Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Dark Star Rising (Blackwood & Virtue #2), by Bennett R. Coles

HarperVoyager, ISBN 9780063022690, September 2020

Another galactic empire.

A space navy very closely based on the 18th/19th century Age of Sail British navy. This includes propulsion almost entirely by solar sail--seemingly including at FTL speeds. Grappling hooks, boarding parties, cannon.

A reptilian alien species who call themselves Theropods--i.e., the name we give to the category of dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus Rex and the ancestors of birds. Okay. I mean, it seems unlikely, but, okay.

Our heroes, Subcommander Liam Blackwood and Sublieutenant Amelia Virtue, are the executive officer and the quartermaster of HMSS Daring. (That's "His Majesty's Sailing Ship, by the way, not "Space Ship." Those solar sails, able to propel these ships at FTL speeds...) They're hunting down pirates led by the nefarious, mysterious Dark Star. We meet them, and the captain, Commander Sophia Riverton, as well as the ship's doctor, Sublieutenant Dr. Ava Templegrey, as they're heading off to a gala ball while ashore resupplying the ship. Riverton, Blackwood, and Templegrey are all midlevel nobles; Virtue and other crew members we meet are commoners. Within a very hours, they'll be heading off again, much sooner than planned, with a new enemy in addition to the pirate, Dark Star.
Am I being a little hard on the book? Maybe. I have to say I like the characters, and the book is more realistic than many about the problems with an hereditary, aristocratic class system. Which is to say, the problem isn't primarily that the noble classes are any more likely than anyone else to be either idiots, or evil. It's a good deal more complicated than that.

But, dear lord, these people are melodramatic. Riverton less so than the others, but even her, in her way.

And they have grand adventures, with both Riverton and Virtue proving unexpectedly good at dealing with aliens--Riverton in part due to diplomatic training and experience, and Virtue with a down-to-earth practicality.and decency. I suspect Horatio Hormblower would appreciate their sailing tactics, even if I find the idea of FTL wind sailing in space a little tough to swallow. The crew of Daring are brave, clever, resourceful.

i can't figure out, though, why any reasonably functional, theoretically high-tech society, would include as part of the legally acceptable process of foreclosing on a deeply indebted household the public murder of the principal debt-holder. Really. By sword. With dozens of witnesses. All cool! I mean, bad taste and all that, but no crime at all.

A more mundane and, I think, even less believable feature: This galaxy-spanning empire does not have photography. Seriously. Blackwood and Virtue encounter it as a fun, new novelty on a space station they're visiting to make contact with an information source.

By the later part of the story, I did really care what happened to these characters, but at the same time, I was left frustrated and annoyed with some of the plain ridiculousness. No, I am not going to be able to swallow the idea of FTL travel via solar sail--especially in a book that doesn't even acknowledge that travel between star systems would require FTL travel, or that there's any difference between in-system travel and travel between systems. That stars are not, by solar sail, just a few days or weeks or months apart.

This book, and the series, will certainly have happy readers, and I envy them. There's some good stuff here, and good fun.

It's not for me, though, and I won't be looking for more of the series.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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