Review of IN THE STORMY RED SKY by David Drake (see his website)
Baen, May 2009
Promoted to Captain of the RCN, Daniel Leary is given what is supposed to be a shakeout mission. He's to conduct an ambassador (a senator who lost her bid to become prime minister) to a friendly star system, provide a bit of a show of force, then return home. But the 'friendly' system turns out to be a lot less cooperative when the Alliance destroys an entire Cinnabar fleet, completely reversing the balance of power in nearby systems. With nothing but a cruiser at his disposal, Leary must somehow find a way to reverse the situation. Fortunately, he has the help of his signal officer, Adele Mundy, who is a miracle code-breaker and all-around computer whiz. Rather than attack the Alliance head-on, Leary takes his ship to the local Alliance headquarters, hoping to strike a blow when the alliance fleet is in action against the remnants of Cinnabar's destroyed fleet.
Author David Drake (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Drake) creates a Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin style space opera, with Leary a military genius, a specialist in dimensional sailing, and an avowed naturalist (who also has a tendency to put on weight and chase bimbos when not at war) and Mundy an angry duelist and heir to a vanished great family who seeks information and doesn't really understand human relationships. The interplay between these two characters drives the story forward and proves central to the military exploits Leary is able to achieve.
I enjoy space opera and Drake's Leary series is filled with the kind of adventure that many of us look for in Science Fiction. Drake is a capable writer, introducing a number of memorable characters and even making some of the near-miracles Leary/Mundy pull off see plausible. I found myself distracted, however, by some writing quirks that should have been picked up by the Baen editors but nevertheless slipped through. In addition to some purely clunky writing and some overuse of favorite words and phrases, I found myself getting fatigued by Leary/Mundy's cold smiles. Couldn't we have some other expression (yes, we did have the occasional grin)? The overuse of the 'cold smile' device ended up dragging me out of the story and into the writing way too often. (An example of a really bothersome lack of editing: He collapsed his holgraphic display and smiled brightly. "Good afternoon, Senator," he said brightly. Couldn't we use a different word here than "brightly" twice?
Bottom line--I enjoy the Leary series. I love the interplay between Leary and Mundy, the not-quite-a-romance between male and female characters who cherish one another yet who (at least in the case of Leary) have no sexual feelings for each other. Occasionally sloppy writing/editing doesn't keep me from liking the series and characters, but it does distract me.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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