Monday, March 20, 2023

Review: Rubicon by J.S. Dewes

 by J.S. Dewes
Tor Books
Publication Date: March 28th, 2023
Paperback. 480 pages.

About Rubicon:

"Sergeant Adrienne Valero wants to die. She can't.

After enduring a traumatic resurrection for the ninety-sixth time, Valero is reassigned to a special forces unit and outfitted with a cutting-edge virtual intelligence aid. They could turn the tide in the war against intelligent machines dedicated to the assimilation, or destruction, of humanity.

When her VI suddenly achieves sentience, Valero is drawn into the machinations of an enigmatic major who’s hell-bent on ending the war—by any means

Rubicon is a fast-paced, adventurous, and exciting action story, while also being very thought-provoking and full of many heavy topics to explore. There is an incredible balance of fast-paced adventurous military sci-fi with deep character exploration and world-building.

I read and absolutely loved J.S. Dewes' The Last Flight a couple years back and was so excited to see a brand new world and story for her latest book, Rubicon. I don't read all that much military sci-fi on a regular basis, but I do read it from time to time and Rubicon is a perfect example of how much I can love some military sci-fi!

It's hard to succinctly summarize Rubicon, so please bear with me while I do my best. The story starts off with an action-packed beginning where we follow Sergeant Adrienne Valero on a typical mission in the 803rd unit, which ends with her and her crew dying and "rezoning" back to life into a new body. This might sound intense, but fear not–this is the 96th time that Adrienne has rezoned, so she's pretty much an old pro at this point. All memories remain intact, it's simply a new shell for the minds to be placed. This rezoning is a tool that humans have been using for a number of years now since the human population has dwindled and they need to stay ready to fight the Mechans. Humans have been battling the Mechans for a couple decades now to get past their blockade, but the Mechans are extremely strong, have great technology, and–due to being essentially robots–very hard to beat. 

Our story begins when Adrienne is reassigned to a special forces unit where rezoning is much rarer and there seems to be more importance placed on the lives of the crew within the unit. In this special forces unit, members are required to have a virtual intelligence aid installed, which is basically like having a really smart, intuitive, and more useful Alexa-type device in your head that's meant to assist on missions and give crews a better chance at success. Somehow, Adrienne's VI achieves sentience, thereby giving her a huge edge and additional abilities that takes all of her missions to the next level. I personally really enjoyed seeing how these VIs interacted with the characters and how they managed to assist them in so many critical ways, and I loved seeing how Adrienne interacted with hers, especially as she began to realize that it acted in ways that didn't seem similar to how her crewmates' VIs were interacting with them. 

Adrienne is a fascinating character. She's tough, she's strong, and she's real. She's very human and she has very human problems. No matter how many times she rezones, her struggle with alcohol seems to remain at a constant, and it's hard to blame her for this when her recent life has consisted of 96 rezones. She always seems to want to care more about her life and find more purpose and meaning in it, but struggles due to the nature of her job. I think Dewes did a really great of showcasing how Adrienne was regularly affected by the constant rezones and living such an intense, yet also somewhat monotonous life. It's hard to imagine what it would be like to go through such a lifestyle on a regular basis, but Dewes captures the mental and physical struggles extremely well and really made me empathize with Adrienne's circumstances, as well as the circumstances of many of the other characters stuck in a similar loop. 

In essence, this really is a bit of a dark story. It essentially takes place in a seemingly endless, almost hopeless battle where the humans just keep dying–and even though they get rezoned, it's not like it doesn't take a toll on everyone. Because of this premise, Rubicon is able to tackle some really hard questions, such as purpose in life and discussions of immortality. For instance, what does this particular type of immortality mean? You're still human, but no matter how many times you die, you'll keep being brought back in a rezone. Is there a purpose to life if you never really die? Are there any stakes involved and what is the motivation? How are you supposed to find the strength to get back up and keep living this life over and over? And for Adrienne, once she is reassigned to the special forces unit, how is she supposed to cope with the fact that she now has a significantly better quality of life while the rest of her old friends and many other people are still stuck living a very lonely, dark life?

All these topics and more are explored in very thoughtful and complex ways by Dewes, and I think it is really these questions that made this such a compelling read. There is plenty of action throughout the story to keep readers entertained, but there's also a lot of heart and a lot of complicated dynamics involved that add incredible depth to the story. The characters are also crafted really well, and I think this a strength I've noticed with Dewes' work, as she always managed to create characters that I can really connect to and find myself invested in. Outside of these things, Rubicon also has a truly compelling plotline centered around the fight between humanity and the Mechans, and I loved getting to explore the world and technology of this universe through this plot. The pacing is also wonderfully consistent, not too fast but also not too slow, and I found there to be a perfect balance of action and calmer moments. There's a lot to love about this book, and I'm really glad I had the chance to read it.

Overall, I've given Rubicon five stars! If you're looking for a new sci-fi read to lose yourself in, definitely give Rubicon a shot. 

*I received a copy of Rubicon courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |


  1. 96 rezones? Wow. And "Is there a purpose to life if you never die?" I love books that explore stuff like that! I don't read much military SF either but I do love SF that is thought provoking.

  2. I'm so behind with my March books so I haven't started this yet, but I will soon. I'm so happy to see your 5 star rating!