Military Science Fiction on

Naval débutantes in space: Mike Shepherd’s Kris Longknife: Mutineer

Sometimes, you want to read pure fluff. The Kris Longknife books stand in the same relation to the military SF subgenre as a whole as candyfloss does to steak and potatoes, or as — to take a recent example in a different subgenre — Dante Valentine does to War for the Oaks.

You might think I’m going out of my way to make inflammatory statements. I promise you, that’s far from my intention. I love fluff. I devour the stuff. I have, as one might say, a sweet tooth. And Kris Longknife provides a very appealing style of fluff.

Kristine “Kris” Longknife is a prime minister’s daughter, the granddaughter of generals and industry tycoons, and — when the series opens — a lieutenant in a peacetime navy about to be sent on a combat drop with a platoon of Marines. She also has a Tragic Loss in her past, is wealthy and beautiful and politically connected, and having her under their command makes her commanding officers about as happy as having an unstable nuclear fission plant in the room next door.

Because Kris Longknife is trouble. She causes it, or it follows her, or she charges into it — and somehow, when the bullets have stopped flying, the spaceships have stopped exploding, and the major interstellar crises have come to a halt, she’s still alive. In fact, she’s come out on top, covered in glory — or at least, not usually covered in muck.

Now, you might think a woman with a name like “Long knife” Longknife is a pun, or worse, a caricature, waiting to happen. Not so: despite the name — and a number of characteristics which one might also expect to find in that legendary beast, the Mary Sue — Kristine Longknife, Princess of Wardhaven, becomes, over the course of the books, a well-rounded character. And she has that necessary accompaniment of every heroine as well, of course: a bevy of wise-cracking sidekicks. With the able assistance of bodyguard Jack, maid and all-around woman of mystery Abby, her pet computer Nelly, and assorted colleagues naval and otherwise, she kicks ass and takes names, from assignment as “humanitarian relief” on an agricultural planet to exploring beyond known space — and making first contact with aliens and a new, potentially deadly threat.

The titles of the first two books are a little misleading, it must be said. Kris Longknife isn’t really a mutineer, precisely. Or a deserter, exactly. She just gets into sticky situations not entirely covered by the letter of the regs. Or local law, as she learns in Kris Longknife: Audacious, when she’s the catalyst for political crisis and regime change during a visit to the planet of New Eden. Or when she defends an entire planet with little other than an obsolete space station in Resolute.

I’m not the world’s biggest enthusiast of finding new things — or people — to shoot at, but while the Kris Longknife books (like candyfloss) have their flaws, they’re never less than entertainingly sticky, full of implausible successes, assassins, fleet actions and daredevil do-or-die gallantry. And Shepherd can add the absence of techsposition to the points in his favour.

If you like things that go BOOM in SPAAAAAACE (and on land, too), this is a good series for you. I have to say, I find it a lot of fun.

When pressed, Liz Bourke will admit that she can think of some things to put in a bio. But certain parties (who shall remain unnamed) dared her to write [PLACEHOLDER] instead. This is the compromise position.


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