Lieutenant Joel Gilmore is part of a multi-species space observation team stationed in a distant solar system, who find themselves attacked by the very aliens they were supposed to be watching. Now Joel and his allies, the enigmatic Rusties, explore the parameters of trust in a lethal confrontation with a deeply alien third species: one with a nasty predilection for mass murder on a planetary scale.
This book was marketed as a YA science fiction, but I had no trouble getting fully engrossed in the story which started with a bang and kept going right to the end, despite the fact that I hadn’t read the first book, His Majesty’s Starship. The story is told in multiple viewpoint – and Jeapes joins that select handful of science fiction writers who are brave enough to have a serious stab at writing from an alien point of view. In fact, there are two major alien species in this adventure. The vicious variety with teeth, talons and a propensity for ripping apart anyone who seriously upsets them – and the Rusties, who have formed a coalition with humans. So, the question has to be – does Jeapes pull it off?
As far as the bad guys, known as Xenocides, are concerned, the depiction is excellent. We get a really good slice of their political and cultural life without any info-dumps silting up the narrative pace, which is always a lot harder to achieve than it looks. There is even some humour in there and I particularly enjoyed Oomoing, who had the job of evaluating the captured human. The twist near the end of the story was one I didn’t see coming and thoroughly enjoyed. By the end of the novel, I had a really good sense of what they looked like and how their society ran. But the overall impression of how the other species – the First Breed – operated, their appearance, and their relationship with the humans was a lot less sharp. However, I am also aware that this is the second book in a series and I got the feeling that the storyline featuring this particular species was highlighted in His Majesty’s Starship.
As far as the main human story running through the book, Joel makes a solidly convincing hero as someone who reacts quickly and selflessly when the unthinkable happened – and then finds himself up to his neck in trouble as a consequence. He manages to care about issues like honour, duty and loyalty without coming across as some lantern-jawed dummy, which also demonstrates Jeapes’ skill as an able, technically gifted writer. His relationship with Boon Round, the First Breed also caught up alongside him, is nicely sharp.
The ending is well executed, with all the lose threads across all three main species satisfyingly tied up. Overall, this slickly convincing multi-species adventure story is a really good read – and I’m going to be looking out for more of Jeapes’ writing.