Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Book Review: Valiant Dust by Richard Baker

Pros: interesting characters, high attention to detail, diverse cast, nuanced politics

Cons: more military minutiae than I personally like though less space battle action than military SF fans may be looking for

His Highness Lieutenant Sikander Singh North, Nawabzada of Ishar, is assigned to the Aquilan Commonwealth starship Hector as its new gunnery officer. Well aware that few Kashmiris serve in the Commonwealth officer corps, he must prove himself to his new crew members who look down on the colonial system of his birth. 

Amira Ranya Meriem el-Nasir, niece to Sultan Rashid and Crown Princess of Gadira is concerned by the politics of her home world. As a colony of the Republic of Montreal, Gadira has made great strides in modernizing. This has increased the power of the Beys, but many of her people have lost jobs, and religious insurgents fearing for the traditions of their people are becoming more powerful.

With tensions mounting, the Hector is sent to Gadira to protect the commonwealth’s consulate and commercial interests even as another major power works to destabilize the planet’s government.

There’s a lot going on in this book, predominantly the examination of pre-WWI style colonization. We see this from Sikander’s view, as someone whose country is modernizing but still has economic and political issues, as well as with Ranya, whose country is caught in a clash of colonial interests. Aside from insurgents, we’re not shown much of how big events impact ‘little’ people, but it’s quite interesting seeing the various power plays at higher levels. It’s easy to see who the players are with regards to their historic influences, though I’m not sure to what extent the details of the book are influenced by real history.

There’s a lot of nuance with regards to how Sikander is treated and how he reacts to those around him. He’s constantly aware of who he is and what that means in the larger picture of his service, his home world, and himself. But the book doesn’t harp on issues, it examines them and shows the reality of the different situations, then moves on as time passes and conditions change.

There are three point of view characters, and I really enjoyed seeing the two mentioned above (the third isn’t a character we’re meant to like). The characters must deal with a variety of issues, which keeps them feeling fresh and fully realized.

There’s a high attention to detail - much of it military in nature. Personally I found it a bit much though I suspect military history buffs will enjoy learning more about the ships, armaments, tanks, etc. being mentioned. Fans of military SF may find that there’s less military minutiae and action than they’d like, as the main focus of the book is on the politics and character based drama rather than military strategizing. The book uses generally realistic physics for its one space battle, which was fun to read. 

While they were sometimes hard to follow I enjoyed the variety of titles used (I found it fascinating that titles often changed depending on the speaker as well as the location).

This book has a high amount of world-building and politicking and minimal military action, and I enjoyed it a lot.

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