RogerBW's Blog

Depths of Blue, Lise MacTague 25 October 2020

2015 SF, first of a trilogy. Torrin is an interstellar smuggler, planning to ship her high-tech weapons to anyone on the Fringe World of Haefen with a budget to buy them. Jak is a sniper, disguised as a man in a military that doesn't allow women, waiting for a chance at revenge on the man who killed her brother, but for now on a solo mission to kill the smuggler the other side is dealing with.

Naturally it doesn't end up working that way. And some other things get bent out of shape to make that story work; all right, Fringe Worlds are (mostly) technologically behind other places, but they still have force fields and sniper rifles that can hit a human-sized target 3km away. Am I really expected to believe they don't also have routine but compulsory medical examinations for their soldiers that would make Jak's deception obvious? Yeah, apparently I am; there isn't even a bribed doctor to paper over this plothole. Later on Torrin takes her ship into a nebula to hide from a pursuer, while waiting for a chance to jump to hyperspace; this is not even slightly hard SF.

And of course I'm meant to accept that an arms dealer is one of the good guys.

The side of the civil war that the under-briefed Torrin accidentally lands in isn't quite a Church of No Redeeming Virtues: the redeeming virtue for its male citizens is that women are property. (On the "good" side that Jak fights for, they're merely not allowed to conduct business or own goods.) The local leader is stupid enough to regard an exotic foreigh woman in the hand as worth more than a deal for war-winning weaponry in the bush; then Jak, seeing a woman being assaulted, changes her target and decides to bring the smuggler back to friendly lines.

That trip across enemy-infested wilderness takes up the bulk of the book, and is the best part of it, with both principals confused about their feelings, not to mention not really trusting each other anyway. Once they get back, and circumstances conspire to let them work out what's going on and jump each other's bones, much of the tension goes from the story; from there it's clear at least roughly where things will end up, and it's sometimes a bit of a wait to get there.

But the writing is mostly enjoyable, the description is good (in particular, MacTague does an excellent job of making it clear who's where in an action scene, something many authors fall down on), and if everyone else is fairly thin at least the principals come over as real people with problems and hangups that make sense given who they are.

Is this military SF? It's SF that spends viewpoint time with military people and has a lot of violence in it. But it doesn't have those other landmarks, the general assumption that (competent) military people are just better than civilians, or the feeling that being in the military is the best thing that anyone can do with their life.

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Series: On Deception's Edge | Next in series: Heights of Green

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