Book Review 2009 #55: Trading in Danger

Next up, my first foray into the Vatta universe…

Trading in Danger (Vatta’s War)
Although I am a fan of space opera, I’ve improbably managed to avoid reading the novels of Elizabeth Moon until now.A friend finally convinced me to take the plunge, and begin here, with her first Vatta novel.
I am glad that I did.
Set in a space opera universe of FTL travel, ansibles for FTL communication, and a balkinized polity of trading planets, pirates, mercenary companies and more, Trading in Danger is the story of Kylara (Ky) Vatta. Unlike her trading oriented family, she’s more interested in a military career. This career path goes off the rails in the first chapter of the book, as she is cashiered out of the military academy for what seemed to be an innocent attempt to help a fellow classmate.
Scandalous! Her family decides that a change of scenery and away from the media lights of her home planet of Slotter’s Key. The Glennys Jones is one of the oldest ships in the Vatta trading fleet and due for scrap. Send Ky to captain the falling-apart ship for one last mission, with the end point of the mission having the ship being scrapped on a distant planet, and have her charter transportation back home for her and her crew. In the meantime, the scandal will have been forgotten
Simple, right?
Although she assiduously avoided joining the family business to this point, Ky cannot resist the chance to make some “trade and profit.” And in the quest for that, winds up in an unfamiliar solar system that is just about ready to break out into civil war…
Moon is the sort of space opera writer that reminds me of Bujold in many ways. The technical details are plot oriented and relatively general in their details. Readers looking for lovingly thought out technical details of an FTL drive are going to be disappointed here. The technological details here serve character development and plot. And it is there, especially the character development, that Moon shines. Ky is a fully formed and envisioned three dimensional character, who has strengths, weaknesses, personality and who grows and changes in the course of the novel. Even when she does the wrong thing (for the right reasons), she is a sympathetic viewpoint character and Moon makes her the hard core of the novel. Her secondary characters are also well drawn as well, and contrast well against Ky, ranging from her family, to her crew, to those she tangles with in the course of her story.
The pacing is a bit slow as far as the action goes, its clear Moon is more interested in character development and starting the building of her world here than anything else. I was never precisely bored, but there are stretches that are less action packed than others. I also suspect that there might have been a larger book here that Moon decided to trim. Some subplots and ideas are mentioned and dropped in, but not fully explored. This may be a case of Chekov’s Law, as applied to subsequent novels.
Speaking of subsequent novels, despite the relatively minor detractions, I definitely be looking to continue to read Ky’s story in the subsequent novels in this series.