RogerBW's Blog

Though Hell Should Bar the Way, David Drake 09 June 2023

2018 military SF, twelfth of this ongoing series. Roy Olfetrie's father was caught on the take, so Roy had to leave the Academy; but a chance meeting puts him aboard Daniel Leary's latest ventureā€¦

It's an effective way to work against the occasional saminess of this series: Olfetrie may, like Leary, be someone who makes the best of any terrible situation, but he doesn't have the utterly loyal following that Leary does, and he's quite reasonably unsure of his untested capabilities.

There's a clumsy attempt at bribery (perhaps too clumsy for the person involved as we meet them later, but they're acting under orders), and then Olfetrie finds himself shanghaied aboard a barely-functional ship.

"Look, Olfetrie?" Langland said. "You're not raising hell about this?"

I looked at him over my shoulder. "That wouldn't do much good, would it?" I said. "You going to turn around and put me back on Saguntum?"

"Like hell we will!" Wellesley said.

"Yeah, that's what I figured," I said. I walked into the head and stripped off my tunic. "I've never been on Blanchard, but I guess it's got bars. That makes it pretty much all same-same as Saguntum so far as I care."

"Well, you're a cool little bastard," said Langland.

Then in short order he's captured by pirates and sold as a slave, and has to work his way back up to freedom; Drake's clearly inspired by the Barbary Corsairs here, which to me means that making the pirates themselves an Arabic-derived culture feels a little lazy, but it works, and pulling off a daring rescue of a harem slave is clearly there to show off how the trick can still be made to work in this far-future setting more than for real plausibility.

(Alas, though, Drake still isn't very good at writing "normal" women, though he does at least recognise the lack. A sexless near-autist, sure; a spy using her wiles, no problem; people doing jobs who happen to be female but the subject never arises, fine; but a woman who's actually falling in love with someone needs to be kept off-stage as much as possible, and is.)

I get the feeling that Drake wants to let Leary and Mundy fade to the background for a while, rather than continuing to take them to greater and greater successes as viewpoint characters; it looks as though book 13 deals with more new characters.

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Previous in series: Death's Bright Day | Series: RCN | Next in series: To Clear Away the Shadows

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