Christmas comes early in November each year when Mike Shepherd releases the latest of the Kris Longknife novels. Redoubtable, the 2010 entry in the now eight-book long series, does not tarnish the reputation the book's predecessors have built up. All of them are entertaining, being a bit of a mix between Elizabeth Moon's Heris Serrano books and Robert Asprin's Phule's Company novels. Throw in a little Jack Campbell too. Shepherd cheekily has one of the ships, Dauntless, commanded by one Jack Campbell. Dauntless happens to be the title of the third book in the Lost Fleet series by ... Jack Campbell.
By this time in many series, the books are a bit formulaic. So Shepherd mixes things up a little. No mirth-filled end-of-book promotion for Kris Longknife. And, in fact, Longknife's family, her actual family, not her shipmates, do not make an appearance in the book. No father, who doubles as a planetary prime minister. No Grandpa Ray, who's also known as King Raymond I, the leader of the United Sentients (which changes moniker late in the book). Nope, she's out doing humanitarian work in the Rim Worlds, when she gets a meet-up demand/request at St. Petersburg (the planet) from frenemy Vicky Peterwald, daughter of the ruler of the Greenfeld Thugocracy.
What follows certainly isn't a primer on two deadly enemies spending lots of time on each other's ships. Although a repetitive wariness DOES set in, this feels a lot like filler until Longknife can swing into action. What prompts an end to the philosophizing is that Kris' maid/social secretary/bodyguard/woman about the galaxy Abby's niece Cara gets snatched by the kind of thugs that everybody hates, even Greenfelders. So it's off to rescue the 12-year old Cara from the slavers.
The book once again returns to what it does best. Military SF with a whole lot of smack talking between Kris and her aides, Abby, Cap'n Jack and most especially her biomechanical computer Nelly. Cara gets rescued forthwith and is properly chastened, as a precocious child who's found she isn't the darling of EVERYBODY's eye often becomes. Which leaves the problem of rooting out the head slaver, a nasty bit of female badness. And like the first female baddie in the book, the ending comes with swift finality, regardless of how many innocents die.
And that's a bit troubling. Shepherd's been pretty good at keeping the innocent body count down, while Kris Longknife, Ensign, has graduated into being a Lt. Commander. She's lost members of her crew aplenty, as befitting a reasonably believable military-themed series. But, in this book, decisions are made by her and for her that bring brutal ends to stand-off situations. Could Shepherd be running out of ideas?
Oh, if you are worried that Kris' BFF, Penny, is the latest casualty, don't be. She spends much of that muddled middle part of the book back on the first planet the Wasp visited in the beginning of the book. She and Colonel Costanzo are left behind to organize the police and such, after the pacification of the planet.
I like these books. They are quick reads, have some real laughs and present more than a few moments of on the edge of your seat action. Shepherd's willingness to off supporting characters means you can never know for sure who (beyond the title character) will survive. This is my first year of reading the books BEFORE Christmas and, quite frankly, I think that won't be the only time that happens. November 2011 can't get here soon enough!