I thought that WARHEAD was absolutely fantastic. I was a big fan of WARLOCK. But WARCHILD is where the Cartmel train went catastrophically off the track. What happened? There are a few passages that echo some of the more successful elements of Cartmel's previous two books, but those sections are few and far between. The references to his earlier works (WARCHILD is a sequel of sorts to WARHEAD and WARLOCK, but knowledge of those shouldn't be required) are unfortunate, as they only served to remind me of much better books.
The story brings us back into the lives of a few characters from the aforementioned Cartmel novels. This book begins the Psi-Powers story-arc and given the events of WARHEAD and WARCHILD, it made sense to have Cartmel write a third story featuring psychic powers. Cartmel does a good job of reusing these plot elements without rehashing them.
So, what is the single biggest flaw in this book? I think for me it was that I could never escape the feeling that I was reading a sloppy work. We know that Cartmel is capable of writing very disciplined material, but he didn't accomplish that this time. The jumbled mood is present in many different aspects of the novel. For instance, the plot can only continue due to laughably outrageous coincidences and implausible actions. Character motivations aren't terribly strong, as people do things for no reason other than the story requiring them to. The themes and allusions that the novel is making might have actually been interesting had they not had all the subtlety of a bulldozer.
Another area of sloppiness is in the use of the regular characters. In the first two books of the War-trilogy, the Doctor is a player behind the scenes. He has few actual appearances in the story, but when he does appear, he's a force of nature to be reckoned with. His presence is felt on every page as his plans gradually unfold. By contrast, in WARCHILD the Doctor spends most of his time defrosting a skinny, naked guy. He may get more actual screen-time in this book then in any other portion of the Cartmel trilogy, but his impact on the story is a fraction of what it was in those other books.
I know I won't be the first person to state this, but this felt horribly like a Benny and Ace book that was hastily and clumsily altered to accommodate the change in lineup. Roz becomes virtually indistinguishable from Ace (I imagine a simple search-and-replace was involved and then a quick addition of a few cursory "the scowling black woman walked into the room" sentences). And poor Chris Cwej must still have the bruises from where he was awkwardly stapled into the plot.
Something else that I am also not the first person to report was finding the book's portrayal of women to be somewhat... well... let's be polite and call it "old-fashioned". At first, I thought it was just me; after all, I read WARCHILD immediately after completing Neal Stephenson's CRYPTONOMICON, which has a dearth of strong women characters and a similar immature attitude towards the female of the species. However, a quick search through Google's archives and reading other reviews revealed that I am not alone in this observation. On the other hand, this may have been a deliberate stylistic choice -- one of the book's main themes is a load of nonsense concerning the concept of the "Alpha Male". But whatever the reason, it left a very bad taste in my mouth.
WARCHILD had one or two excellent set pieces, which are horribly let down by everything that surrounds them. I don't know the circumstances concerning the writing and publication of this novel, but it certainly reads like something that was rushed to print without the necessary time and care being put into it to ensure that it all makes sense. Even the quality of the prose of WARCHILD seems like a step down from the heights of Cartmel's previous novels. A huge disappointment.