Action, adventure, revenge and space pirates - Engaging The Enemy by Elizabeth Moon, her sequel to Marque and Reprisal, the first book in the Kylara Vatta series, has it all. It brings to sci-fi readers’ minds the works of other writers, such as David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, the novels of John Ringo, and the Acorna and Acorna’s Children series by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough - good company to be included in, indeed.
Picking up where Marque and Reprisal left off, Engaging The Enemy deals with Ky Vatta’s attempts to assemble a squadron of privateers to combat the growing menace a fleet of heavily-armed space pirates’ ships have been inflicting upon several planetary systems. She discovers that when she killed her relative Osman Vatta, a space pirate responsible for the deaths of her father, mother, and many other family members in Marque and Reprisal, that did not mark the end of her thirst for revenge and desire to rebuild Vatta Enterprises, her father’s lucrative business in interplanetary trading, but only the beginning.
One question that’s bound to enter the minds of people when they first hear or read the words “sequel” and “series” is “Can the individual books in the series stand alone?” This is a crucial question, both to potential readers of the books and to the authors involved, for sales can hang in the balance, and readers either turned on to great writers they’ve possibly never heard of before or turned away from them. Fortunately (even though I admit I have not read Marque and Reprisal but am looking forward to going back and reading it now) Engaging the Enemy provides enough relevant background info to fill in its readers about the first book in the series without being tedious about it. I was thoroughly taken in by the plot and characters of Engaging The Enemy, and I’m glad to say it can stand alone quite well, so don’t let the fact that it’s a part of a continuing series be a deterrent from being transfixed by this latest gem by the Nebula Award-winning Elizabeth Moon.
The novel begins with Ky Vatta reliving the explosions that resulted in the deaths of her parents through a dream. She has a skull implant, and data and her father’s recorded memories stored within it that aid her in her plans for putting a stop to the pirates and restoring her father’s company. But one of the major problems she faces is convincing other governments and systems that the pirates have only been trying to destroy her family’s business as a stepping-stone to expanding their power base and causing other systems to cave in to their demands. To attack the sixty-ship pirate fleet requires her to put together a coalition of like-minded traders, since the planetary systems don’t, at first, take the threat seriously.
War never comes cheap, though. Ky Vatta finds she has plenty of goods aboard the Fair Kaleen, the ship she took over from Osman Vatta, that she can sell to help finance her campaign. With the assistance of her cousin Stella aboard her old ship, the Gary Tobai, and her loyal crew, she tries to rebuild her finances to fight the war against the pirates. As Ky says at one point: “Trying to do war on the cheap is what got us into this mess.” I found this quote spookily reminiscent of some problems that faced America in Iraq. Whether one feels any particular war is or isn’t “justified,” there’s no denying that they all are expensive, both to the wallets of taxpayers and in lives lost.
Ky Vatta is a well-fleshed out heroine who is believable in the role as a vengeful privateer who manages to retain her sense of honor despite the growing knowledge that she actually enjoys killing the evildoers instead of feeling repulsed by it. She has to deal with this, and the fine edge that a person walks on between killing for the “right” reasons and turning into the sort of person she despises. As her friend Rafe says: “You will kill again--that’s what war is. And you will enjoy it again, because that’s how you’re constituted. If you let fear of that pleasure keep you from fighting as you should, you’ll get other people killed. And knowing you, that’ll drown you in a pool of guilt.”
Engaging The Enemy is a pleasure to read, an exciting novel sure to please readers of military sci-fi and sci-fi in general. The subplots are also interesting, especially that involving Ky’s aunt Grace Vatta. Her spying on the president of Slotter Key and desire to see him humiliated and assassinated are an entertaining component of the novel, and her pretense as a harmless older woman when she is, in reality, a potentially deadly killer, is priceless. Long live Ky Vatta, Stella, Grace, and the rest of Elizabeth Moon’s creations. I highly recommend this book;it may not blaze new trails, but it sure makes the old ones, those at least as old as Homer’s The Odyssey, of pirateering, privateering, and honor come to life in vibrant new ways.