17 May, 2010

Review: Trading in Danger, by Elizabeth Moon

Trading in Danger, by Elizabeth Moon, Vatta's War Series
Trading in Danger [US][UK], by Elizabeth Moon, is a military science fiction adventure that begins the Vatta’s War series. This first installment introduces readers to Ky Vatta, an officer-candidate dropout that draws danger like iron to a lodestone – and manages to miraculously survive impossible situations.

Trading in Danger is a fun read that quickly builds the necessary momentum to keep readers hooked. Genre veterans will find the heroine and plot startlingly akin to Weber’s Honor Harrington and Tanya Huff’s Torin Kerr, with perhaps a few empire building capitalist tendencies thrown into the mix – galaxy spanning trade empires are, after all, not built overnight.

Ky Vatta is the quintessential protagonist. She is young, brilliant and invariably lucky. Her expulsion from officer-candidate school – for being overly trusting - sees her put at the helm of one of her family’s many intergalactic trading ships. Following the family philosophy of “trade and profit”, Ky quickly manages to get her ship embroiled in a “small local conflict” that fails to remain small. War, betrayal, sabotage and revenge ensue. How fun!

Trading in Danger ultimately leaves readers guessing in which direction the series is headed, even though the plot is fairly straightforward. The narrative unpredictability stems from the lack of an identifiable threat, which can in turn be countered or acted against by the protagonist. In short, we don’t know who the bad guys are, or even what they want... Flaw or virtue, the issue will likely only be decided somewhere beyond book two, which is where I am now.

Science fictionally speaking, Elizabeth Moon does a passable job of describing a far distant future. The technology is reasonably construed if somewhat vaguely so, and the logic of the socio-economic reality she depicts is internally consistent. In other words, her story is believable. However, Vatta’s War remains, irrevocably, a character driven drama. Indeed, the environment and setting are only tangential to the story’s focus: the emergence of a charismatic leader in times of grave uncertainty destined to restore her families preeminence in the interstellar arena.

Taken in its entirety, Trading in Danger is not without its flaws, especially when viewed in comparison to similar series, such as the notorious Honor Harrington. That said, the first two books in the Vatta’s War series have made for more than passable morning commute fare and should only be considered less than brilliant when taken alongside some of the brighter stars in the military science fiction niche. Personally, I was disappointed that Trading in Danger did not live up to my high expectations of Moon after reading her utterly engrossing The Speed of Dark (review).


Bryce L. said...

I was just looking at this at the store yesterday. May or may not give this a go. I have Sheepfarmer's Daughter on my shelf, maybe I need to try that first.