RogerBW's Blog

Marque and Reprisal, Elizabeth Moon 19 June 2015

2004 SF, second in a five-book series. Kylara Vatta survived her first solo trading venture, but now someone's taking on the family firm. UK vt Moving Target.

This reminds me perversely of the difference between Grimspace and Wanderlust: the first book in the series was a fast-moving stand-alone tale to get me hooked on the universe and the characters, while the second is all about setup and establishing the players for the remainder of the series. And indeed removing players who were in the first book: most of the senior members of Vatta Transport are killed off in the opening pages, and their pull with their own planetary government mysteriously evaporates at the same time as they suddenly lose all reputation elsewhere. And someone seems to have taken out the FTL communications.

There are other major wrenches in direction: the space navy that Ky had been training for is suddenly only a minor part of the homeworld's military forces, and they make much more extensive use of privateers, but nobody knew about it. Even people who were high up on the secret information ladder. Well, more specifically, anyone who would inevitably have mentioned it last book didn't know, while people who might have kept it quiet mysteriously now did know… it reeks of authorial artifice, of a world-building decision made for the first book that needs to be reversed now that it's the first of a series. (As far as I know it was always planned to be the first of a series, though, which is just odd.)

Characters are reasonably developed. Ky still makes mistakes even though she is clearly better than everyone else because she is the heroine of the series, and she's fighting with her reaction to killing: she's found that she enjoys it, which she knows is Not Right. Some new family members are just as tied down by their reputations as Ky was during the first book. The horrid old aunt who survives the attack turns out to have been Space Violette Szabo in the last war.

On the other hand the plot is looking distinctly shaky. A certain technical resource thought to be in short supply is now freely available to the bad guys. A shop picked at random as a hiding place turns out to contain the one person in civilised space who could be really helpful. The new faces don't seem to have much psychological depth yet. Every single public figure in a position to make Ky's life worse (police, station administrators, etc.) immediately does so, making the worst possible assumptions about her. Even though assassins are known to be everywhere, a stowaway is brought onto the crew after a few minutes' chat. The attack on the Vatta trading empire is huge, apparently taking on every ship and the headquarters at the same time, but nobody seems to be counting up the presumably limited number of entities that would have the resources to fund such a thing.

On the third hand, after a slowish start, there's a really good battle in space towards the end.

I still enjoyed it, but it went in directions that seemed less interesting than those promised by the first volume. Followed by Engaging the Enemy.

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