RogerBW's Blog

Victory Conditions, Elizabeth Moon 09 September 2015

2009 military SF, last in a five-book series. Ky Vatta has her fleet, and is ready to move against the pirates as soon as they attack. But she doesn't know all their plans.

For a final volume, this is a surprisingly bitty book, and often feels rushed. There's a space battle to prevent the pirates from stealing large warships from a shipyard, in which Ky's ship is destroyed (a bunch of minor characters from earlier books are suddenly killed off) and she's thought to be dead; she suffers, and is helped to deal with, significant stress; she gets her fleet together for the final battle. Cousin Stella deals with her ward Toby's adolescent romantic entanglement, kidnapping, and the ramifications of both. Aunt Grace, still running the military back on Slotter Key, mostly serves as a contact point to relay information. And Rafe Dunbarger runs the former communications monopoly ISC, as well as persuading his homeworld's government to make emergency preparations to defend that system, and helping his sister recover from the nasty things that happened to her. It all ends up feeling rather fragmented, and doesn't necessarily answer all the important questions: such as, back in the second book, how did the conspiracy manage to infiltrate saboteurs into every single ansible station at once without anyone finding out either before or afterwards? How did Gammis Turek (leader of the pirates) and the bad guy within ISC ever meet, or decide to work together, or plan to divide the spoils afterwards? With all the build-up that's gone into this nefarious plot, we get surprisingly little discussion of it, and it all melts away in the space of a sentence once the leader is killed. Oh, and apparently nobody knows how to use encryption any more.

There's also a distressing instance of taking the Stupid Pills. Both Ky and Rafe have had implant ansibles (FTL communicators) since the first book. These are a method of communication that, to a first approximation, can find the other anywhere and can't be eavesdropped on. But when Ky sees Rafe acting cold and corporate to her in public, neither of them thinks of using it to talk to the other privately; worse, when Rafe is told that Ky is dead, it doesn't occur to him to use it to see if she might still be alive. Given the fanfare with which the implants were introduced in the first book, I frankly expected them to be important to the story somehow.

Some oddities of editing suggest that this wasn't gone over as thoroughly as books should be: two linked sentences that turn out to be separated by a paragraph of action which ends up referring to something entirely different, which caused this reader at least to stumble and look back to work out what was going on. Every so often, a minor character shows up and explains something that happened in an earlier book, just in case the reader might be getting too excited.

Characterisation, for the good guys at least (the bad guys are straightforward lust-for-power types), is the strongest point here. Ky may be a military genius, and may have got over blaming herself for everything that goes wrong, but manages to avoid being a little tin goddess even so. (Romance is a continuing weak side, though; neither Ky's nor the others mentioned here managed to convince me.)

The first book of this series was great. For me, none of the others really lived up to it; indeed, books 2-5 felt as though they made a major change of direction from the story implied by the first volume, and frankly it was less interesting than that implied story was being set up to be. This certainly isn't a terrible book, and it does get most of the plot resolved, but it felt at times more like writing from obligation ("I have to get this series finished") than from enthusiasm, and I sometimes felt the same way. Though on balance this is pretty good stuff.

I still wonder whether Moon wrote the first book as a stand-alone, then had to cobble something together in a hurry when the publisher asked for a series.

As a guide to whether you'll like this series, I'd recommend reading the first two books. If book 2 holds you enthralled, keep going; 3-5 are basically more of the same as far as style and pacing go.

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