The Blurb On The Back:
An inexperienced grafter. An obsolete spaceship. And against them, the might of the Grand fleet. Orry Kent might just be in over her head.
Orry’s father is the best conman in the quadrant, targeting the decadent ruling families of the Ascendancy, running elaborate heists with Orry and her brother Ethan before disappearing without a trace. This time should be no different.
But then Orry goes off-script and everything falls apart. Less than an hour later the Count’s spoiled grandson is dead and Orry’s on the run, accused of a murder she didn’t commit.
Turns out, the pendant Orry stole was crafted by the Departed, the ancient civilisation who left this universe aeons ago, taking most of their secrets with them. But she’s not the only one who wants it. It doesn’t take ruthless space pirate Morven Dyas long to track her down, and when she’s unexpectedly rescued by loner Jurgen Mender and his aging spaceship, Dainty Jane, Orry knows there’s only one thing left to do.
It will take all of Orry’s powers of persuasion to get Mender to agree to her plan, especially when even she can see the madness of pitting an inexperienced young grafter, a space-dog long past his best and an obsolete spaceship against the Grand Fleet, space pirates – and the alien Kadirans, who are getting bored with the long, uneasy truce with humankind …
But what other choice does she have?
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The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
20-year-old Amelia ‘Orry’ Kent and her 14-year-old brother Ethan, have grown up living a life of crime. Her father, Eoin, is one of the best conmen in the galaxy and together they wander the planets of the Fountainhead on their ship – the Bonaventure – stealing money and artefacts from arrogant nobleman of the Ascendancy. But their latest job – fleecing the arrogant grandson of the powerful Count of Delf – goes wrong when he attempts to double-cross them. Annoyed, Orry punishes him by making him handover a pendant he’s wearing – one that he says is a family heirloom – but soon after she and her family make their escape, the Count’s grandson is found brutally murdered and Orry’s face is flashed up across the media as the main suspect.
It seems that the pendant is worth more than Orry bargained for – an artefact from the Departed (an ancient civilisation that disappeared centuries ago, leaving the remnant of incredible technology) and it isn’t long before Orry and her family encounter the brutal space pirate, Morven Dyas and his psychotic mimetic sidekick, Jericho, who are determined to take it and for whom murder and kidnap are just two ways of getting what they want.
Orry is rescued by Jurgen Mender, a grizzled old space-dog who’s as much machine as man and who’s in charge of the Dainty Jane, an ancient warship that was already obsolete decades ago and which has a rather frightening mind of its own. Mender has his own reasons for getting even with Dyas but Orry must still use all her powers of persuasion to let her tag along for the ride. But going after Dyas leads to an encounter with bored young aristocrat Haris ‘Harry’ Vigo Bardov, gains the attention of notorious crime lord, Cordelia Roag and the discovery that the Kadirans (a brutal alien race who would like to test the peace they reached with mankind two centuries earlier), all of which makes Orry realise that she is very much out of her depth and rapidly running out of options …
Dominic Dulley’s SF thriller (the first in a series) is billed as HUSTLE meets FIREFLY but while the SF concepts are interesting (especially relating to spaceships and space warfare), the plot was far too predictable, I was unconvinced by the aristocratic societal structure and the dialogue lacks zing and while Orry is an inexperienced grifter, that doesn’t explain the daft choices she makes in the book or her naivety when convenient to the plot.
I think that most of my problems with the book are due to Orry. Although she’s billed as being 20-years-old, there are times when she acts a lot younger and, to be honest, I didn’t understand a lot of her decisions in the book, e.g. trusting Dyas not to betray her and Morven even though all he’s done in the preceding chapters is betray people and prove he’s only interested in saving himself. Although I believed in her desire to rescue her brother and I thought that their relationship largely rang true (albeit a little stereotypically at times), I didn’t get much of a sense of her relationship with her father (who seems to be running his own parallel grift, although that goes nowhere in this book), which means that a key even really lacked depth. Similarly, although we’re told that Orry’s mother committed suicide, it’s not clear that this really affected either Orry or Ethan and other than the fact that she was very beautiful, there’s no sense of who she was or what effect she had on her children.
What specifically annoyed me though was that for a professional grifter, Orry is only capable of thinking on her feet when it’s necessary to move the plot forward (and even then, it’s heavily dependent on events conspiring to carry her along or people believing her against their better judgement). There were too many scenes for me where she’s reduced to screaming helplessly at the antagonists ranged against her and waiting for something to happen to get her out of the situation. Similarly, while much is made in the opening chapters of the fact that she suffers vertigo, this conveniently becomes less of a problem in the last quarter of the book to the point that I had to question why bother having it in the first place.
Mender is very much a stock space-dog character – the standard loner with the tragic but violent past who professes not to want any company but who’s secretly becoming fond of Orry. Harry too is a stock sidekick/love interest – handsome and genetically modified so that his reflexes are super quick and he can shoot venom, his preference for rapiers over guns had me rolling my eyes and, indeed, for me the best bit in the book is when that comes back to bite him. I never really understood what it is that Harry’s supposed to be looking for beyond a sense of adventure and his motivations for being bad were highly unconvincing. Jane is actually more interesting than both of them – I liked the idea of a pacifist warship driven by a human consciousness and I wished that there had been more development of her on the page because she has more of a unique perspective.
Sadly Foag, Dyas and Jeremiah are all stock villain antagonists, without mercy, ultra violent, manipulative etc etc. There was nothing interesting about them and while the bickering between Dyas and Jeremiah was amusing, it wasn’t enough for me to care about what they wanted (or indeed, care about stopping them).
There are a number of interesting ideas in the book – I liked the descriptions of the warships and their capabilities and the space battle scenes are, for the most part well done. However I was less drawn by the societal elements, which are very much stock aristocracy with a 19th century vibe to it and, given that this is the future where people usually have an integuary (that enable them to hook up with computers) and people can opt for robotic limbs and enhancements, I kept wondering why society would structure itself with aristocratic houses and a single ruler given how old-fashioned it is. Similarly the brutish, rhino-like Kadirans read like something out of an old Star Trek episode – a patriarchal society built on strength that’s decided it no longer wants peace with humans is just so old-hat as a concept that my attention started to wander when they finally arrived on the page.
I found the plot to be predictable and too repetitive – Orry gets in trouble, she gets out of trouble, she’s back in trouble rinse and repeat … The dialogue also clunks at times, especially the “banter”, which for me fell flat. Ultimately, I just didn’t care enough about the book, which meant that I couldn’t really engage with it and as such, I really won’t be rushing to read the sequel.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.