There’s a small problem with reviewing a series that has run (thus far) to eight instalments and an ancillary spin-off: by the ninth volume in direct descent (to whit, this one, The Lost Fleet: Beyond The Frontier: Guardian), the reviewer can assume that unless the author has chosen to do something radically different, readers who’ve come this far already have a fair idea of whether or not they want to keep going.
Although perhaps it should be said that new readers shouldn’t plan on starting here.
So, what can be said about The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Guardian? Let’s start with the most important thing for all the series readers out there: Campbell hasn’t radically changed his game. If you enjoyed the last instalment (and, particularly, if you enjoyed the sixth Lost Fleet novel), you’re probably going to enjoy this one, too.
Admiral “Black Jack” Geary has brought his fleet back to human space after a mission which brought them deep into unexplored space and through the territories of three alien species, two of them previously unknown to the governments of both the Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds. He has returned with representatives of a potentially friendly alien race, and a giant superbattleship captured from a terribly hostile one. But his first port of call is the star system of Midway, once part of the Syndicate Worlds, now in open revolt—and Geary’s Alliance First Fleet finds a task force from the Syndicate Worlds’ government facing off against the forces of an independent Midway. The diplomatic (and practical) headache this presents is only the first of the challenges he must overcome: the way back through Syndicate territory to the Alliance is full of obstacles and ambushes laid by the Syndicate government (despite the peace agreement), since Geary’s captured superbattleship represents an incredible trove of potential knowledge. Nor can Geary relax once he returns to Alliance territory: the power, symbolic and actual, which he represents, offers both danger and opportunity to politicians within the Alliance, and within the external enemy of the Syndicates to hold the Alliance together, the Alliance may well slide towards dissolution and civil war.
To say nothing of his friendly aliens, the Dancers. They want to go to Earth. Kansas, to be precise. And Earth, birthplace of humanity, is nominally an independent, demilitarised zone. But when Geary arrives in his flagship Dauntless, escorting the Dancers, he finds warships waiting....
(Although Geary seems to find warships waiting everywhere he goes, so I, for one, wasn’t particularly shocked.)
Campbell’s genius isn’t character, or plot. In fact, plot and character in Beyond the Frontier: Guardian are just enough to get the job done but nothing in particular to write home about: developments and pacing after the return to Alliance space are especially sketchy. The politicians are especially poorly characterised. But let’s be honest, that’s not what we’re reading for. Campbell’s genius is action IN SPAAAAACE. And the battle sequences are everything you’ve come to expect from The Lost Fleet series, with the added bonus of New! Tactics! on the part of Geary’s enemies. We’re not entirely treading old ground here, although some of the scenery is familiar.
In sum: if you like this sort of thing (and I do), then this is the sort of thing you will like. But start at the beginning, is what I recommend.
The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Guardian is published by Ace. It is available May 7.