Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mutineer (Alexis Carew #2) by J.A. Sutherland review

    Alexis Carew is my favorite new series and one I intend to continue reading as long as J.A. Sutherland continues to write them. I read Mutineer as soon as I finished the first novel, Into the Dark, and it was even better than the original. I think it's because this is a much darker novel and manages to deal with a nearly insurmountable problem for our heroine that reflects a real-life problem in today's military: misogyny from a higher up in a system designed to make sure your superiors are the word of God. The fact this is based on a historical incident in the Age of Sail, minus a plucky Midshipwoman, makes the story all the better.

    The premise is our heroine, still fifteen-years-old and now suffering from PTSD after executing a pirate, has been assigned to the H.M.S. Hermione. It is not a happy ship as its captain, Neils, is a flogging happy tyrant who hates the idea of women in the Navy. Alexis suffers daily indignities and punishments in hopes of driving her to resign.

    Things go from bad to worse after she ends up taking temporary command of Hermione's fighting men. Her decent treatment of them results in Neil's control erodingto the point they're ready to rise up against him. Mutiny is punished by death and those who flee from it are hounded for the rest of their lives by the Navy--what will Alexis do in such a morally complicated situation?

    I have to say J.A. Sutherland created a truly despicable villain in Captain Neils. A man who is so utterly stuck up himself that he refuses to see his men as anything other than extensions of his own will. I don't usually like completely black villains but it's easy to see every single one of his good qualities obliterated away by his station. He's a revolting specimen and yet someone I find entirely believable when interacting with his "lessers." He's easily the strongest of the four presently-released novel's antagonists and I wouldn't mind seeing him return.

    The crew of the Hermione is well-developed and the author manages to make you feel the paranoia which Alexis must deal with. Which of the crew are friends? Which of the crew are foes? Who can be trusted, if anyone? It's an atmosphere of paranoia and exhaustion our favorite Midshipman is dealing with. They have their own stories, too, with my favorite being about a young man who was caught up in a legal impressment.

    The space fleet action is fairly small as the Hermione is a frigate that only preys on merchant traffic due to its cowardly captain. However, there's an excellent action of licensed piracy by our heroine as she figures out how to take a ship which dramatically outguns hers. The action will delight readers even it doesn't involve a single cannon fired. The fact the story stops to talk about the traumatic cost of killing as well as risking your life in battle elevates it beyond many other series.

    We also get some expansive world-building with the introduction of the Berry Marches, which is a Space German-ruled set of Space French worlds that are aiding the Hanover (Space Germany) military forces in fighting New London. I found this to be an interesting bit of world-building even if the characters there act a little too much like French stereotypes. I also felt somewhat off-put by Alexis' crush who feels like he belongs to an entirely different genre of books.

    At the risk of spoilers, I should mention my favorite part of the book is the trial at the end with the evidence, arguments, and testimony being intriguing. Not many space opera books end up with a legal proceeding but given our heroine was involved (however peripherally) in a mutiny was something that deserved to be analyzed at length. I felt this climax was better than any space battle and really added to the story.

   This book actually feels something like two different books because the second half of the novel slows down considerably and deals with the culture of the Berry Marches. Then there's the final stretch of the book that deals with the consequences of the mutiny. I would have greatly enjoyed these getting their own books and I felt they were rushed through here. Despite this, I consider this an extremely enjoyable tale.


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