The Lost Stars: Imperfect Sword by Jack Campbell (book review).

President Gwen Iceni and General Artur Drakon have a big job ahead. They are the new political and military leaders of the recently liberated system Midway. The population is shell-shocked and unsure how to be free. The former rulers are motivated to re-attack the system because of its strategic importance for travel to other key systems.

The extremist Syndicate only knows how to exploit and destroy. The attempt to retake Midway is definitely going to happen and Iceni knows it. With limited forces and spaceships, does she defend what she has or go on the tactical offensive? Does she trust the people around her knowing that they mostly rose to their positions of power in the brutal Syndicate.

Treachery and violence has been a way of life for so long, will she be able to show the population of Midway what freedom means? General Drakon and his newly victorious army is the sword Iceni will have to wield.

‘Lost Stars: Imperfect Sword’ is the third novel in the larger series of the popular ‘Lost Fleet’ series by Jack Campbell. Some of the characters from the larger series are referenced here, but as characters of recent history and almost legend. Familiarity with the other books will be a definite advantage for reading this. The large space battles that Campbell is known for are represented here. They are related in the knowledgeable way that a former military person does best.

Reading the story gives little hints and touches of such classic series as the ‘Aubrey-Maturin’ series by Patrick O’Brien or David Drake’s stories, probably ‘The Republic Of Cinnabar Navy’, based on them. The interpersonal relationships between the human characters takes a while to get going. The smaller human stories get into gear towards the end of the story.

I especially liked the way former allies fighting on opposite sides, come back together. Technically, Campbell is at the peak of his powers here. Jack Campbell is a pen name of former US Navy Officer, John G Hemry. His military knowledge really shows through in all his works.

There is sometimes an issue with joining a series part of the way through. In this case, reading the novels in sequence would probably be a good idea. Once or twice, I did have to search for characters and events from the previous books to help me figure out what was happening. Of course, you can just take the novel at face value and read it as a masterful space battle with a scoop of politics, but it would feel like taking a sip of a friend’s cocktail, pretty good, but it will leave you wanting more.

Initially, I found the dialogue a little stilted and unrealistic. Part of the way through, it was like the characters became more realistic. Upon a bit of mostly sober reflection, I realised that the characters were learning how to become their own people.

This was a bit of a revelation and I absolutely doff my cap to the author. This is a novel that will appeal to the fan of space-opera and large series. The space battles are pretty much unmatched. On balance, I would suggest reading the novels in sequence, but just getting into them is more important than how you get into them.

I am happy to relate that I have more books in the wider series to read.

Andy Bollan

March 2023

(pub: Titan Books, 2014. 415 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78329-244-8)

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