RogerBW's Blog

In the Stormy Red Sky, David Drake 25 November 2022

2009 military SF, seventh of this ongoing series. An irked senator, a shaky ally, and a major defeat for the RCN…

Drake continues to recycle incidents from classical-era history for this series, but he continues to do it well (and I'm not as well-versed in the subject as he is). The senator had to give up her high ministerial position to try for the top job, and lost, so now she's got a lot of work to do to regain her status (and finances); can she be brought round to the correct (i.e. military) way of looking at things in the field? When the RCN's forces in the cluster are handed a major setback by what should have been a peer-level opponent, and the new local dictator trims his sails to suit the wind, what will Leary do?

Well, obviously, whip up a force out of nothing, take on a vastly superior enemy, and hand them utter defeat. I mean, that's what he does. What keeps the series interesting is not this repetition of what's fundamentally the same plot, but how he does it; it certainly helps that this is a setting in which common spacers are expected to change sides and join up with the force that's just beaten them, quite possibly crewing the same ships they were fighting in before.

It's also interesting to see Leary posted to a more substantial ship than the Princess Cecile that's been the usual focus of the books so far; not so much for any escalation of personal stakes, which are after all about the same (it doesn't matter how large your ship is if you're where the missile hits), but to see his tactical thinking, the consideration of the things that a larger ship (and this ship in particular) can do that the other one couldn't, and indeed vice versa.

The other strong thread in this book is everybody else, the spacers and others who've thrown in their lot with Leary, and how they're developing: this one makes all the stupid mistakes, but only makes each one once. That one shows a genius for parts of the job that are hard for most people, but do they have the killer instinct to be a ship's captain? And so on.

This time there's also a distinct contrast between the ideals that Cinnabar and the RCN stand for, and the practicalities of what some of its rich and powerful people get up to when nobody can be bothered to gainsay them. Yeah, everyone's sure that they'd rather be on this side than with the space-tyranny of the Alliance (complete with political officers), but that still leaves plenty of headroom.

All right, I might prefer it if the heroes' plans didn't always come off. And with the number of names needed, Drake has started using some from real people (fans, wargamers, etc.), a few of whom I know, and it's a bit distracting. But this is still an enjoyable series.

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Previous in series: When the Tide Rises | Series: RCN | Next in series: What Distant Deeps

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