Today I am reviewing “Valiant Dust, Breaker of Empires Book 1," by Richard Baker. Many notables of Science fiction wrote nice blurbs David Weber “New and extraordinary… Go read this!” Mike Stackpole “Military SF at its best”. David Drake wrote “Intelligent space opera with lots of vivid action.” One of my favorite authors Ed Greenwood “Intensely satisfying. Bravo! I look forward to more exploits of Sikander North!” Finally, Eric Flint, whose own book I had just reviewed last time said, “an excellent mix of military action and political intrigue.”
I find those are all very nice things to say, I am not sure they should all be said about the story I just finished reading. This is a story of military intrigue, politics, a big fight scene at the end where one shop goes up against two and obviously more powerful ships, and our hero Sikander has to be heroic. Sikander is also dashing, good looking, a prince, while also being an all-around nice guy.
Mr. Baker touches on a lot of different points; discrimination because Sikander is not an European centered character, I understood him to be either from a country like India or Pakistan. His planet had been colonized from old Earth, Earth then lost touch with his planet, and was found again, but because they had been lost they didn’t come back with all the rights and privileges of an Old Earth Planet.
There are issues on board between being a ship’s officer, a lieutenant and being a prince from a different planet, that has some interesting developments. He also has a body servant who is also a chief petty officer, so where ever Sikander goes, so does this Chief. Which could have lead to some issues, the character even mentioned that it might, they never do, but it is mentioned.
A prince of state seems to have some benefit also for the character, he meets the love interest of the story, and to me it read like a Bernard Cornwall, Sharpe Moment, where he meets the girl, sleeps with the girl, and the girl later dies because she slept with the hero Sharpe. I won’t ruin that with a spoiler, but if you read this story, you can let me know if you wondered the same thing.
It would be hard not to bring comparisons with David Weber’s Honor Harrington, so I am not going to try. This the first book in the series it was a pleasure to see that we don’t start off with the character being a captain of a space cruiser. If someone thinks about it, being in charge of the weapons on a space ship is one of the more exciting places to be, with a bit of understated authority too. I mean, if he had been in charge of waste disposal, or the ship’s morale officer? That could have gotten to be a little boring as well as wondering where this story was going to go.
He also is quite good in hand to hand combat, there is no discussion about the different types of marital arts as in other stories, it is more of “He can do this, he uses this in a ‘match’ in the gym on board. He is right in doing so from a moral stand point, he stuck up for himself from a bully.” Sikander didn’t beat the snot out of the other guy, but it is clear that he won. At the end of the story it is still not clear how the other character felt since he is injured and is put out of action. It being Book 1? Mr. Randall will be back. We need a good obstacle for Sikander to deal with.
I used my craft while reading the story I realized that there was not a villain in this story. There were antagonists, people working against Sikander as well as obstacles that were still people. Randall was an obstacle to get around while on the “Hector” the name of the ship of the ‘good guys’. Otto Bleindel was the antagonist of the story. He never worked against Sikander specifically, but against Sikander’s goals. In fact, the two only met once during the story. Since Bleindel got away? I am guessing he is going to show up in later stories.
A good half of the story happens on a planet named Gadira II or in orbit around that planet. The population is Muslim based, ruled by a sultan who has to deal with the real power behind him being Bey’s and groups called Caids. Now I was both torn and liked that no where in the story did we get a bit history lesson on what or whom a Bey or a Caid was. We were left to our own devices. I took it to mean that the Bey’s were either something like a Duke, with the power of life and death over the people they served and the Caids were like city street gangs, or something like that. There were also religious leaders, that also seemed to be running the Caids, so maybe a religious gang? The Sultan, the man ruling the planet had to juggle these power groups to stay in power.
There was a nice, and I mean this, a nice discussion on ships weaponry. Taking the time to explain what weapons are coming to bare on the enemy made the read enjoyable to me. It was not in nauseating detail; some books can do that where the weapons become a character which can bore me to no end. There was also a nice problem on the ship, that had further ramifications later one, that I also liked. Who doesn’t like it when a geek/nerd comes to the rescue with more or less his brain and a calculator?
It was a short book, 349 pages in the copy I reviewed. Yes, I did get it at my local library in the ‘New’ section. I wanted to be fair to the three people that might read this and at least get something that at the time of this review had just come out. I am a bit torn though. Will I read the next one? I really don’t know. It isn’t an Honor Harrington book, I can’t say I am as emotionally invested in Skinader. I’d like to be friends with Honor and ask about some of her exploits. I feel that Sikander wouldn’t give me the time of day and would be looking over my shoulder to see where the pretty girls are that could be just me though.
How about you pick it up and decide for yourself? I can say it is a well-crafted story, it has a couple of twists in the plot that does keep you turning the pages and unlike other books I have read lately I did want to finish it. That speaks to the writing. All the authors who put a blub on the book I respect, and I read their books and that is one of the reasons I also picked it up and why I quoted them in the beginning. So, go read, go to your local library!