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Book Review: Kris Longknife: Mutineer, by Mike Shepherd

Privileged brat becomes a space navy ensign in a perfectly mediocre generic space opera.


Kris Longknife: Mutineer

Ace Books, 2004, 389 pages



Kris Longknife is a daughter of privilege, born to money and power. Her father is the prime minister of her home planet, her mother the consummate politician's wife. She's been raised only to be beautiful and marry well. But the heritage of the military Longknifes courses through Kris' blood - and, against her parents' objections, she enlists in the Marines.

She has a lot to live up to and a lot to prove in the long-running struggle among her powerful family, a highly defensive - and offensive - Earth, and the hundreds of warring colonies. Then an ill-conceived attack brings the war close to home, putting Kris' life on the line. Now she has only one choice: certain death on the front lines of rim space - or mutiny.




I've found a few good SF novels lately, but with this one we are back to strictly average. Mutineer was pleasant but unimpressive entertainment on a par with maybe a good episode of a mediocre TV science fiction show. Kris Longknife seems cut in the same mold as Honor Harrington or one of the Vorkosigans, but she's boringly derivative and so is her universe: the stitched-in political intrigue shadowing the book to the climax, about the Society of Humanity breaking up and Kris's homeworld being on the other side of a schism from Earth, was not developed enough, nor was this universe and its politics, to read as anything interesting enough to make me want to read the rest of the series. Kris herself is an interesting enough character, if a little too good to be true, but the writing and the setting just didn't hold my interest.

First of all, this book is the first in a series that is like all those other series that are derivative of Horatio Hornblower — see the young officer start out as boot ensign, and in each book she will have bigger battles on a grander scale and steadily be promoted.

Mutineer portrays the military as always a force for good, except when bad officers are subverting their lawful orders. (The "mutiny" in Mutineer takes place only at the end of the book, and involves Kris discovering that some officers have decided to effectively stage a coup and start a war.) The real problem, though, is just as there is no complexity or ambiguity in the role of the military in this book (they are only seen saving little girls from terrorists and bringing food to starving farmers), there is no complexity or ambiguity in the trials faced by Ensign Longknife. She is always and unmistakeably in the right, and while she occasionally questions the wisdom of her tactics or whether she will succeed, she never questions whether she's in the right, because she always is. She doesn't have to make any hard and ugly choices. Maybe this happens in later books, but in book one, it's all about how Kris is an awesome person and will be an awesome naval officer who will always do the right thing. And conveniently she has a super-rich, politically powerful family with a legacy of war heroes to boot. While this introduces some complications for her (her family's reputation of course precedes her, and her fellow officers want to know why the spoiled little rich girl decided to join the navy), it's mostly an endless network of favors and influence she can call in when she has to. For example, she conveniently has a personal AI with her unlike anything issued to other officers, which allows her access to information that no one else has. It's easier to be right all the time when you have a special super-computer backing you up.

There isn't a lot of detail in this universe. The Society of Humanity spans hundreds of worlds, with apparently Earth and Kris's homeworld of Wardhaven (of which her father is the Prime Minister and her grandfather is a former Prime Minister) being the two most influential. There are references to a past war with tentacled aliens called the Iteeche, but they aren't seen in this book, nor are any other aliens. There also isn't a lot of dwelling on technology or weaponry: jump ships, AIs, lasers, let's move on.

The first part of the book almost lost me completely. First, there was a lot of infodumping, often delivered in "As you know, Bob" speeches. This became less annoying in the second half of the book. Second, we get introduced to Kris's background story by way of the aforementioned rescue mission, in which we learn that Kris had a little brother who was kidnapped when she was a child, and did not survive. All right, that's tragic and unsurprisingly, on a mission to save a little girl of a similar age, it dredges up the past for her, but the degree to which she has trouble coping — apparently she can still barely stand to say his name — left me in doubt as to the maturity and stability of this 22-year-old naval officer. The angst was dialed well beyond the point of believability.

I also found much of the supporting cast to be annoyingly stereotypical, from Kris's Chinese-Irish best friend (why do all these far-future space operas feature old Earth cultures spread across the galaxy and unchanged in hundreds of years? There's even a friggin' Scottish Highlanders space marines regiment!) to her vacuous mother who would have fit right in at the Netherfield Ball.

It may be that I judge SF too harshly nowadays. Mutineer is entertaining enough as a pure military SF adventure, and Kris Longknife is competent and noble, without stumbling as a character, if a little too blessed and perfect at times. But this book just didn't hook me, so looking at the rest of the series, which is now up to nine books, does not make me feel like diving in.

Poll #1908421 Kris Longknife: Mutineer

Have you read any of the Kris Longknife books?

Yes, and I liked them.
1(14.3%)
Yes, and I didn't like them.
2(28.6%)
No, but now I want to.
0(0.0%)
No, and I'm not interested.
4(57.1%)




Verdict: Passable, average, decently but not thrillingly written, I wanted to be more enthusiastic and there's nothing about Mutineer to make me give it a really negative review, but I just can't muster much enthusiasm about it. It's pure generic space opera with a pretty generic heroine, so the best recommendation I can give it is that it will fit the bill if you are in the mood for that kind of thing.




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