Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The only daughter of the powerful Gerald Vatta, young Kylara (Ky as she is known to most of her family and friends), dreamed of being the first military officer from her family. That dream is shattered when her good intentions at helping a fellow cadet turn into a public relations nightmare and a political incident. Ky chooses to resign her commission and returns home to her family.
Her father decides it would be best for Ky to be out of contact for a while and gives her command of her own ship. The ship is an older one, on its final run to the salvage yard because the costs of upgrades outweigh the benefits for her father’s shipping company. Ky isn’t convinced and decides she’ll look for opportunities to possibly pay for the repairs and purchase the ship from her family as her own command vessel. This leads to Ky taking on a contract to deliver some agricultural equipment to a colony and, once again, being inadvertently drawn into a political situation that could lead to a public relations nightmare.
On the surface, all of that sounds like a fairly entertaining and exciting space opera story, but “Trading in Danger” isn’t necessarily always entertaining or exciting. Part of the problem is the character of Ky herself, who doesn’t necessarily seem to learn from her mistakes of the past and keeps making the same blunders over and over again. Early on the story establishes that Ky is a leader who leads with her heart, though that often has disastrous and unforeseen consequences for Ky and those around her. Also, Ky sits back and allows things to come to her instead of being a more active protagonist, especially in the early stages of the story.
At times the story here reminded me of the Miles stories by Lois McMaster Bujold with Miles at the center of galactic doings and surviving by his wits and instincts. Elizabeth Moon is clearly drawing from the same well that gave us Miles, but “Trading in Danger” isn’t quite as successful as the Verokosigan series–at least not in this first installment. At times, it feels like Miles and Ky are similar characters, trying to overcome the odds stacked against them, but Miles seems to do it in a most interesting, dynamic way than what we see from Ky.
Both have issues that make them feel inferior and over their heads in certain situations, but the reaction of the two characters is entirely different. Whereas Miles will take and run with an issue, barreling forward and either making things better or worse, Ky seems to spent a lot of time reflecting on her shortcomings but not really actively working to overcome them. (This may be an unfair comparison because I’ve known Miles and his style for more books than I do Ky. I did try to cast my mind back to the earliest Miles novels to try and recall my feelings about the character then).
After reading “Speed of Dark” by Moon earlier this year and hearing several friends rave about the Vatta’s War series, I was fully expecting a more enjoyable reading experience than I got here. There are some interesting moments, times when Moon truly had me engaged and actively interested in what would happen next. But there are also large portions of the story where I was less involved in Ky’s dilemma–whether it’s due to repetition of a similar issue or that we weren’t learning anything new about Ky or seeing any growth from her as a character. I realize this is the opening segment of a five-book series and I’m assuming that Moon has a greater plan for Ky and the novels to follow. I’m hoping this is like the first season of “Babylon Five” and it takes on a deeper significance to the series because its sewing some seeds that will blossom down the road.
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