On the face of it I was unsure if I would like it because it sounded so familiar. A disgraced captain, a ship under a cloud, untrustworthy commanding officers, a possible alien foe. Sounds like numerous other space operas such as No Honor in Death.
It started out as I expected but quickly took several surprising turns, but first a bit of background. The time is several centuries in the future and groups of nations have colonized numerous planets and each group has a space fleet, however there has not been an armed conflict for over two centuries. The Seventh Fleet, part of the Terran Confederate Starfleet forces, nicknamed the Black Fleet, is an aging, expensive archaic symbol of the past. As is Earth as the planet Haven is now the center of this alliance, with Earth a backwater.
Enter Captain Jackson Wolfe, looked down on because he is actually from Earth, the commanding officer of the aging destroyer Blue Jacket. The ship has become the depository of a number of troublesome and incompetent sailors in the fleet, but who only make up a percentage of the crew. Sent on a long patrol without the benefit of a proper refit, things change rapidly.
Jackson and the crew of Blue Jacket find a world on their patrol, formerly inhabited now with no cities and no sign of the former habitats on the planet. After that things get much more intense as they run into a giant alien ship.
There was a great deal I liked about the book. While it starts out with some standard Sci-Fi tropes it does a good job developing them. Worn out ship without enough spare parts, untrustworthy crew members, new staff, and contradictory orders, kind of the basic drill for many space operas. But things change, slowly at first and then at an ever increasing pace.
The captain is smart and clever but has his flaws. The other characters ring true with one exception. You see people learning and in some cases expanding with additional responsibility and in one or two becoming craven. The one character that did not ring true to me was Jackson’s commanding officer Admiral Winter, who seemed to have an almost pathological hatred for him that seemed to completely warp her judgment. It might have been nice to know why. Also she documents her dislike in videos and other communications which she must know in a modern electronic age nothing is likely lost.
The pacing was ok, starting slowly as the players and the universe are explained, with a not too onerous data dump. Then as the cruise starts some interesting things come afoot almost as soon as they leave dock. Somewhat changed orders from an interesting source lead to the discovery of the alien ship and the story really picks up speed.
I really liked the portrayal of the alien entity. So often they seem like characters that are just funny looking humans with the same relative technology. This was very different and I will be very interested to see how it and the humans continue to evolve their battle tactics against each other.
I also enjoyed the descriptions of the workings of the Blue Jacket. So often it seems like a ship will just jump from point A to Point B with basically a snap of the fingers. Here components have to be primed and then used in a specific order and it takes a good deal of time. I also enjoyed the battles as the Blue Jacket used a variety of weapons, all of which had strengths and weaknesses in their destructive power, how they could be employed and the distances that they were effective.
As the challenges grow so does the captain, who becomes more creative in his responses and also starts to listen to advice from the staff, some of whom had earlier lost some of his trust. Combat and a determination to prevent the alien from its perceived goal, rather than outright victory drive him.
I did think the finale, which is after the last battle, was pretty predictable, but also very enjoyable. This is a solid space opera and I plan to read the rest of the series in the near future.