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The Lost Stars: Perilous Shield
by Jack Campbell (John G. Hemry)
Ace Books; $7.99, 419 pp
Published: September 2014

The Perilous Shield of the title refers to the laughably thin space-navy defense mounted against the incursion of an enigma alien fleet, but it also describes the risk anyone takes in trusting another, such as the tenuous alliance between 2 former Syndicate CEOs, General Artur Drakon and President Gwen Iceni, who helped each other escape, survive, and establish a free system.  But as Drakon so succinctly puts it: “You know the words used in the Syndicate for CEOs that trust other CEOs: Stupid. Betrayed. Dead.” The question is, were Drakon and Iceni motivated by greed and self-interest, or by integrity? The answer lies partly in their selection of compatriots, who include the heroic Colonel Bran Malin and the morally dubious but unquestionably competent (and attractive) Colonel Roh Morgan. And part of the answer is evident in their political actions, which include sponsoring elections and monitoring the behavioral initiative of candidates. Oh, and there’s also the swift poetic justice they visit upon certain rats attempting to flee the planet, a nice resolution to a storyline developed in the first book, The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight.  But will competence, integrity, intelligence and courage  be enough to deal with a fleet that outnumbers there by a factor of nearly 20 to 1? Or will Black Jack Geary pull a rogue ex machina manoeuvre? Like Stalky of the Rudyard Kipling stories, Geary is never so dangerous as when he is least in evidence.

But even if they survive the alien invasion, there remains a very strong, very angry Syndicate presence that would like nothing better than to erase their defiance and the freed system from all memory.

The author’s naval background leads me to suspect that the names of places, battles, and military ranks that are evocative of World War II are deliberately so; readers who are better historians than I am will probably be able to make something of those clues. There’s also a salute to David Weber’s Honor Harrington series in that three of the heavy cruisers are named Gryphon, Manticore, and Basilisk. And then of course we have the names Artur and Gwen, evoking legends of a Round Table and a code of honor that transcended the operating model of “Might is Right” or “Justice is the advantage of the Stronger.” I can’t help wondering how much time Annapolis Naval Academy cadet Hemry spent in the company of nearby Johnnies discussion Platonic ideas of justice. Click here for a review of The Lost Stars: Imperfect Sword.  ~~ Chris R. Paige

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