Top critical review
2.0 out of 5 starsI'm not sure I'm going to read book 15
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on December 1, 2019
First off - spoiler alert! If you haven't read this book yet and don't want to know what happens, stop reading right now as I intend to give away a few plot twists in this review .........
Ok, for those of you who are still reading this review I am going to list the reasons I am almost ready to give up on this series. I have read all of the previous books and I would give all of them at least 4 stars, and many 5 stars. I like the premise of the series - post-apocalyptic remnants of humanity living on the outer rim of human space rebuild their societies after the central worlds of the empire collapsed. The variety of different societies that arose after the collapse of the empire is also a refreshing twist on the "Fallen Empire" plot device. The first 7 books were excellent, even though some of the problems I'm going to list for the next 7 books do appear from time to time in the first 7. My biggest gripe with the entire series is how the Confederation government is portrayed as so horribly corrupt Sure, governments are almost never perfect, but I find it hard to believe that the Alliance government could function with a strict code of honor while the more democratic Confederation could even survive with the level of governmental corruption they seem to suffer from. Nevertheless, I found the war between the Union and the Confederation and the interactions between the Confederation and the Alliance to provide non-stop excitement and excellent character development. The science is believable, the space battles logical and well thought out, and the continuing mystery of the fall of the empire adds an aura of suspense to the mix.
Now on to the problems. The first big logical flaw for me began at the end of book 5 and continued through book 6. The Union, on the verge of defeat by the Confederation and Alliance forces, makes a last stand in a star system that is a choke point between Confederation and Union space. For some reason the Confederation felt it needed to root the Union forces out of this system, even though choke points work both ways - the Confederation could have just parked a fleet in the next system and waited for the Union to collapse. There was even an inhabited planet in that second system so logistical support should have been easy. But the Confederation decides to fight instead and get blasted by the pulsar. They retreat and lick their wounds and at this point I figured they would do the blockade thing they should have done in the first place. But no, they decide they have to go in and defeat the Union instead of waiting them out. Even worse, Jake Stockton has to take fighters through multiple jump points to scout the Union forces when putting a task force of battleships in the adjacent system and launching the scouting missions from there would have worked just fine. Furthermore, if the Union tried to move the pulsar through the jump point, the Confederation fleet could just destroy their ships as they transit the point and before they could set up their death ray.
That entire series of illogical actions taken by the Confederation was compounded by the Fleet entering range of the pulsar in the final climactic battle, when they could have just stayed back and destroyed the Union's mobile fleet units that were positioned near the transit point. The Confederation could also have just sent half their fleet though the other transit point, cutting the Union off from supplies and escape. Very frustrating.
I actually liked book 7, The White Fleet, with my only gripe being why the Confederation didn't just evacuate the sick people from the planet to one of the heavy cruisers, quarantining them on a flight deck or something? They could have then evacuated the system before the Hegemony forces arrived and avoided the whole "lead them in the wrong direction" plan in book 8. The rest of book 8 was actually very good, with a very believable infiltration of the Confederation government and takeover of some of their media outlets by Union operatives. The whole Andi vs. Lille arc was also very well done.
Books 9, 10, 11, and 12 got the action back on track, with my only gripe the increasing volume of agonized introspection almost every one of the main characters would indulge in, with the possible exception of Admiral Winters who doesn't appear to go through the same painful soul-searching taking place all around him. The Confederation even makes use of the one piece of technology that only they have - the cloaking devices. First they use one to destroy the pulsar, then they use more to wreck the Hegemony's repair infrastructure, and finally they use them to capture Colossus. My only other gripe with these four books is the sidelining of the Alliance and Union allies so important in the previous books, and the focus on 3 or 4 Confederation and Hegemony characters at the expense of all others. Could have been a richer story with more than two points of view.
The problems really begin to take off in book 13. It seems that many of the past technologies and upgrades of the previous twelve books have now been lost. In book 7 the Hegemony appears to have some type of device that can communicate across transit points - a device so strong that just being near it burned out the electronics of Jake Stockton's fighter. However, in book 13 and book 14 the Hegemony don't appear to have this technology anymore as they struggle to figure out which transit point the Highborn ships will be coming through. Next, the Alliance had 4 ships retrofitted with Confederation particle beam main guns but now, in book 14, only the Alliance flagship has these weapons. What, they couldn't retrofit more of their vessels? It is also mentioned that the transit point the Highborn first come through is the "most heavily fortified" but when the fighting starts the only thing there to stop the Highborn ships are the Confederation, Hegemony, and Alliance fleets, no mines, no weapons platforms, no battle stations, nothing. Also, Colossus appears to have no problem targeting the Sigma-9 protected Highborn vessels and its weapons appear to outdistance the Highborn guns, but they not only wait until the very last moment to bring this giant ship forward, but instead of hanging back and hitting the Highborn from outside their range (and feeding targeting information to the rest of the fleet), Sonya Eaton decides to charge right in on the Highborn fleet, taking unnecessary damage. And for the sake of god, what in the heck happened to the cloaking devices? Why doesn't every Confederation and Alliance ship have a couple of these on board? Even if the Highborn can somehow see through the cloak (though no one else can), it would have at least made it harder for their ships to target the Confederation and Alliance ships. Finally, the Hegemony knew that the Highborn were headed for their capital and there was little chance to save the planet, but they don't evacuate the government (and as many others as possible) prior to the battle? It appears the need to concentrate on the inner battles and agonizing conflicted priorities each of the main characters were feeling took so much of the author's time and energy that he forgot to apply logic or technological consistency to everything else.
Now for the reason I might not read the 15th book - The capture of Jake Stockton and the use of the 'collar' to make him into a slave, ready to train the Highborn in fighter tactics and lead the enemy against his own squadrons, is the perfect set up for more angst and tortured inner dialog. The thought of Reg Griffin or Tylor Barron agonizing over the need to kill Jake while Jake fights to break free of the control collar as he kills his friends, is just too much melodrama for me to take.
And while I'm at it - has anyone else noticed the pattern developing here? Bad guys invade with some type of magical supply train that the good guys end up destroying, slowing the enemy's advance. Next the good guys get the upper hand but suddenly a new, much more dangerous foe is discovered and they must team up to get ready for an even bigger battle. This same arc has happen twice so far in the series, and with the Highborn hinting at an even more intractable foe waiting on the 'main front' I can see the the next addition of this plot device emerging.
I really hope that the 'Jake is a bad guy now' trope and all the self-doubt and angst will be minimized in the 15th book and that the good guys regain all of their prior technology and knowledge. Come on Jay, figure out someway that Jake can quickly break free of the collar controlling him (maybe some smart Hegemony-type will figure it out and free Jake so he can save everyone) and just get back to writing great space opera.