Tarnished Knight marks the first book outside of Jack Campbell’s two Lost Fleet series. Part of a new subseries entitled The Lost Stars, The Tarnished Knight, is Campbells first work to feature protagonists not from the Alliance worlds. Picking just before the Alliance fleet arrives in the Midway star system (I believe it was in Dreadnaught) this novel features two former Syndicate CEOs Artur Drakon, and Gwen Iceni. The two CEOs, having formed a tenuous alliance, have hatched a plan to overthrow the Syndicate security forces in their system and take control of Midway. Assuming you’ve read Dreadnaught you know that their initial coup succeeds but Tarnished Knight delves deeper into the shaky alliance between these two individuals and the actions they had to take to ensure the safety of the people of Midway and the strength of their own positions.
From the get go Tarnished Knight is going to draw comparisons to Campbell’s other Lost Fleet series. This is not necessarily the best comparison to make since unlike the majority of the Lost Fleet series Tarnished Knight is much more about the politics and government than it is about military action. We, the readers, have been told (and seen demonstrated) countless times over the course of the Lost Fleet series just what kinds of people the Syndicate Worlds have placed in charge and it is in Tarnished Knight that we get to seem people who defy established conventions; at least to an extent.
While Campbell has never provided an inside look at how the core Syndicate Worlds work through the two protagonists seen in Tarnished Knight readers can quite easily draw some conclusions about several things. The level of distrust between Iceni and Drakon ties into the emphasis on personal power that the title CEO has come to represent. Countless times over the course of the novel the seeds of distrust are expressed by both characters and are frequently enhanced by their subordinates. The level of fear and mistrust that must exist in the Syndicate Worlds is palpable over the course of the novel and the way both Iceni and Drakon walk a thin line in trying to be something more that a Syndicate CEO, they even change their titles to President and General, while struggling against the type of cutthroat brutality ingrained by their past is both interesting and engaging.
At many times over the course of the novel watching Iceni and Drakon emerge from the yoke of Syndicate rule is like watching a newborn calf take its first stumbling steps. Except for this calf those missteps end in assassination and murder. Nowhere is this more evident than in Iceni’s and Drakon’s opinion of the judicial system. To them it is a tool of CEOs, a thing meant to punish, their version of the law all that matters. It is fascinating to watch the bafflement when the notion of actual justice is brought up. There is another wonderful moment in the novel when, in a somewhat candid conversation, Drakon and Iceni try to imagine who or what they might be had they not grown up in the Syndicate Worlds and find themselves with a rather depressing shortage of answers.
Tarnished Knight is not without its stumbling blocks. The novel feels like it meanders and while there is some action over the course of the novel it doesn’t quite engage the same way that the Lost Fleet novel do. Tarnished Knight is a book targeted more at Campbell’s establish reader base and I don’t think that someone picking this book up at random would enjoy it though Campbell does provide enough background that new readers could definitely grasp what was going. Character relationships remain a bit of a problem for Campbell, particularly when it comes to romance, there is an awkward almost adolescent feel to the realtionships that often feels a bit forced.
Overall I enjoyed my times with Tarnished Knight. While it didn’t grab me with fervent need to plow forward it provided a consistent and entertaining read that served as a mid-meal snack during the wait for the next new Lost Fleet novel; in fact the ending of Tarnished Knight leads directly into that next novel. All in all I’m definitely looking forward to more novels in the Lost Stars series and it will be interesting to see if Campbell continues with the characters seen here or moves to a different system all together. While I can’t honestly recommend Tarnished Knight to Campbell newbies I can say that long-term fans of Campbell’s Lost Fleet series should find a lot to like in this interesting diversion.