat to a fleet buildup on the border, and Kat goes to check it out and ends up blowing the lid off Admiral Junayd's entire plan, forcing him to launch the invasion right then, before his supply lines have caught up, or risk having the 6th Fleet actually be ready for him.
  • Spiritual Successor: The influence of David Weber's Honor Harrington series is obvious and abundant. The first book is essentially a What Could Have Been of On Basilisk Station where Manticore loses, and one character even refers to a missile salvo as "a decent Weber of missiles" in the second book. Tyre also has a similar plutocracy-turned-Feudal Future aristocracy to Manticore.
  • Subspace Ansible: StarCom uses entangled artificial singularities and have to be part of very large space stations because of the secondary systems required to sustain them. In Falcone Strike, Kat captures a much smaller StarCom unit that was miniaturized by removing most of the secondary systems, which makes it able to be carried on a ship but substantially reduces its service lifespan.
  • Subspace or Hyperspace: Hyperspace is similar to that of Babylon 5, an alternate plane where sensor range is limited and battles are extremely dangerous. Ships enter and exit hyperspace by generating jump points.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: The Breakaway Wars, i.e. the United Nations attempting to reassert control over humanity's colonies. This ended with the destruction of the entire Sol system by Colony Drop.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's repeatedly mentioned that Scott became a smuggler while trying to rescue his girlfriend from a life as a Sex Slave, but it's never mentioned whether he succeeded.
  • You Have Failed Me: Deconstructed. The Theocracy tends to execute entire families for this and runs headlong into the logical conclusion of this, that officers who are killed for failure cannot learn from their mistakes. Admiral Junayd is spared from this in the first book and given another chance, but after a second serious loss at Kat's hands, he fakes his death to protect his family and defects to the Commonwealth.

     The Oncoming Storm 
  • Cassandra Truth: The Commonwealth's stated reason for annexing Cadiz is so that the Theocracy won't get it, because they know that however much the Cadizians hate the Commonwealth, the Theocrats will be much worse. After the Theocracy forces the Commonwealth Navy to cede the system, local resistance fighters essentially give a "Dang, you weren't kidding" reaction to some Space Marines who got stuck on-planet with them.
  • Fantasy Conflict Counterpart: The occupation of Cadiz by the Commonwealth is a very disparaging allegory to the American occupation of Iraq in the 2000s: a politically controversial long-running occupation of a neutral power begun for reasons of realpolitik, that has by now become mired in a bloody and expensive insurgency and is riven with corruption and incompetence on the part of the occupiers.
  • General Failure: Admiral Morrison plays the Head-in-the-Sand Management trope to the hilt, preferring partying to doing his job and convinced that war won't happen if he doesn't do anything to antagonize the Theocracy. He's presumed dead after the Theocracy invades, and Kat repeatedly laments not having killed him herself, never mind the consequences. He ends up being rescued by Kat but is killed by parties unknown during interrogation.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The Oncoming Storm: How the Cadiz campaign ends up for the Theocracy, thanks to Kat ruining the surprise attack. When the attack comes she takes command of the fleet since all the officers who would outrank her are stuck planetside, and manages to organize a retreat with relatively light casualties. She then joins up with another fleet in a nearby system, which returns to extract surviving Commonwealth ground forces and rampages through the system destroying industry and Theocratic surface bases before also retreating. The Theocrats end up holding Cadiz, but they've outrun their supply train and cannot use any of the existing resources in-system, while the Commonwealth Navy has suffered only relatively light casualties compared to what would have happened sans Kat.
  • Screw Your Ultimatum!: King Hadrian to the Theocratic ambassador near the end of The Oncoming Storm. The Theocracy launches a surprise invasion coupled with sleeper agents bombing against civilian targets across the core worlds, then the ambassador delivers an ultimatum demanding the Commonwealth's capitulation. Hadrian responds with a combination Badass Boast and Rousing Speech:
    "You are correct on one point. There will be no negotiation.
    "You have mounted an unprovoked war against my people, commencing with a series of cowardly terrorist attacks that have left upwards of nine thousand civilians dead. Your... pathetic attempt to give us a declaration of war, too late for us to put our forces on alert, is only the icing on the cake. There will be no further negotiation—and no negotiated peace. The Commonwealth will fight until the Theocracy has been crushed, Ambassador, and it will be crushed.
    "Your people want freedom. We will give it to them. Your conquests want independence. We will give it to them. Your sons want the right to learn more than how to recite your prayers by rote. We will give it to them. Your wives and daughters want the right to make their own choices. We will give it to them. And the entire galaxy wants to sleep peacefully, without fearing conquest by you. We will give it to them.
    "I promise you nothing, but war to the knife. And the next time we meet, it will be when I take your surrender in the ruins of your homeworld."

