(2018) Elizabeth Moon, Orbit, £9.99, pbk, 462pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50630-2
The latest in what is becoming a long line of Ky Vatta books, Into the Fire is billed as the second volume in the Vatta’s Peace series following on from Cold Welcome). It is actually book seven if you count (and you should) the preceding five Vatta’s War books, and unsurprisingly this book takes on familiar characters doing familiar things, albeit on the ground rather than up in space. Don’t worry about reading the other Vatta books first; the story here is easy to pick up.
General series background is that we are following Academy reject Ky Vatta as she ascends through various space military organisations and thwarts threats to interstellar security. She’s from the trader Vatta family based on Slotter Key, one of a number of quasi-independent planets forming a loose-ish alliance (not precisely defined but a sort of EU-lite). Ky was top of the class in the Academy and wrongly kicked out (politics – which comes back to bite her in this book) so she joins up with intergalactic peacekeepers, works through the ranks to become Admiral (in her twenties) and falls in love with the dashing Rafe before finally returning home. The Vatta family is big in Slotter Key, with Aunt Grace (also dubious past) working as ‘Rector’, which seems to some sort of security head. In fact, Vatta is so powerful that plenty of people want to bring them down. In the last book, Cold Welcome, Ky’s shuttle is sabotaged and she is left for dead on an icy continent thought to be uninhabitable. But it’s not, it’s the staging post for a fight for power…
This book sees Ky under house arrest, her reputation trashed, suspected of murder and with an attempt on her citizenship. And because she is confined to the house most of the action in the first part is seen through proxy secondary points of view, but once she gets out, the action comes thick and fast, as you’d expect from a Ky Vatta story.
Does Into the Fire tell us anything we don’t know already? It is hard to say. We are seven books in to a series with the same, consistent protagonist with which to do anything meaningful regarding character development, and this book does not really attempt to tread new ground. It gives us familiar characters doing familiar things in only slightly unfamiliar situations. We learn more about Ky’s world (Slotter Key had always been an underdeveloped part of the series) and the shift in scale from space wars to family feuds works to ground the characters a little, plus Ky’s age is now more credible for the things she does. There are still some eyebrow-raisers – would Ky actually be entrusted, in her twenties, to run the space force training academy she was thrown out of as a teenager? – but this has always been a suspension of disbelief series, and the cohesive plot, snappy pace and engaging characters carry it through. As the Chair of the Grand Council says on the last page, ‘it could have been a lot worse’. And it could.
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