This is the first novel in the Vatta’s War series written by Elizabeth Moon. It was published in 2003. This is also the first novel that I have read by Elizabeth Moon. The cover art for this novel was illustrated by Dave Seeley. It’s actually a fairly decent piece of art. I like Seeley’s depiction of the main character, Kylara Vatta. However, I am not sure that the accessories shown in the picture are very relevant to the story. (What is Vatta holding?)
Kylara Vatta the daughter of the CFO of Vatta Transport Ltd., a space shipping firm based out of the wealthy world of Slotter Key, is forced to resign in disgrace from the Slotter Key spaceforce academy after she is tricked by another cadet. Hoping to get her out of the limelight and make the best of her skills, her family gives her the command of an old, decrepit freighter Glennys Jones on its final journey to the scrapyards of Lastway.
Immediately, I felt that the main character was interesting and going to make for a worthwhile read. I am a little suspicious of the tendency to write space opera novels with female main characters because it seems to be an effort to “show us how cool women can be” rather than present a really great story. Obviously, there is the Honor Harrington series, but there are other examples like Kris Longknife and Boss (Diving Series by Rusch). The thing that makes Kylara unique is that she is the daughter of a family-owned and operated shipping company. This means that the story is focused on merchant ships and crews. So many s0-called space operas focus a lot on pirates and on military ships and in so doing, treat merchant ships as expendable, irrelevant, and even as sub-standards. In this novel, Vatta shipping is highly respected around the various star systems and their cargo and crews are significant.
I have never read any of Moon’s work before, but I ran across a lot of people relating her works to that of Lois McMaster Bujold and others. Frankly, I’ve read some of Bujold and I was rather bored with the whole mess. Maybe Moon’s other works are like that, but this was a unique novel. Some of the things I liked about it involved the contracts, organization, and general concerns involved in shipping cargo via space freighter. I do not know that I would want to read an entire series that just presents the endless story of wrangling cargo, but for this one novel it was interesting. In other words, I do think that this is a good novel to read as a standalone, but I also think that it is probably a good setup for whatever comes in the next novel.
We follow the main character, Kylara, through all her foibles, difficulties, and command actions. Overall, she’s the sort of heroine that the reader probably does not tire of because she is not weepy and whiney. She takes initiative and she earns the respect of the crew that is around her. At some points, she does seem too adept at wrangling legal contracts and captain-ing a ship. However, I reminded myself this is the far future and things that are unfathomable now, may be simple then. I am amused to see that Moon imagines a future based on the monopoly of a communications company. In any case, the main character is interesting and, while a bit too good, she comes out of her adventures wiser and more independent.
Part of this story involves the actual life on the ship – in terms of environmental and mechanical status. While this is integral to the story itself, I do feel it went on a bit too long. After reading it, I realized I heard Captain Ky ask for environmental statuses a heckuva lot. I suppose detailing out food rations was some of the minor “danger” that drove the story, but I can see how some readers might grow weary of rations. Overall, this is a solid read for someone looking for general space opera or a female lead character.