I’m not, in general, a fan of David Drake’s writing; most of his output is grimmer and far more carnographic than I care to deal with. I’ve made an exception for his RCN series because they tickle my fondness for classic Age-of-Sail adventure fiction and its pastiches, exhibiting Drake’s strengths (in particular, his deep knowledge of history) while dialing back on the cruelty and gore.
Drake’s sources are no mystery to anyone who has read Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey-Maturin series; Daniel Leary and his companion-in-arms Adele Mundy are obvious takes on the bumptious Jack Aubrey and physician/naturalist/spy Stephen Maturin. Drake expends great ingenuity in justifying a near-clone of the Napoleonic-era British Navy in a far future with FTL drives. And to his credit, the technological and social setting is better realized than in most exercises of this kind. It compares well in that respect to, for example, David Weber’s Honor Harrington sequence.
The early books in the RCN series, accordingly, seemed fresh and inventive. Alas, in this tenth installment the series is losing its wind. We’ve already seen a couple of variations of the plot; Daniel and Adele traipse off in the Princess Cecile on a sort-out-the-wogs mission backed by Cinnabar’s spooks. In a wry nod to another genre trope, they’re looking for buried treasure.
The worldbuilding remains pretty good, and provided most of the few really good moments in this novel. Alas, as the action ground on I found the characters’ all-too-familiar tics wearing on me – Adele’s nihilistic self-loathing, Daniel’s cheerful shallow bloodymindeness, Hogg’s bumpkin shtick, Miranda the ever-perfect girlfriend. The cardboard NPCs seem flatter than ever. The series always had strong elements of formula, but now Drake mostly seems to be just repeating himself. Even the battle scenes are rather perfunctory.
This is not a book that will draw in people who aren’t fans of its prequels. I’ll read the next one, but if it isn’t dramatically improved I’m done. Perhaps Drake is tiring of the premises; it may be time for him to bring things to a suitably dramatic close.