I had asked Himself for recommendations for more military space opera in honour of Sci Fi Month and he immediately suggested this one…
At fifteen, Alexis Carew has to face an age old problem – she’s a girl, and only a boy can inherit the family’s vast holdings. Her options are few. She must marry and watch a stranger run the lands, or become a penniless tenant and see the lands she so dearly loves sold off. Yet there may be another option, one that involves becoming a midshipman on a shorthanded spaceship with no other women.
This is essentially Hornblower in space – and very well done, too. Sutherland has taken the idea of solar sails and provides some vivid space battles that are reminiscent of the 17th and 18th century man o’war tactics. To be honest, some suspension of disbelief is required – I happily believed that the solar sails were useful and that they needed human crews rather than robot labour, but there were a few touches that stretched my credulity.
However, the plight Alexis faces if she stays on the planet is inescapable – she will be forced to marry someone she hates and despises. She is a tough energetic girl, caught up with the day to day running of the holding and takes to the rigour of life in the Navy like a space duckling takes to zero gravity. I like her straightforward character and the fact that Sutherland is mindful not to make her too much of a Mary Sue – she struggles badly with navigation.
What she has in spades is plenty of physical energy, the ability to think quickly on her feet and a fundamentally nice disposition without it becoming sickly, which is harder to do than Sutherland makes it look. Did I believe in her ability to handle the situations that she is confronted with? Yes – she is raised in a tough, colonial environment. As a historian, I have read accounts of what young men and women achieved when homesteading in the States, or working on a small farm in the UK and their physical fortitude and strength puts us all to shame. Nothing to say that can’t happen again…
I very much liked the story development and overall the worldbuilding – though I do find it difficult to believe that flogging would still be a thing in a futuristic setting, given that we know the faultlines that ran through the Royal Navy of the time and why they needed to use such extreme brutality. It was a reflection of the harsh social situation for most people at the time – I’m not sure I’m so convinced that prevails to the same extent in this particular future world.
It doesn’t stop me being keen to pick up the second book in this entertaining series as I want to know what happens next to Alexis, given there is a real twist right at the end of the book.