By Sarah Hoyt
Baen, 400 pp., $7.99
Darkship Renegades by Sarah Hoyt continues the space opera excitement while avoiding the sophomoric descent of many second novels in a series. Strap in for more interstellar fun!
**Please note this review has spoilers from the previous book due to ongoing plot revelations. Check out the previous review here.
We resume exactly where Darkship Thieves left off: Thena and Kit docking on the home asteroid of Eden. Upon arrival, Kit is detained as a traitor to Eden for visiting Earth. While his family develops a plan, Thena updates them on their unpleasant visit, and she learns that during their absence Eden’s power supplies were greatly depleted. Good Man Sinistra’s hunt for Thena revealed the darkships’ existence and began an effective hunt to eradicate all ships. Many were lost on runs resulting in fewer returning with the powerpods that provide energy. This loss of powerpods created a power vacuum never before seen on Eden; those who were set up as the Energy Board over 300 years ago suddenly had a different kind of power over others due to scarcity. Their ideal libertarian world was now on the cusp of civil war and was being ruled by a quasi-government.
Kit is voluntarily questioned in front of all Edenites. While it’s proven he didn’t purposefully endanger Eden, retribution for his actions is another trip to Earth in an attempt to bring back Jarl’s writings, for Jarl created the powerpods and with his notes perhaps Eden could grow their own energy. Not everyone agrees with this idea and, as they prepare a ship for the journey, an unknown assailant shoots Kit in the head. Doc Bartolomeu with little choice gives Kit nanites to help repair the damage. Unfortunately, the nanites were imprinted with Jarl’s brain, not Kit’s. It’s now a race against the clock to get to Earth, find Jarl’s notes, and pray they also include a way to stop Kit from having his neural-pathways rewritten and becoming Jarl.
This page-turner book promises to keep you up past your bedtime (again!), but this novel is also interspersed with long dialogs about society. Thena and Kit’s political discussions occur naturally as the plot reveals more about the Mules, their purpose, and Jarl, the pro-human Mule. Jarl betrays his own by leaving them behind, he handpicked those Mules who went to space, and he found a place for their bioengineered servants to thrive. Everyone separated from one another, yet this battalion general’s mistake was to assume he understood everyone’s needs. Book smart and educated by the failing world in which they were created to serve and then lead, he rejected what Mules had become and worked to effect a change.
Hearing Jarl speak through Kit offers a first person viewpoint on these decisions. He generates sympathy despite his lack of compassion, however while the world building discussions are interesting ethnographic studies since much time is spent on the ship traveling it does somewhat eclipse the action and steals some of the thunder from a few plot reveals.
The evolving libertarian world of Eden and the brewing storm of revolutionary changes on Earth remain fascinating in part because they are shown, not told, so the reader experiences it. We see firsthand that agents for change can only estimate so far into the future and then life happens. We also see how little control one really has in a situation. Jarl’s decisions to save the few hurt many. Earth was and is a mess. Eden is also not stable, even Jarl fails there. Lastly, we don’t learn what becomes of the Mules who continued on into space without their servants, but given that two of three solutions failed we aren’t confident. Through these examples, we are left to wonder how smart the Mules are and why any generation would willingly surrender power to the few.
Darkship Renegades reveals more of the ideology behind Earth and Eden with healthy doses of action. The excitement hooks while the overarching questions leave you wondering: how would I have addressed these challenges? It’s another fun jaunt!