“Engaging the Enemy” indeed, the third installment of the series finally gives readers a genuine space battle. But it also introduces an odd assortment of cultural eccentricities which seem in line with some of the more unbalanced societies given passing treatment on one-off episodes of Star Trek. There’s humor in it though and that is sufficient.
Somewhat necessary nowadays is the need to impart the difficulty of light lag in space combat which is achieved here to good effect by the now obsolete tactics demonstrated at the end of the book. Very well done also is the showing of a need of a certain kind of officer to adapt to the demands of changing technology to both innovate where needed while respecting the principles of tradition and discipline.
The one blemish is one seems a tired, but still amusing, convention of a planet in the far future which has resurrected the veneration of honor expressed in duels at the slightest insult. An amusing sideshow is a legal proceeding in a system that seems to have taken love of nature, particularly the forest, and absolute adherence to decorum and politeness to a ludicrous extreme.
This is a great listen. The pacing and mix of action, plotting and courtroom drama keeps things interesting throughout. THe plot twists are a lot of fun too.
I think the biggest shame here is that when we get to the point where the good guys finally get the fleet they’ve been working for since the beginning, the reader gets so little pay off. The fleet is an amorphous entity that flutters about having little consequence to the events except that the drama plays out on a greater scale in the background of the protagonists’ emotional issues. Planning and tactics are extolled but never in much detail and in a story that fixates on building up to a titanic struggle, this conclusion ultimately lacks depth in a very disappointing way.
Regrettably, this shallowness is not compensated for by a correspondingly better treatment of the characters. Quality has not improved, merely quantity, in a narrative that spreads across a fleet, and three star systems and involves more than half a dozen character perspectives. The heroes, who often simultaneously are to have undergone dramatic changes while remaining fundamentally the same, are likable enough. The resolution of what felt like a tacked on romantic tension was not as appalling as it could have been, but still felt like a vexing element of the plot.
Okay, the plot elements I hated have become more numerous and prominent. The need to follow Stella’s former love to the world that serves as the heart of Interstellar Communications Corporation in order to discover the truth behind the conspiracy and the fate of his family is drawn out in an attempt to make him more respectable. The plotting of Aunt Grace Vatta on Slotter Key makes for an odd detour at times. But ultimately, the book delivers on its promise of a destiny realized as the Space Defense Force gets a name, a mission and ultimately a mandate.
Somewhat tempering this success however is the ultimate realization that combat in this universe and at this author’s hands will not be the intricate ballet of hard military scifi goodness that might have been possible given the restrictions that prevailed at the beginning. Like Honor Harrington, Ky Vatta soon gets her hands on FTL communications and with short range FTL jumping gets to real-time information gathering without the ponderous, and more steadily paced, technological development of David Weber’s heroine.
So there will be no dazzling tactical sweeps such as those that occupied the adventures of The Lost Fleet. Instead we get snapshots of destruction and drama that satisfy but do not engage.
The second book in the story of the Vatta family is an old fashioned chase, albeit one that involves FTL trade ships, privateers in space and a conspiracy that gets very big, very fast.
There is no doubt that the author raises the stakes and widens the playing field. This includes adding more character perspectives, including the misunderstood cousin with a secret life, the aunt that is a spy master of great skill, and the rogue that’s really the heir to the CEO of the most powerful corporation in known space. This introduces my principal gripe with the series, the delivery of too many characters’ viewpoints, either contributing too much or nothing at all.
The book does begin to live up to the promise of actual combat, though it is simple gunplay for the most part. Where it deviates from that is the unconventional use of mines and the obligatory zero-g melee, which were interesting enough.
I’d hoped that the unfortunate breakup that befell the central character in the first book was the only romantic interest one would have to up with, I guess I was fooling myself.
I am very happy that I decided to purchase this first installment in what has turned out to be a rather good series. Serving as an introduction to the world of Ky Vatta, quite literally and in terms of the rules and conventions of Ms. Moon’s universe, the first book embodies the Vatta family mission of “trade and profit,” in the face of political intrigue, sabotage, civil war and piracy.
Through it all, the indomitable Ky overcomes inexperience, uncertainty and an acute shortage of credit to gain the confidence of her crew, what will turn out to be a ubiquitous band of mercenaries, and the father who sent her into space.
Thoroughly drawn, the story and the world in which it comes to life are extremely engaging and entertaining. The characters are fun and mostly likable, if at times forgivably annoying. All in all, it’s a great listen and worth checking out.
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