Wednesday, May 10, 2017

HMS Nightingale (Alexis Carew 4#) review

    The Alexis Carew books are a favorite of mine and my go-to books for space opera of a decidedly Age of Sail-esque bent. I absolutely loved the first three books and was very eager to get into the fourth. I will say, unfortunately, this one didn't appeal to me nearly as much as the others for a variety of reasons. It's still an excellent novel but I'm going to say that I hope the author returns to his more traditional style for future ones. I will, however, give him credit for a truly hilarious subplot and also the attempt to handle Alexis Carew's PTSD in a mature dignified manner.

    The premise is Lieutenant Alexis Carew has been given her own small patrol boat and is now given the job of patrolling the area around her own home world. This proves to be more of a problem than she expected as the territory around it is full of radical religious groups, misogynists, and her old family rivals. Alexis is also suffering PTSD and refuses to seek any treatment for it, lest she be perceived as weak. After a massacre of several ships, Alexis decides to track down the parties responsible and put an end to them. Also, there's a subplot where her first mate has determined the girl he loves is actually in a romance with Alexis due to them sharing a bed thanks to lack of space
on the ship.

    The good parts of the book are the story bits about Alexis struggling to get a hold of her mind after the horrible battle with the Hanover frigate when it tried to commit war crimes against fleeing refugees. J.A. Sutherland weaves a sympathetic take on the condition and does not demean the condition or it's aftermath. Alexis also doesn't magically get better but will have to deal with it for, probably, the rest of her life. Too often books make our heroes look like serial killers who can just shrug off traumatic situations and I'm pleased with this one for averting that.

    I also am fond of the Nightingale crew and think they're probably the most interesting of the characters she's had to serve with. I'm especially fond of Midshipman Villar and hope he continues to be a character in the series. While mildly sexist and a bit of a dunderhead, he tries very hard to be a model officer. The fact he's so terribly bad at it doesn't make him a bad person, though, and I like seeing how his casual manner plays against the more straight-laced Lieutenant Carew. I also found his ill-fated romance with Marie to be hilarious, especially as Alexis is completely confounded by his assumptions about her.

    Unfortunately, I do have a complaint and that's the book's handling of the religious colonies in this setting. Despite being the Age of Sail in space, religion seems to be a somewhat isolated thing to the colonies with Alexis, herself, being atheist. Fine, that's just how the author has created the character but I was more confounded by the fact the only religious characters in the novel are ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag. In addition a colony of what appears to be Wahhabi Muslims who are refreshingly not a group of terrorists, a group of Space Amish who believe space is heaven, and a bunch of psychotic zealots. This is mostly notable lack of contrast to anyone who isn't nuts. There's also the fact the word "terrorist" has apparently exited the lexicon of humanity for some reason. Has political extremist disappeared so thoroughly that language has changed? It seems at odds with the retrograde universe which is at times the 17th century and other times the far future while this handling of humanity seems at odds with either.

    Despite my trouble with the story, I still think the book has quite a few merits and will be enjoyable for fans of the series. I'm just a bit confused by the world-building choices and they brought me out of the story.


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