RogerBW's Blog

Duel in the Dark, Jay Allan 10 May 2022

2016 space-navy SF, first of an 18-book series. Everybody knows that another war is coming, and Captain Barron and the battleship Dauntless are getting a refit a long way from the front lines. Until a third power gets involved.

All right, I'll admit to some qualms when the good-guy empire here was called the Confederation and the bad guys were the Union. But I think that may have been a coincidence; the Confederation are just Space Americans, the Union are much more traditional Space Commies (coded French), and the third power Alliance are Spartans coded Roman. Which at least mixes things up a bit.

This is mostly space action, and it's pretty good space action, though I feel Allan's heart isn't in the details (e.g. you may well use tritium for power depending on your technology base, but you surely don't use it for reaction mass). But that turns out to be a good thing, because what does get some care is the people: this is a sneaky probing attack by a single ship from the Alliance (a former slave state that's shifted over a couple of generations from "we will never be slaves again" to "therefore we must conquer all our neighbours and our greatest ambition is to die in battle") against a Confederation rear area… where of course Dauntless is the only ship that can respond in time.

So it is indeed a ship versus ship duel, though each of these ships carries a substantial fighter complement, not to mention Marines. The Alliance commander gradually comes to realise that these soft luxury-loving Confederation types do actually have some tough soldiers among them; the Confederation leaders don't change their attitude as much, but they do at least shift some of their fear of the Alliance into respect.

I'm speaking positively, but there is a lot of cliché here: Marines are the best soldiers and are near-superhumanly tough. There's a guy who was just about to transfer to a relatively safe shore posting near his pregnant wife, who stays with the ship for one last mission. (He even gets sent a photo of the newborn.) There are cocky fighter jocks and miracle-working engineers. Each of the captains is trying to live down the reputation inherited from a heroic grandparent.

But that's the key, really: this is tragedy as the struggle of good against good. Yeah, the Alliance is going out and conquering, but it still has good people in it; the Confederation may be Space America but it's not perfect. The narrative spends significant time on each side of the fight, this bloody, pointless fight, and whatever its other problems I'll praise it for conveying that feeling, for not being whizz bang let's be a hero.

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Series: Blood on the Stars | Next in series: Call to Arms

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