LONGKNIFE Has a Somewhat Dull Blade

by Mike Shepherd
Ace Science Fiction, October 2011

It’s one of those things that strikes you when you read something you’ve never read before: “I think I’ve read this before.” Only you haven’t.

Kris Longknife: Daring is one of those books. Firstly, I’ve not read any of the other Longknife novels, so imagine my surprise to find a hard military science fiction novel with a female protagonist – who happens to be royalty, with a reputation for attracting trouble, with stupendously great luck and skill in combat…

My thought after about a chapter and a half: “This is a ripoff of Honor Harrington. This is Honor Harrington Lite.”

I still think that. The first Kris Longknife book, Mutineer, was published a good five years after On Basilisk Station, and it’s easy to make the comparison between the two lead characters. That’s been done, so I’m not going to do that here. Except to say that I like Honor Harrington better, because she’s a more complex character. When I say Longknife is Honor Lite, that’s exactly what I take away from this book. Princess Lieutenant Commander Kris Longknife is a shallow copy.

As to the story, it’s not bad. Longknife takes her battalion of ships out on a “Voyage of Discovery” to find out who’s been attacking the Iteeche, an alien race with which the humans apparently were battling in a war in previous books? And somehow Longknife brought that particular conflict to a close, and now wants to go find the New Bad Guy and see what’s what.

Her reputation being what it is, her fleet is soon joined by fleets from other governments, who all want a piece of whatever “discovery” gets made. Only they don’t reckon on finding a race of beings who shoot first and never ask questions. When the lasers and missiles start flying, it’s pretty much a botched mission, a total and complete mess of things.

Overall, it’s not a bad yarn, but Shepherd rushes through scenes that – on the surface – don’t seem as important to him as the combat scenes. But these character moments are what make the Honor Harrington books work so well. Shepherd doesn’t take his time and give us much emotional investment in the characters. They feel like Types. And the dialogue is stilted and uninspired.

The biggest irritant was the extreme overuse of the word “boffins” to describe the shipboard science staff. That got old very quickly.

There is the interesting notion of a race of alien beings that shoot first, destroy everything in their path, and don’t bother to “open hailing frequencies” – but the redeeming qualities of the Bad Guy aren’t quite enough to make the whole plot interesting. It’s a long string of cat-and-mouse (mostly mouse) while the remainder of the fleet takes the long way home to report in. But there aren’t enough rich character moments to make me care if they get home or not. Given that Shepherd seems to be following the Harrington template, I knew the ending before I got there.

It’s good enough that I’m somewhat interested in reading the other eight books, but not so good that I would ever want to buy it in hardback.

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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