I am always interested in how an author starts out a book. Sometimes it starts with a flashback, or a long introduction of the main players. No Honor in Death starts you out in a middle of a space battle aboard a dying battleship with its shields failing, its weapons controls damaged, the captain dead and the first officer with major injuries. Nothing like jumping into the deep end.
The central character of the book, and the following two in the series, is Captain Siobhan Dunmoore, who after taking over for the dead captain of the Victoria Regina manages to save what remains of the crew after an ambush by the Shrehari Empire. The book follows Dunmoore as she gains a new command, a troubled missile frigate named the Stingray and tracks her battles with foes and supposed friends.
I found Dunmoore to be a great character. Strong, driven and intelligent, she is also battered, almost burned out and tired. The Stingray has a reputation as a jinxed ship and after having three previous ships more or less shot out from under her; she has a cloud of her own to deal with. Her portrayal is what I like in a main character, an interesting combination of strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to recognize both and work with them. Odd personal note the first time I met someone named Siobhan I managed to pronounce the name She-O-bane. That may have been the last time I blushed.
The surrounding cast of characters was also strong. They all develop, often in directions you do not expect. Some develop into more than you expect and some continue to get worse. This goes for the active enemy as well as the allies.
The book, after starting off in flash bang moves swiftly along. There are a number of themes running through the book that is common to naval combat books such as the Horatio Hornblower and Bolitho books, among others, which in turn were loosely based on real events. I imagine that following similar themes it not due to lack of imagination but that these issues are real life problems for the services. Taking over a divided, unenthusiastic crew after a poor captain’s departure. Check. Unsupporting or actively sabotaging superiors. Check. A guardian angle in the top brass who believes in you. Check. This is not a criticism, I though Thompson played this out very well.
I also enjoy the layers of the story. The conflict with aliens is just the icing on the cake. New issues arise constantly. Officers that the captain believed she could trust fail her. Others appear to have ulterior motives while helping. Many are enigmas that are slow to show their true colors. Then the enemy has a host of similar if not identical issues.
One thing that stood out for me is the way that the aliens are portrayed. Violent and warlike, but also having many of the same problems that Dunmoore is having. Insulated high command too distant from the reality of combat, lack of focus and prioritization of what is important. An ossified hierarchy that keeps quality officers down if they do not have the correct connections or family back ground. The Shrehari have a feel of Japanese samurai about them, or maybe Kligons.
The arch villain, at least from the acknowledged foe side, has a high level of personal honor and focus to succeed for his nation. He is fighting a command that believes that ships should only fight in one manner, and that his revolutionary tactics, which his foes fear, have to be put aside to follow protocol. This reminded me a great deal of Admiral Lord Nelson’s departure from traditional tactical orthodoxy and the fights he had with high command over his approach.
I have two extremely minor issues with the book. Dunmoore often looks at someone and instantly discerns what is going on in their head simply by looking at their eyes or their expression. It seemed a bit overdone. Also the enemy captain, Brakal, a member of a race that places honor as a very high calling, seems a bit too crude. He rants and insults people constantly. I would thing that someone higher up would simply have him knocked off or that he would be so busy fighting duels that he had no time to command a ship.
I found No Honor in Death a fun action space novel. It moved along very well, had a plausible pot, engaging characters. While similar to others in this genre it was still an enjoyable book on its own merits and I plan to purchase and read the other two books in the series.
Also I am curious about one thing. I read this on my tablet. Does anyone else become obsessed with the little info blurb that tells you how long it will take to finish the book. Wait you mean I just read two pages and it’s now going to take 4 hours 32 minutes when before I read the pages it said 4 hours 31 minutes. Maybe it’s just me.