Thursday, April 19, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Into The Fire (Vatta's Peace, #2) by Elizabeth Moon

Into The Fire is the second book in the series called “Vatta’s Peace” by Elizabeth Moon.

Moon is known for her military sci-fi and space opera series called Vatta’s War. I had assumed this new series would be in a similar vein but the space opera components appear to be increasingly minimal as the series proceeds. I have not read the previous series, just the new one.

In the first book, Cold Welcome, Kylara Vatta (Ky to her friends) returns to her home planet of Slotter Key after acquitting herself admirably in various military operations in space. However her space shuttle is sabotaged and she manages to survive a crash landing in the sea and make it to a wintry, barren continent with a couple dozen troops. That book was centered around Ky’s fight for survival for herself and the troops she commands. I thought the setting was odd for a military sci-fi space opera but the suspense of will-they it won’t they survive was compelling. And before they leave the remote continent Ky and company discover an abandoned secret military base which holds important secrets (alien artifacts).

In Into The Fire, Ky has returned to her family (her cousin Stella Vatta is the CEO of the huge Vatta corporation which focuses on planetary and interplanetary shipping of goods and services and her aunt Grace is the Rector, basically the equivalent of planetary Secretary of Defense) to discover that there’s a vast conspiracy formed to do the Vattas (and her specifically) extreme harm. So she’s “home” (well really it’s Stella’s home) but she is definitely not safe and sound.

Ky has to deal with some bizarre fallout fir being missing for more than half a year due to the events in the first book. She was presumed dead and the Commandant of the Military Academy was killed (murdered) in the original crash. But what is Ky’s biggest problem? IMMIGRATION! Because she had been returning to Slotter Key after more than a decade away (as something of a military hero) she was unaware citizenship laws had changed and the administration considers her an illegal undocumented immigrant warranting arrest and confinement. This provides a deep insight into the administrative fussiness of Slotter Key society.

Another one of the cultural norms of the world Moon is building in the Vatta books is that assassination and violent death are considered common place (among wealthy families like the Vatta’s). Ky (and Stella and Grace) are subject to attacks of various kinds multiple times (poison attack, home invasion, direct military assault and mercenary double agents). This element of the book does add some suspense even though it’s really hard to believe any of the main characters will come to substantive harm (even though we do know that another assassination attempt successfully killed Ky’s parents and other members of her family in events that happened before this series began). Moon is at her best when she is describing the action scenes involved in these attacks and other military episodes. She also provides some intrigue by depicting the complicated nature of the relationship between Ky and Stella, who could be described as “frenemies.” This dynamic is interesting but it’s not entirely motivated in the text.

One of the key weaknesses in the book, IMHO, is Moon’s curious penchant for including the most mundane details of her character’s lives and activities. There are LOTs of examples of information being provided of things I don’t believe the reader needs to know (like the fact Ky eats ham sandwiches when she needed a quick snack after working too hard or the specifics of how meals are going to be prepared at Stella’s house when Ky and her fiancé Rafe are staying there). Maybe this is intended to communicate verisimilitude but I found it mostly tedious and distracting.

Overall, I am still interested in Ky’s character and I want to see what happens to her in the future so I will continue to read the Vatta’s Peace series but Into The Fire convinced me I don’t need to seek out Moon’s other books I presume they will suffer from this and other flaws in the writing. That’s probably too bad because I suspect that having read the multiple books in the Vatta’s War series that preceded this one would provide more context of the reasons for why another prominent Slotter Key family is going through such machinations to exterminate the Vattas.

As I reflect on my reactions to the book another flaw in Moon’s writing which I didn’t think consciously about as I read the book but becomes more evident as I prepare and write this review is that Moon doesn’t spend much time on depicting or discussing the diversity in her world-building, so my assumption is that most people are alike. She does mention a few times that Ky’s skin is light-brown in color but I don’t have a good sense of what Stella looks like (although her beauty and poise are remarked on several times). Ky’s boyfriend Rafe is described as “a shortish man, black haired, dark-eyed, well-dressed.” What image is that supposed to provide the reader of his “race” or “ethnicity”? I suppose that’s fine in a typical fiction book but there are a lot more SFF writers these days who are trying to be more explicit and direct in addressing issues of representation but Moon doesn’t appear to be one of them.

Title: Into The Fire.
Elizabeth Moon.
Paperback: 416 pages.
 Del Rey.
Date Published: February 6, 2018.
Date Read: April 6, 2018.

★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

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