Ofelia is an old woman, disregarded by her younger family members, in a failing colony. When the colony loses its franchise and is evacuated, she decides to stay behind, to live out the rest of her life in peace, pleasing only herself. But it turns out the world has an indigenous intelligent population, and Ofelia ends up making First Contact. When the official human contact team arrives, they too dismiss her, but the aliens do not.
This book praises the wisdom and experience of age over the knowledge and education of youth. On the whole, it draws the contrasts well. I've heard some some people say the way the human contact team dismisses Ofelia is unrealistic -- but I have met people that bad in real life. I suppose the question is whether a specially trained First Contact team (and this is first First Contact) would be that impatient.
My main criticism of the book is pacing. It is dreadfully slow to get started, but then rather rushes along at the end. Ofelia herself is very well drawn, because a lot of the early book is just her pottering about the now-deserted colony. But the human contact team are just ciphers, really. The alien indigenes are super, but we don't get to see enough from their point of view. It is worth seeing the arrogant humans getting their come-uppance, however, and there's a good plea for an enriching form of education, rather than rote learning and squashing children's natural curiosity.
If the first two thirds had been halved in length, and the last third stretched out and deepened, this would have been an excellent book. As it is, it's not bad.
There is a disappointingly large overlap with Lunar Activity, but nevertheless this is a good collection of short stories, covering a wide range, from fantasy to hard SF, from Knights Templar to future Marines, from light comedy to serious ethical issues.
The reappearance of magery throughout the land has been met with fear and violence. In the kingdom of Lyonya, Kieri, the half-elven, half-human king, struggles to balance the competing demands of his heritage while fighting a deadly threat to his rule: dark elves linked to the rebirth of magic.
Meanwhile, in the neighbouring kingdom of Tsaia, ancient artefacts recovered by the former mercenary Dorrin Verrakai may hold the answer to the riddle of magery's return. Yet their presence in Tsaia brings danger to all around them. Dorrin must decide their fate, a decision that will change her in unimaginable ways – and may spell doom or salvation for the entire world.
Ky Vatta is the daughter of the powerful Vatta trading family, but has gone into the military. However, close to graduation, she is tricked into an act of kindness that blows up in her face, and forced to resign. When she returns home in disgrace, her father attempts rehabilitation by giving her command of a freighter destined for scrap, and sending her out on a "milk run" to gain experience. He fully expects her to deviate from plan, to continue the family line in Trade and Profit, but what he doesn't expect is for her to end up in a war zone. She has to call on all her military training, and her trading ability, to pull her and her crew through.
This is fun. Ky Vatta is another of those misfit military Moon heroines (she actually feels a bit like Esmay Suiza at times) who makes good, by being clever, honourable, forthright, and ruthless, as appropriate, without ever feeling too good to be true (no pearly glow of Honor here). The plot has lots of interesting twists, and mistakes can have real, and tragic, consequences. There's a good conclusion, but it is very clear there is more to come. I'm looking forward to watching Ky grow up even more.
The action picks up straight after the events in Trading in Danger: Captain Ky Vatta is trying to decide whether to take her ship off for scrap, as she was originally doing, or look for another cargo run. But the previous events weren't an isolated incident, and the bad guys launch an all-out attack on the Vatta family, killing many of the senior members, and blackmailing their Slotter Key government into not helping the rest. So Ky finds herself fleeing assassins without her family to fall back on even if she wanted to. Running for safety is her first priority, but she is determined to find out who is launching these attacks, and avenge her family.
More great slam bang action as Ky, and a few surviving members of her family, foil assassination attempts, make new allies and new enemies, and generally scramble to survive. Ky barrels ahead, taking chances, making mistakes, but still managing to succeed based on her training and native wit. There are some nice sly digs about how family can force you into a particular role, and how early mistakes can be overcome. Again, the book has a resolution, but the whole story of who the bad guys are is wide open.
Following on immediately after Moving Target, Captain Ky Vatta now has two ships, and begins to plan for a fleet of privateers cooperating to take on the pirates. But Stella is upset with her, and wonders if she is going war-mad, whilst planetary governments don't like her stirring up trouble. Then a trusted Vatta line captain arrives, and declares Ky to be an imposter. Meanwhile, back on her home world of Slotter Key, Aunt Grace is wreaking her own style of revenge on the government.
Life is definitely never going to be easy for Ky, as her ultra-direct approach annoys many. But it is the only way for her to get even close to what she needs to do. The levels of conspiracy deepen, and the space battles grow. Great!
Ky Vatta, one of the few surviving members of her family, continues to work her way towards vengeance. She convinces some other captains to join together, as the beginnings of a fleet to tackle the pirates. Initially, she's not in charge, but that will never last. Meanwhile, back on the ISC home planet, Rafe discovers his family have been disappeared, and needs to get them back to get control of ISC. But even so, forces in ISC are still hostile, and he is appalled to discover an ISC fleet has been launched to hunt down and destroy the renegade Ky Vatta...
