Book review: Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos

Lockdown in the UK is coming to an end. The restrictions on going outside are coming to an end for most people, and for the more vulnerable the restrictions are starting to lift. It seems strange and also liberating to be moving back to the old world, although that’s not quite accurate: the world we now live in is very different to that many of us left in March 2020. I say many, because for some the world kept going – I’m talking here about the NHS staff, the emergency services and delivery staff, as well as shop workers (who, to many, have been a limb of the emergency services). Those who tirelessly worked through the lockdown have my thanks.

During lockdown, I made two promises to myself: that I would read more and that I would blog more. I managed to keep one of those promises, and it doesn’t relate to blogging. I am going to try to make this more consistent, but I’m sure you’ve heard that one before . . . 

Today’s review is Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos. I picked this up during lockdown as a result of buying a Kindle. I’d resisted the temptation to get into the ebook ecosystem for a long time; I prefer the physical presence of a book. However, lockdown made acquiring fresh old-fashioned paperbacks more difficult, so I invested in a Kindle. The result? A whole range of easily acquired, cheap and very readable books that I would otherwise not have picked up. I’m going to be exploring a few in the coming weeks, and promise to try harder to keep up my reviewing presence, but today I’m going to start with something familiar. 

Here is the blurb from on Terms of Enlistment:

“The year is 2108, and the North American Commonwealth is bursting at the seams. For welfare rats like Andrew Grayson, there are only two ways out of the crime-ridden and filthy welfare tenements: You can hope to win the lottery and draw a ticket on a colony ship settling off-world . . . or you can join the service. With the colony lottery a pipe dream, Andrew chooses to enlist in the armed forces for a shot at real food, a retirement bonus, and maybe a ticket off Earth. But as he starts a career of supposed privilege, he soon learns that the good food and decent health care come at a steep price . . . and that the settled galaxy holds far greater dangers than military bureaucrats or the gangs that rule the slums.”

This is Marko Kloos’ debut novel, published by the Amazon imprint 47North all the way back in 2014. I’d read some good things about it and seeing it available through the very weird “lending” system on Amazon Prime (at least, I think it was that: Amazon has a wide range of ways to obtain books for a shorter or longer period these days) I eagerly downloaded it. 

In many ways, Terms of Enlistment is safe territory for me. I’m the key target for such a novel: it ticks all the boxes for things I like to read about. This is well-written and engaging military SF. It doesn’t break the mould but it does what it does very well; hitting many familiar beats that fans of mili-SF will recognise, while propelling you forward in such a way that none of this overstays its welcome. This is Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Armour – you get the picture. You’ll recognise Andrew Grayson from many novels of this type. Our erstwhile non-hero (note I didn’t say anti-hero: while he has depth, Grayson is sympathetic and an all-round decent guy, rather than a flawed anti-hero) is also our narrator. This is very much is story, and the plot closely follows his enlistment into the North American Commonwealth armed services, and his eventual deployment. 

All of this sounds about as familiar as it feels. Terms of Enlistment follows the traditional “boy into soldier” narrative arc, and many readers of military SF will recognise this. However, I don’t mean that as a criticism, because the fact that Terms of Enlistment sticks closely to the tropes of the genre is also its greatest strength. Kloos’ prose is straightforward and highly readable, his battle scenes realistic, and his descriptions engaging.  

Grayson’s development from slum rat to Navy ensign sees him evolve more as a character, generally though his love interest Halley. He’s likeable and it’s certainly interesting to witness him become more than his roots. As with most mili-SF, there are limits to what Grayson can do – he’s a junior military man, very aware of the chain of command – but Halley allows Kloos to explore other aspects of his character. He moves through a number of squads during his short career, but characterisation of the supporting cast is necessarily limited by the setting (with the exception of Sergeant Fallon; Grayson’s commanding officer who we learn a bit more about).  

Overall, Terms of Engagement is recommended for readers of military SF. It is a very good example of this genre, and while it doesn’t travel very far from the path of its predecessors, that is also its strength. In total, the Frontline series comprises of seven novels. The other novels are definitely on my to-be-read list.