This is a debut novel and I always try to read new authors. I know how difficult it is to break onto the shelves. Also, it fits right in with my resolution to read authors I've never read before this year. This is a military sci-fi novel, so a little outside of my usual reading preferences. (I'm mostly into fantasy, although I do delve into sci-fi and mystery occasionally.)
The premise: Peter Cochrane has just graduated and expects to take on his role as an officer in the military on the spaceship Starbound, but receives the shocking news that someone has attacked the ship Impulse, killing his friend and one-time girlfriend. He's been reassigned to the Impulse, which after repairs is headed back to the system to find out exactly what happened and if it's a sign of the re-emergence of the old Imperial enemy. But Peter will have to deal with the vengeful captain of the Impulse while trying to discover the truth--is it Imperials . . . or is the enemy much closer to home?
I enjoyed the book. The military aspects feel genuine, although pushing a little bit into the "Star Trek" realm with some of the action. Peter steps outside the bounds for a few scenes and the punishment he receives is perhaps a little light considering what would have happened in a real military setting, although at least he did receive some type of punishment for disobeying orders, etc. The science fiction elements--the lightships, the weapons and technology, even the political setting and history--are all believable, with limitations that are reasonable while still allowing for that feeling of future realism. It's not as smoothly thought out (or perhaps not as smoothly explained) as something like Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet setting, but all of the SF elements are there and they aren't stretching your suspension of disbelief. It's easy to settle yourself into this universe and to follow along with the action.
My issues with the book were twofold: one with character and the other with plot. First, the character. This is likely just a personal preference of my own, but I had a hard time connecting to the character. Peter felt a little too arrogant and a little too perfect for my taste. Now, he's supposed to be somewhat arrogant. I'm not saying that he wasn't a fully realized character--he's supposed to be young and cocky and make snap decisions that make no sense at the time--but in the end, for me, he just wasn't all that likable. It's hard to root for a character you don't particularly like. Others may not have this issue with the character, though. He is fully realized, after all.
Second, the plot. While the plot is fine overall, I felt that it was a little loose, with sequences sort of happening at random. The main plot is to find out what happened to the Impulse the first time it entered this system in order to strike up negotiations with the native planet's population. Pretty straightforward. But then it sidetracks into a bunch of other sub-plots or tangents, like setting aside the search for a significant amount of time while Peter plays royal to get the planet's leaders to agree to an alliance or the diversion to search for the Relic in the asteroid. Both of these side plots (among others) really gave me the feeling of a "Star Trek" episode and diluted the much more interesting plot of what the hell is going on with the Impulse and the original attack. Now, this is blatantly billed as book one of a series, so there's no promise of a resolution to the main plot in this book (and there isn't a hardcore resolution provided here), but that doesn't help with the feeling that these other plots are distractions from the main point of interest. While reading them, I wanted to get back to the main point.
So, if not for the distracting plot elements, I would have rated this at 4 stars. And if I'd connected to the character a little bit more, it might have gotten 5. As I said, SF isn't my normal reading preference, so perhaps the military SF readers out there will find the character perfect (although I still think they'll have issues with the distractions in the plot). I'm still interested enough to read the second book when it comes out, with some hopes that the plot settles down and becomes less distracting, and that the main character matures a little bit as well.
Joshua Palmatier/Benjamin Tate