eah, yeah, I know, ANOTHER Ark Royal book, this the eleventh in the set. And for The Cruel Stars, we go back to author Christopher Nuttall’s favorite moment in his history, the desperate First Interstellar War between the humans and the Tadpoles, where humans were only just hanging on against a foe with slightly better tech, one that had studied us and played us and destroyed our joint fleet off New Russia. So now the humans are struggling to find ships and manpower to replace their grievous loses. This book tells us one of their many attempts, and this one pays off for them.
Abigail Harrison is the captain of Archibald Haddock, an Englishwoman (but Belter by blood) who has just been reminded by admiralty that her ship’s loan was covered by the Royal Navy, under the unlikely even of a critical war shortage it would be pressed into service. Well, the loss of the fleet has made that event now reality. Turns out that they Navy has been making contingency plans for some time and that her Workhorse class freighter can quickly be converted into an escort carrier. Can it be any worse for her?
Well, yes, since her XO and crown representative, Alan Campbell, was just pardoned out of jail (where he landed after murdering his wife in rage when discovering her affair). And that’s not good.
Personally, I thought at Captain Abigail overstepped a number of bounds in her efforts – she got Alan drunk (and he hadn’t touched a drop while locked up for five years) and got his backstory. And then she spends the rest of the book berating him for his crime. Actually, the good Captain is a bit of a closed-minded bigot; she can’t understand murder, given the large family communities of the belt. She can’t understand Earthers (and constantly belittles them). I kept waiting for someone to call her out on her closed-minded prejudices but, sadly, it didn’t happen. Maybe her character was that way by subtle design or maybe Author Nuttall just reinforced her behavior off his character sheet. Who knows.
But the story was good and the action intense. Generally battles in the Ark Royal series come down to the heroes being outnumbered and outgunned when the cavalry comes to save them. Happily, the author came up with a nice save that was an unexpected solution. So kudos for that.
As always, I’ll recommend these books. They are fast, easy reads with a lot of blood, thunder and plasma cannons. Worth a read!
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