I've mentioned on numerous occasions how much I love J.A. Sutherland's Alexis Carew series. I've already reviewed the first two books in the series but had to take a brief break before working on the third. I'm glad I did as it allowed me to read it with a fresh mind to absorbing the character's latest adventures. Given the book takes Alexis to her seventeenth year, it also prevented me from being too confused if I'd read them back-to-back-to-back.
The premise is Alexis Carew has been recruited for a clandestine meeting with the Grand Republic of France (in SPACE). Being forced to learn dancing, polite conversation, and etiquette--she is also educated in the history of the setting. It turns out that the present state of the galaxy is due to a revolt by Deutchland (In SPACE) losing its Hanover colonies, followed by said colonies becoming an aggressive military dictatorship. Now New London, France, and Deutchland struggle to keep Hanover's ambitions in check. In the current war, New London fights alone and they're hoping to bring the Grand Republic in on their side against the Hanover. Alexis will be critical to this as she has, however briefly, had contact with the locals on the Hanover-aligned but culturally French Berry March worlds.
I must confess to a certain amount of disappointment to Hanover's portrayal and the use of them as the central antagonists in this story. It seems virtually all science-fiction invariably turns to some variant of Space Nazis as the enemy. In this case, the Hanover are stated to believe they wish to rule all of the galaxy and I wouldn't be surprised if they were meant to believe themselves superior. I say this is a disappointment, really, because I rather like the idea of the Napoleonic Wars in Space and would have been interested in seeing the Grand Republic or its allies as the enemy.
Despite this, I actually enjoyed watching poor Alexis struggle to keep her dignity despite the fact she was wholly unsuited for court life. It's also nice to see her deal with situations that she's out of her depth with but still trying to understand. The straightforward Lawful Good Alexis is a poor fit for a story which is fundamentally about realpolitc, espionage, and propaganda. Yet, that's precisely what makes the story intriguing as it forces Alexis to confront, again, New London society is not all that great.
I liked the depiction of French culture in the book even if it tended to veer a tad into the stereotypical (was it really necessary to make the ambassador smell bad as well as be a lecherous old man?). Still, there were quite a few interesting characters and the return to the Berry Marches is something I was actually looking forward to after their introduction in Mutineer. We also get a return of the characters there and knowing what happens as a result of Alexis' actions was poignant to say the least.
The book is roughly divided between two different sections with the first being Alexis' political nightmare in New Paris and the latter being a disastrous military campaign in the Berry Marches. The book adapts the Dunkirk evacuation but goes beyond to show just what happens in places where overconfidence outstrips planning. We also get to deal with some other interesting elements of war like pregnancies (not Alexis') as well as vengeance killings against those even tangentially connected to the enemy. I appreciate this Gray and Gray Morality and wonder if we'll get to see any "good" Hanover characters.
In conclusion, this is an excellent continuation of the series. Despite being YA novels, Alexis Carew deals with many serious issues and I'm intrigued by their mix of sci-fi as well as historical fiction. I hope J.A. Sutherland will continue to adapt famous naval battles and events as they make the series all the better.