This is the first volume in what has become (as of this writing) a nine-volume military science fiction series. It follows the adventures of a twenty-two year old female space navy ensign named Kris Longknife, who happens to be the daughter of a high-ranking politician and heir to a vast fortune. Sadly, the protagonist is little more than a cardboard cutout, and worse, she’s a physical, mental, and most importantly, moral paragon who can do no wrong while all those around her are either lazy, weak, evil, or otherwise imperfect and have to be shown the error of their ways or soundly defeated by the heroine. She has one small defect and that’s that she abused alcohol as a teenager, but over the course of the novel discovers that she’s not really an alcoholic and has beaten her former alcohol problem through sheer willpower and can now drink again with no problems.
Mild plot spoilers below.
The book opens strongly with Kris leading a rescue mission of a kidnapped child that’s reminiscent of her own brother’s kidnapping as a child (though why exactly is a boot ensign with no combat experience leading a hostage rescue of a high-ranking politician’s daughter when a team of special forces specialists is clearly required? Better not to ask, I suppose). Kris does well, but is put out to pasture on half-pay then recalled to duty and sent to a colony world where the local government has collapsed and she must deal with a large refugee population. Fortunately, Kris Longknife possesses the moral courage, the common sense, and the vast wealth needed to save the starving colony, largely by dealing with bureaucratic obstacles and paying off locals to help her. She then gets involved in a painfully transparent attempt to instigate a war between Earth and Kris’ home world and its allies.
There’s clearly a major war brewing (I assume this is where the next sequel takes us), with lots of political (and presumably, military) fights going on, but the actual politics themselves of Earth, its colonies, and all the other places where humans have settled are only hastily sketched and introduced gradually and piecemeal. Imagine a typical American watching, say, the Indonesian equivalent of C-SPAN and you’d have a similar level of understanding and interest in the various political factions described in the novel. The politics are important, but are poorly described and just plain boring. And that’s really the book’s worst sin – even worse than the “Mary Sue” protagonist – is that it’s boring. It’s a trite storyline with cartoon villains and an unbelievable protagonist who can do no wrong while all those around her consistently fail or show weakness.
Also, while the book is nominally science fiction and set in either the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth century (the text contradicts itself on this account), human society seems to have been not particularly affected by several hundred yeas worth of technological developments. In fact, other than faster-than-light spaceships and vehicles that are made out of “smart metal” and can change configurations, all the technology used in the novel could pretty much be found today or in the next decade. For a “science fiction” story, it sure is light on actual science fictional elements.
I can’t in good conscience recommend this one, and give it 2 stars out of 5. I realize that I’m in the minority here, based on the many positive reviews of this series floating around, but I didn’t like it and have no plans to continue the series. I enjoy military SF, so in some respects, I really am the target audience, but then again, I don’t care for the uber-protagonist-driven series like Honor Harrington and Miles Vorkosigan either. Fans of those series might very well enjoy this one far more than I did.
Review copyright 2011 J. Andrew Byers