Baen, 2010, 384 pages
Athena Hera Sinistra never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in finding out the truth about the DarkShips. You always get what you don't ask for. Which must have been why she woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in her father's space cruiser, knowing that there was a stranger in her room. In a short time, after taking out the stranger--who turned out to be one of her father's bodyguards up to no good, she was hurtling away from the ship in a lifeboat to get help. But what she got instead would be the adventure of a lifetime - if she managed to survive.
Okay, that cover is kind of awful. Unlike I Will Fear No Evil, though, the heroine doesn't really go around dressed like that for most of the book.
The heroine, Athena Hera Sinistra, is almost as awesome as her name. By the end of the first chapter, we've learned that our 19-year-old protagonist is a holy terror with almost superhuman speed and fighting abilities, capable of taking out armed mercenaries who try to ambush her in bed practically naked. She's the daughter of one of the ruling oligarchs of Earth, but there's an apparent mutiny on board Daddy's cruiser, and she has to escape the clutches of his goons.
Her escape takes her into the "powertrees" of Circum Terra. Constructed centuries ago by a race of genetically engineered supergeniuses, they grow "powerpods" which are also visited by "Darkship Thieves," legendary outlaws from elsewhere in the solar system. Athena just happens to run into one of these thieves' ships, and finds herself dragged off by a genetically enhanced cat-man to a secret asteroid base called Eden, run along anarcho-libertarian principles and enjoying a much higher level of technology than corrupt, socialistic Earth.
The author as much as admits that this book is Heinleinian fan fiction, and that's very much how it reads. It's reminiscent of Heinlein's adult adventures, like Glory Road and Friday, though with less sex but more romance. Athena is brilliant, beautiful, and dangerous as she narrates her story, and slowly grows a conscience after having been the spoiled and rebellious child of a manipulative tyrant for her entire life. She definitely has Daddy issues, but nothing that can't be solved by chucking Daddy out an airlock. [Spoiler (click to open)](Okay, that's not - quite - what happens. But pretty close.)
The writing definitely strives to imitate the voice of Heinlein's daredevil, wisecracking heroes, but sometimes the author uses clever-ish dialog to write her way out of inconvenient plot holes.
I hid the burner. Nobody's business where. Probably not nearly as thrilling as most people will think, but at any rate, it is a trade secret of sorts, and besides, I might need to hide it there again.
Athena's romance with Kit, the "Darkship Thief," is rather cliched — here the dialog gets pretty trite at times. The setting, a futuristic Earth in which genetic engineering is supposedly outlawed because of wars with genetically engineered humans in the past, is very loosely drawn light space opera, with "burners" and "dimatough" and "powerpods." From the improbable coincidence of Athena running into Kit's ship in the beginning, thus being the first Earthling to encounter an Edenite in centuries, to the sudden addition in the last few chapters of an entire gang of allies and additional past adventures filling out (19-year-old) Athena's history, the story is much more concerned with keeping the action going than being tightly constructed. It's quite fun, if not up to par with what it's imitating.
Verdict: Darkship Thieves is a nice light romantic space opera with a character who very much wants to be in a Heinlein novel. This book isn't quite that, but it's a passable facsimile. 7/10.
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