I received this book from Parvus Press, in exchange for an honest review.
Just a few days ago I was reading a fellow blogger’s reasons for not accepting submissions from indie authors any longer, and I could sympathize with those reasons: more often than not, the writing and editing quality of these books is not exactly stellar, or the premise and promise of the stories don’t hold up against closer scrutiny. And that not even taking into account personal reading preferences and biases. My own experience is that only one book in ten doesn’t end in the DNF pile, if I’m lucky, so I appreciate why some would choose to concentrate on more tested and tried offerings – I’ve held that thought myself several times, especially after a particularly disheartening encounter.
Then I “meet” books like this one, and I understand the reason why I have not given up yet: because otherwise I would miss out on exciting discoveries. Vick’s Vultures is precisely the example of the kind of potential that could get lost in the huge crowd of emerging authors struggling for recognition, if it couldn’t get under a helpful spotlight: it’s a good, solid, entertaining story, and even if it’s not a world-changing reading experience, it’s an enormously enjoyable book, and sometimes that’s all we look for.
The best feature of Vick’s Vultures is its premise: once humanity ventures beyond the Solar System it discovers that the Galaxy is peopled by a great number of alien races, all of them far more advanced and far more belligerent and dangerous than Earthers. Starting out with such a handicap, humanity chooses to keep a low profile, forging alliances with lesser civilizations, while trying to acquire technological improvements in the most unobtrusive way. This is the origin of the privateers, to all intents and purposes scavenger crews who gather scraps of alien tech in the wake of the endless conflicts between the major races: retro-engineering this alien technology, Earth is able to further its own advancement while staying out of sight of the big guys – and out of harm’s way – as much as possible.
The Condor, under the command of Captain Victoria Marin, is one of these privateers: as the novel opens, Vick is worried by the lack of valuable finds that has plagued her crew in recent times – she needs a sizable profit, something truly outstanding, to keep her ship afloat both financially and morale-wise. Fate brings the Condor across the wreck of a Malagath ship, drifting in space after a battle with their arch-enemies the Dirregaunt: the salvaged materials alone could be a dream come true for Vick and her people, but the real bonus comes with the Malagath survivors she finds on board, because one of them is First Prince Tavram, the heir to the throne. Taking him home will be a great coup, and coupled with what the Condor will bring back in alien tech, it will mean a great deal for the Vultures and their captain’ future as privateers.
Trouble is, the Dirregaunt – in accordance with their wolf-like appearance and predatory nature – are not ready to give up on their quarry, and this starts a dangerous hunt for the prince and the ship that rescued him, a hide-and-seek chase through interstellar space that will take its toll on the already stressed Condor and its crew, pitting Captain Marin’s willpower and cunning against that of a very determined, very savage enemy.
This premise results in a fast-paced, at times breathless story that makes for a compelling reading while laying the background for the author’s vision of the future, one that is quite believable in its lack of glamorous technological advancement for Earth, whose people try to carve their own niche in the grander scheme of things, despite the obvious disadvantages they started out with. You will not find exotic and hard-to-believe (or comprehend…) technobabble here: Earth ships all but forge on through makeshift repairs, inventive use of purloined technology and a good dose of human stubborn resourcefulness, which make it quite easy to root for the characters.
Captain Marin is a good example of this: a strong, determined woman who cares deeply about her ship and crew – and shows it through action rather than words, which is a very welcome change. A woman who has learned the hard way how to survive in the doubly hostile milieu of space, where environment and people lie in wait for that single moment of distraction which will mean one’s death. Vick knows what she wants, and knows how to take it, be it precious salvage, a tactical opportunity or a moment of passion to make her forget the heavy demands of her position. As far as female characters go in this genre, she’s sound and believable, and does not need to be beautiful and alluring, or dark and tormented (or one of the possible permutations…) to stand out: she’s a capable, reliable professional, and she has charisma – it’s more than enough.
This novel is not immune from a few problems, however, but they are indeed minor and do not detract from the overall experience of the book: the background information, for example, is pared down to the essentials but at times it intrudes on the narrative flow in such a way as to prove mildly distracting. While I understand the need to flesh out the author’s vision and to offer useful details on this imagined future, there are times when the didactic nature of this information feels a little too much – at least for me. Then there is the characterization, that is not explored in great depth, although the adventurous nature of the story requires a tighter focus on action, rather than introspection. And again there is a thread about two Earth marines playing infiltrators where the suspension of disbelief is stretched somewhat thinly. Still, these are considerations that did not spoil my enjoyment of the story or took me out of the narrative “bubble”, and are quite superseded by some intriguing, unusual details that make a difference: for example the fact that the few colonies Earth managed to establish are largely ignored by alien expansion because the oxygen atmosphere humans need is not in great demand with other species. It’s a small thing, but to me it speaks of an active imagination capable of intriguing lateral thinking.
Vick’s Vultures will be available from October 4th: if you feel the need for an engaging, adventure-filled story and the beginning to what could turn out to be a good series, you need look no further.