Hardcover, April 2010
Admiral John “Black Jack” Geary is a legendary war hero, he came back from what many people thought was the dead and helped the human Alliance to defeat their enemies, known as Syndics. With the war over, peace is a tenuous thing, which becomes ever-more fragile with the growing threat of an alien, non-human species. Thus begins Dreadnaught the first book in Jack Campbell’s new Lost Fleet saga, Beyond the Frontier. This book represents a significant jump for Mr. Campbell, all the previous books were published as mass market paperback originals and Dreadnaught is a hardcover original. Clearly, Ace has a great deal of confidence in Mr. Campbell’s abilities to tell stories that a lot of people want to read.
Since Geary was such an integral part of the victorious war efforts, he naturally is the center of attention from both positive and negative sides of the coin. Though many see him above the standard rules of government, his loyalties are tested very early in the book as much of his fleet is placed under what is effectively a court martial because of a technicality. The problem is, much of that fleet is required in order to safeguard the alliance from the potential threat of the newly discovered aliens and to rescue prisoners of war from the Syndicate without violating the recently brokered peace treaty. Much of the novel details how Geary deals with this and the balance he must strike between to the soldiers under his command and his loyalty to the government under which he operates. That, and the line he must tow between the love he feels for his wife who happens to be his immediate subordinate and not playing favorites with her.
A lot of the political maneuvering was handled fairly well, and I felt Campbell portrayed the conflict between military and government believably. Geary’s bouncing ideas of his subordinates was also done nicely. This back-and-forth took up a large portion of the novel, and in a sense, allowed me as a new reader to get a fuller sense of Admiral Geary’s situation and provided a fairly logical way for Campbell to lay out events in the previous six book series. I would have liked some more action in the early part of the novel and I suspect fans of the previous books might be slightly frustrated with some of the retreading of prior events.
I came to this novel not having read the previous six book series, so the only knowledge I had of the book was anecdotal and some relatively positive reviews. On that count, I wasn’t too lost as a new reader, these characters obviously have a history, but not knowing that history didn’t detract from my ability to enjoy or fully grasp the situations in the novel.
One thing I did expect was action; that is a novel with a lot of space battles and physical conflict. What I got was a novel that was a lot of talking heads in the beginning and a lesser percentage of action and space conflict until the end of the novel which led to something of a cliffhanger. I’d say disappoint would be a strong word, but my expectations weren’t met. Whereas this “expectations not being met” was a good thing upon my first encounter with Elizabeth Moon’s novels (review of Oath of Fealty), here in Dreadnaught it did indeed work in the opposite way.
In the end, I enjoyed the novel and would be interested to see where Campbell takes Geary and the Alliance in future volumes. Particularly the true nature of the new non-human aliens because very little was revealed in Dreadnaught save for some plausible conjecture by the characters. Though I’ve only read one of David Weber’s Honor Harrington novels and only one Lost Fleet novel, the comparisons I’ve seen between the two don’t seem quite accurate. Weber’s series and characters are a bit more complex and the pacing is more even, but Campbell has on his side a slightly less dense narrative for readers.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford
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