This continues on with the great slam-bam action of previous books, on a progressively larger scale. As Ky's fleet slowly grows, so does she, from green cadet to seasoned battle veteran. The interactions between the various parts of the Vatta family are also well handled: lots of mistakes, miscommunications, and resentments, but handled in a sufficiently mature way that no-one ends up doing anything too spectacularly dumb.
Ky Vatta is finally getting control of a large enough fleet to think of tackling the pirates who killed her family and are holding the space lanes to ransom. If only she can control the separate factions, keep ISC from attacking her, and work out just where the pirates will strike next. Then she discovers that the pirate fleet is even bigger than she had thought.
A great finale to the series. As the battles get bigger, and Ky moves up the command structure, to overseeing a whole fleet, her part in the action gets less ... active. But this is the way it must be: the admiral just can't go out and go hand-to-hand with the bad guys, much as she may want to.
My main complaint is that the pirate Turek is a bit of a cipher, just there to be the bad guy and get blown away in the end. But I suspect any more background into him would have diluted the focus of the story. As it stands, it has only four plot threads (Ky, Stella, Grace, and Rafe), which keeps it focussed. Overall, this is a great series: five books that each can stand alone, but together bring a tightly plotted story of personal growth through big space battles.
Admiral Ky Vatta should return to her home planet as a war hero, but during the journey her shuttle is downed by sabotage. Marooned in a hostile landscape, it’ll take every bit of wit, skill and luck she can muster to lead her fellow survivors to safety, knowing that the mysterious enemies who destroyed the ship are on the hunt and may have an agent in the group ready to finish the job at any moment. And was the sabotage an attempt on Ky’s own life, or someone else’s?
When Admiral Kylara Vatta and a ship full of strangers were marooned on an inhospitable and unknown continent, they uncovered secrets that someone on Ky’s planet was ready to kill to keep hidden. Now, the existence of the mysterious arctic base has been revealed, but the organisation behind it still lurks in the shadows. It is up to the intrepid Ky to force the perpetrators into the light, and uncover decades’ worth of secrets – some of which lie at the very heart of her family’s greatest tragedy.
Near the end of Winning Colors we see Heris Serrano involved in a space battle, and saved by Despite. This is the subsequent story of Lieutenant Esmay Suiza, mutineer and hero, who commanded Despite in that battle. (It isn't necessary to have read Winning Colors first, but it does help a little.) The tale manages to keep up with the promise of its great opening line:
Suiza doesn't seem a classic hero: she has always been quiet and reserved, opting for Technical rather than Command track in the R.S.S. So her superiors are puzzled, and not a little suspicious, of her apparent change of character to heroic commander during the mutiny and following battle. Now all she wants to do is retreat back into her shell, but events are not about to leave her alone.
We get fun space battles, a dash of 'rites of passage', a marvelously bizarre space-station-cum-starship, some deep characterization, great detail on 'being a good officer', and some advice on how to deal with problem families. All told with skill, style, and pace. (It's also good to have a protagonist who is 'nice', but who you don't want to hit over the head just for that very reason.)
Esmay Suiza has been sent off to command school, where she meets Brun Meager, bright but spoilt daughter of the Speaker of the Grand Council. Due to several misunderstandings they have a serious falling out. Then Brun is kidnapped by the New Texas Godfearing Militia, a fanatical religious sect, who have extreme views about the status of women. Factions eager for Esmay's downfall blame her for these events, but Esmay is more interested in rescuing Brun.
Some exciting space combat, some well-drawn character development, some interesting insights into military training, and some nicely-integrated subplots, make this a good read. I won't say it's altogether a fun read, because of Brun's truly harrowing experiences at the hands of her evil captors. But it's left me wanting to find out what happens next. Enough of the loose ends are tied up to give this a satisfactory ending, but at least two are left dangling, presumably for the sequel.
I read this eagerly directly after Rules of Engagement, and was rather disappointed, possibly because it was not the story I was hoping for. There is very little of Esmay, or of Brun, in this. Rather, it is a complex tapestry of the action that occurs after a senior member of the Families is assassinated, and the consequent political and military fall-out.
Personally, I tend to prefer stories that follow one, or a few, characters in depth, rather than flitting from scene to scene, exploring their universe in breadth. And there are many more loose ends at the end than the beginning of the book.
So, a reasonable establishing of plot elements for the next in the series, but definitely not a stand-alone story.
All the loose ends are tied up in a flurry of activity. Because there are so many parallel threads (Heris, Esmay, Cecelia, Brun, Goonar Terakian, Barin, ...) each is not given quite the depth I would have liked. I feel the four 'Esmay' books have been progressively watered down by the increasing proliferation of threads. But there are some good moments here: two that stand out are Barin's learning about courage and leadership, and the Kafka-esque scene where Esmay may have to face a desertion charge, despite not having deserted.
Again, this isn't really a stand-alone book, but forms a satisfactory conclusion to the series.