     Falcone Strike 
  • Career-Building Blunder: Kat chews out a well-connected Armchair Military nobleman for Monday-morning-quarterbacking Second Cadiz and nearly gets herself court-martialed thanks to said connections. However, King Hadrian intercedes on her behalf and puts her in command of a force assigned to raid behind Theocratic lines, while putting out the cover story that she's been Reassigned to Antarctica.
  • La Résistance: Kat and company set up some of these on a number of worlds, even though they know they will almost certainly all be killed.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Characters on both sides regard forcing Pyrrhic victories in this manner as a winning strategy for the Commonwealth. Unlike the single-system polities that the Theocracy has rolled up before now, the Commonwealth is big enough to trade space for time as it ramps up war production, while the Theocrats are lacking in the required industries (due in part to revolt-suppressing economic strategies). If the Commonwealth can survive for two years or so, they'll gain the advantage.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Admiral Junayd gets this, only avoiding execution by virtue of the fact the Speaker's screw up is much worse due to his daughter defecting. Kat's reassignment is meant to look like that but is actually a promotion.
  • Religion Is Wrong: Kat certainly thinks so and assumes religious people are more inclined to be violent crazy fanatics. Subverted with the fact William comes from a deeply religious world and has spiritual beliefs himself.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Admiral Junayd decides the Theocracy is going to execute him for his failure so he fakes his death and defects to the Commonwealth.

     Cursed Command 

  • The Alleged Car: Uncanny seems to be more the alleged ship. It actually turns out to be in better shape than it appears. Because the mutineers intend to steal it.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Gibson's plan to become a warlord keeps him from making a Heel–Face Turn or just deserting, even as it becomes clear that his mutiny is becoming far less likely to succeed and that William deserves Gibson's loyalty. He decides that he'd rather "dare to greatness than live a life in the shadows."
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: The crew of the Uncanny (nicknamed Unlucky) is the worst in the entire Commonwealth Navy. Justified by a horrible previous commander and the Navy deliberately sending their problem cases there.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Uncanny and Lightning destroy a massive amount of pirates and a Theocracy battle cruiser but end up with the Lightning destroyed as well as a blemish on the careers of all colonists serving in the Commonwealth Navy.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Colonists are treated as second-class citizens by the majority of Tyre's citizens. This is doubly true in the Navy and a chief reason for so many colonials to consider joining Gibson's mutiny.
  • A Father to His Men: William has this attitude to his crew and it inspires a great deal of loyalty. Not enough to overcome all of the problems of the Unlucky, though.
  • Kicked Upstairs: A combination of this and Reassigned to Antarctica is William finally getting his first command. He is assigned the worst destroyer in the fleet due to Fantastic Racism in hopes he'll fail while also making it look like he's being rewarded. Kat is suitably disgusted.
  • The Mutiny: Joel Gibson has been planning one for some time. William being assigned as the ship's new commanding officer is a Spanner in the Works.
  • The Neidermeyer:
    • Captain Albernathy was this, up to the point of inspiring The Mutiny. Captain Albernathy was a horrible leader who used his Steward for sex, ran a crime ring, and inspired his own crew to murder him. Doubles as a Posthumous Character.
    • Joel Gibson devolves into this as he suffers a Villainous Breakdown.
    • Kat's new XO Crenshaw is a lazy, somewhat cowardly aristocrat who is constantly undermining the colonials so they won't take jobs that would otherwise be awarded to people like him based on Nepotism.
  • Passed-Over Promotion: The source of many of the colonists' discontent. They are prevented from rising high in the Navy due to it being set up around a patronage system.
  • Reassignment Backfire: Subverted with William McElney as while he had the potential to turn the situation around. He still ended up being the first ever commander in the Commonwealth to suffer a mutiny.
  • Unfriendly Fire: The mutineers dispose of Captain Albernathy before they plan on taking the next step. They don't expect the Commonwealth to assign someone manifestly better.
  • Visionary Villain: Joel Gibson claims to want to turn pirate. He actually plans to become a warlord in the sector.

     Desperate Fire 
  • Aborted Arc: After being heavily built up in the last two books, the efforts to get Colonials the citizenship rights they deserve is barely mentioned.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Theocracy is destroyed and forced to sign a treat recognizing religious freedom and sexual equality. However, the cost includes Kat's lover and father. Millions of other people have been killed.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The Theocracy can't win the war. The only thing which they can do is make it as bloody and horrific for the Commonwealth to win as possible.
  • Heel Realization: Admiral Junayd has one of these as he slowly realizes nothing is worth saving in the Theocracy.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Pat dies stopping the Theocracy's plan to destroy their homeworld.
  • Retirony: Pat dies after asking Kat to marry him and getting her acceptance.
  • Sanity Slippage: The Lord Cleric and the Inquisition suffer this as they suffer from Double Think as the Commonwealth closes down.
  • Thrown from the Zeppelin: During a leadership summit, Speaker Mosul denounces the inquisition's refusal to Know When to Fold 'Em during the invasion of their home world while several other prominent clerics seem to nonverbally agree. They are immediately denounced as heretics, arrested, and marked for death. The only thing that saves their life is that the government is delusional enough to think they'll win the war and plans to hold a big fancy show trial before sentencing them to death once that happens. Instead, Mosul ends up being liberated from jail and made a member of the provisional government.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: The extremists in the Theocracy take control as the Commonwealth gets closer and closer. They proceed to make things even worse.
  • We Have Reserves: The Lord Cleric and Inquisition's head believe this will grant them victory but it's wrong. The Commonwealth has more reserves.
  • You Are in Command Now: Kat takes over the fleet attacking Ahura-Mazda when Admiral Christian dies.