by Elizabeth Moon
Review by Ernest Lilley
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0345491599
Date: 27 February, 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
At the outset of this series Ky got kicked out of the academy and went back to her trader family, where she was given an aging ship to take on a final run. Not much to look at, but a command nonetheless. While she was out the interstellar communications network of ansibles was taken out by a bold group of pirates that had managed to get hold of the previously unheard of shipboard ansible tech and were now able to coordinated raids on ships and systems alike. Being the only force with instant ship to ship communications gave them a tactical advantage that outmatched any local force, and there's no Galactic Patrol in this universe. At least not yet.
Ky, with a letter of marque given her by the academy commandant, who knew she'd been set up by a corrupt political machine, went on the offensive and has been gaining steady ground over the last few books, though she knows that her family is most likely dead, having been one of the pirates targets. Now, with her cousin Stella handling the corporate side of the reconstruction, she's heading her own space force, which may only have three ships in it, but they too have pirate ansibles, courtesy of the first pirate she'd taken as a prize. Retaken, really, since it was captained by a rouge Vatta. Now, Ky is looking for more systems to offer support to her fledgling fleet, and trying not to bankrupt the reassembled family firm while she searches. Unfortunately, interstellar war has been considered unfeasible, and nobody is prepared to step up to and offer substantial help, at least not yet.
Ky manages to scrape together enough credit to rearm her fleet at a dodgy outpost, which she then has to fight her way out of, and starts the business of turning a small, but growing collection of ragtag merchant vessels into a fighting force. Along the way she's joined by a ridiculous trio of theatrical romantics (think the three musketeers in space) who actually turn out to be courageous and worthy warriors, in their own absurdly florid way. Then, while jumping into an empty system for some training maneuvers, she encounters old friends, a mercenary outfit she'd first been captured by and then fought along side in the first book. But before she can enjoy a reunion, and feel out the mercenaries on joint operations, they come under overwhelming attack by pirates.
Suddenly Ky is up to her neck in space warfare where the numbers are heavily against her, and the enemy has the same communications tech she's got. And there are more problems at her door as well, including a corporate space force coming to blow her out of the ether for fixing their broken ansible relay. Since the ISC has a monopoly on the things, they don't have to play nice, and as we learn, there's been evil afoot in the corporate ranks as well.
Several side plots continue to unfurl. Ky's Aunt Grace is still on Slotter's Key, and having survived another assassination attempt, has thrown off her dotty old maid affectation to reveal her true intelligence background. Cousin Stella has abandoned her fluffy headed blond camouflage for the hard headed business woman that Vatta now needs, though she's still reeling from revelations in the last book. And nephew Toby turns out to be the just the tech wizard that the times demand.
Both romance and commerce get pushed to the side in this installment, at least as far as Ky is concerned. Rafe, the darkly mysterious ISC agent who went along with Ky's gang for a bit has gone back to Nexus, the ISC corporate center to find out what's going on at home, and with him goes the tenuous romantic subplot. What's going on at home is not good at all, Rafe discovers, and he quickly finds himself ensnared by covert operations and boardroom politics that he'd hoped never to be troubled by. It will be interesting to see where the author goes with the Rafe/Ky affair, as they are both becoming formidable players in different organizations. Business may make strange bedfellows, but Ky isn't showing any signs of settling down.
My one regret in this otherwise excellent series is that Ky has moved out of trading and back into the military as quickly as she could. I understand that economic warfare is less satisfying than blazing blasters and launching missiles at the enemy, but it's what warfare comes down to in the end anyway, and all the shooting does is raise the stakes. I'm sorry that the author has chosen to lean towards the Citizen of the Galaxy and away from the stories of the Solar Queen. The result is still a gripping series for those of us who enjoy yarns about "coming of age in space opera" but as usual, the protagonist's meteoric rise, good fortune, and tendency to solve problems with a bigger hammer keep Ky's adventures from offering us more than the expected, and emotionally satisfying, adventure.