Author: Mindee Arnett
Nutshell: Jethro Seagrave is a teen in a predicament. He and the members of his crew are basically indentured to a crime lord, one Hammer Dafoe. (Dafoe? Really? Okay then.) Hammer uses Jeth and his crew to boost ships, stealing the irreplaceable stardrives within. But when his latest job sends the crew into the most mysterious sector of space to steal a ship with a top-secret weapon, Jethro uses the danger to bargain a deal: He gets to go free on his ship in exchange for the job. Hammer gives his word. All Jethro has to do is give him the ship, and find some leverage to help Hammer keep his promise. The secret on the stolen ship might help with that.
Readalikes: Timothy Zahn’s Dragon and Rider Series is most like this. His Icarus Hunt is also similar, as well as Star Wars books that feature a primarily space-located Han Solo, such as The Han Solo Trilogy and parts of the Jedi Academy Trilogy.
It’s hard to be fair to this book, because I dislike the main character. It’s not a broken character. He’s a fully fledged character, acting in the way that men of his sort do. It’s just that I want to punch men of his sort. Le sigh. He’s a young man struggling to get out from under the thumb of a crime lord, which is commendable, except that he doesn’t seem to mind doing crime very much. He doesn’t seem to have a sense of personal honor, like some of the more famous struggling crime underlings in the genre. He’s perfectly willing to cheat, betray, and lie to whomever to get free. And he’s a smug punk. (The traditional insult to his lineage here does not apply. His mother was a very nice lady who got herself killed for knowing too many secrets.)
Balanced against this irritating POV character is the very, very interesting world setup. FTL is possible, with a “metadrive.” Metadrives are, however, extremely rare. The only people that know how to make them are certain members of the corporation that sells and polices them, the ITA. Which makes the ITA also the de facto interplanetary government. And they’re universally corrupt, which makes the characters stuck between the proverbial Scylla and Charybdis. Behind door number one is the Giant Thumb of the crime lord who wants to exploit you. Behind door number two is the ITA, who would rather kill you than help you, really. Door number three…
Door number three leads into the Belgrave Quadrant. There’s some seriously vague handwavium in the explanations here; suffice it to say the Belgrave is basically the Bermuda Triangle. (Only on steroids, because it takes up a fourth of the galaxy? That’s a pretty big portion of space to write off as “weird.”) The Belgrave is the most interesting part of the whole book, to me, adding an element of wonder and discovery to the otherwise very predictable organized crime story. (What’s that you say? The crime boss who is exploiting you lied in order to gain your cooperation but doesn’t mean to give you your freedom? Staggering.)
The plot of the book seems pretty straightforward for the first half, but in the second, it becomes plot spaghetti. Which is a lot more interesting than plot soup, let me tell you. And the plain old plot in the beginning is actually setting you up for a lot of the spaghetti twists, so the book avoids that uncomfortable feeling when new information shows up far too late to feel like anything but convenient writing. There is a slowish bit where the reader is brought up to speed on the answers to the questions that they’ve been asking, but at least it’s in the middle, when we actually care about the answers.
This book landed on the blog because of the way its plot is not tediously same-old stuff, but it does sink some in my estimation because I felt like the ending hit the “glass ceiling” of plot, where the author says to herself, “I’ll put the really cool stuff in the next book!” This comes across to the reader as holding them back, because it pretty much is, and I generally prefer a book that seems to be saying, “I put as much cool stuff as I could into this book, but I’m going to double down in the next!” There’s probably withholding in the second, but it doesn’t feel like that, so I don’t get disgruntled. So if you’re on the fence about space-capers, try some of the other books that read like this one, and read Avalon when you’ve gotten a taste for them.