Friday, August 25, 2006

Elizabeth Moon: Engaging the Enemy

Elizabeth Moon's Engaging the Enemy has been recommended for the Prometheus award, as a follow-up to her previous Marque and Reprisal. I think Marque had a little more to recommend it as libertarian, but both are fine space adventure yarns.

The heroine is Kylara Vatta, a young woman, and offspring of an established interstellar trading clan. Ky dropped out of space academy after a scandal, and was just trying to get started on a career as a merchant when most of her clan was killed in a coordinated series of raids by parties unknown. In the previous book, Ky received a letter of Marque from one planetary government, authorizing her to attack and capture pirate ships. This stretched the bounds of what she'd been brought up to believe was honorable behavior, but these were extraordinary circumstances. Happening upon an outcast from the Vatta clan who appears to be operating as a pirate, Ky captured his ship and killed the pirate. Now, in Engaging the Enemy, she has an armed ship to use to try to chase down those responsible for her family's deaths, and start rebuilding the trading empire.

The rebuilding is mostly assigned to her cousin, but organizing the independent privateers into a fighting force that can take on the apparently organized pirates and free the shipping lanes for peaceful commerce is left to Ky. She's young enough that once she's gathered a group of independent captains together, someone else asserts seniority and takes command. But we can tell from the beginning that Ky will make a better commander, and she wisely decides to work on her cooperation skills while waiting to see if her battlefield experience and tactical smarts are evident to the others. It doesn't take long for her qualifications to appear.

The subplots and side-stories provide background about the family and build up some characters who may turn out to have important roles later, but the heart of this book is Ky's political maneuvering and the actual space battles. There's a touch of right to self-defense, but it's layered with revenge motive, so it's hard to call that a libertarian thread. The battles and intrigue are well-written, but there's not much of deep substance here. It's a solid novel, with interesting characters and fast-paced action. There's no deeper meaning or overarching significance to events, so if you're satisfied with simple interstellar adventure stories, you'll find this is a good read.

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