RogerBW's Blog

With the Lightnings, David Drake 17 July 2020

1998 military SF, first of an ongoing series. Lt Daniel Leary of the Republic of Cinnabar (space) Navy is the impoverished fifth wheel on a diplomatic mission to the new government of Kostroma. Adele Mundy's family on Cinnabar was disgraced and put to death, largely by Leary's father, and now she's working as librarian to the new Kostroman ruler. Neither of them is expecting a revolution fomented by the Alliance of Free Stars.

So this is, by Drake's own admission, Aubrey and Maturin in space. The starships even have sails! But while I have read Master and Commander and found it had nothing to say to me, I enjoyed this a great deal.

This is Drake, so there's lots of bloody fighting. But the bloody fighting isn't the point the way it is in, say, the Hammer's Slammers books; while it's still military SF by most standards, as in SF about people who are in the military doing military things, Drake himself considers it space opera. There's room for humour and silliness, if not much.

Character is key here. Leary and Mundy, after the obligatory initial misunderstanding, rapidly become if not friends at least people who can rely on each other… but there's not a hint of romance between them, and it's very clear that if they tried it it wouldn't work. Adventures happen, but always working towards a goal, of rescuing the other Cinnabar citizens who haven't already been shot and getting them to safety.

All right, there's no ambiguity about good guys and bad guys, but sometimes that's acceptable. (There's even some distinction between the evil competence of the Alliance and the evil laziness of their Kostroman collaborators.) And the run-up to the revolution can get a bit sluggish. But this is still light enough not to be unremittingly grim, while still being deadly serious at times.

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Series: RCN | Next in series: Lt. Leary, Commanding

  1. Posted by John P at 08:42pm on 17 July 2020

    Funnily enough, I just started this book a couple of nights ago (having finished the last Space Captain Smith book - "I am not a free man, I am a number!"). I got it as a free download from Baen so no loss if it doesn't work out. It made me think more of Alexander Kent's Midshipman Bolitho than anything else.

    I know people don't think much of Baen, but in amongst their free short story collections in the library are some that are quite interesting.

  2. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 02:53pm on 18 July 2020

    Another series I haven't yet managed to getting around to reading, but probably will at some point. The fact you enjoyed it Roger is high praise indeed. Especially for someone whose default state, "I's hates everything."

    And the fact that it is Baen is just the cherry on top.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 06:00pm on 18 July 2020

    Well, Baen happily gives platforms to some fairly hateful people, and if I pick up a Baen book at random I'm likely to dislike it. Which is why I generally don't, unless I have a recommendation. (I don't set out to read books I'll dislike.) But naturally they do sometimes publish stuff by good writers too, particularly the ones they got on board while Jim was still alive.

    I read the first three or so of this series some time ago, before the Baen Free Library was gutted, and thought it would make sense to start again from the beginning.

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