The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell.
Whether or not you’ve read Campbell’s Fleet series, The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight is a gripping read of flawed characters who battle to do what’s best for their world while watching out for themselves.
The cover does justice to the main male character—the art looks vaguely Russian to me. Remember the chaos when the former Soviet Union broke up? When the empire that has oppressed them for generations collapses, Midway star system gets their chance to become independent—if they can fight their way to it.
Artur Drakon commands ground forces loyal to him, and he has to root out the ruthless agents of the collapsing empire—fittingly called “snakes”—who are not above slaughtering civilians on a massive scale to keep themselves in power. Can he do the tricky job of eliminating them while preventing anarchy spreading among citizens who are suddenly free?
Gwen Iceni commands one of the cruisers of the Midway system, and she has to persuade as many of the other ships to come over to their side as possible, as well as gearing up for battle against the ships that remain loyal to the crumbling empire. If she fails, their world will be bombarded into submission from space.
For those of you who have enjoyed the Fleet series, each of these leaders is a contrast to the noble Fleet Captain Geary. Both Drakon and Iceni have survived by long years of paranoia, and they have to constantly suspect their subordinates of treason, as well as wondering if they will have to move against each other. They are flawed or “tarnished” characters, but no other people could have risen to power and have the cynical know-how to battle an authoritarian government from inside.
The tension is extreme, whether in claustrophobic fight scenes in buildings on the ground, or in the high-speed maneuvering of ships in the vastness of space to intercept each other. And much of the tension revolves around Drakon’s and Iceni’s forces misinterpreting each other as they try to do what’s best for their world, with each move seen by the other group as a possible prelude to betrayal.
Again, readers who are not familiar with the previous series can enjoy Tarnished Knight, but those who have will be amused that Geary has left in his wake the image of a larger-than-life figure. Either way, the story is an enjoyable read.
Jack Campbell is the pen name of John Hemry, whom I have met at conventions a few times. My picture with him is from this post. It’s fascinating to hear him speak on a range of subjects.