Guardian by Jack Campbell marks the first of the Lost Fleet books that I’ve read in print (the rest I’ve listened to on audio) and it was an interesting experience. Insofar as I could tell the digital galley sent to me by the publisher was a pdf or at least a very very poorly formatted mobi file. This is a fact that is inconsequential as far as the novel’s content goes but certainly makes a big difference in my enjoyment of the reading experience. The formatting wasn’t too horrible however and I speed through the novel at lightning speed. Audiobooks have the benefit of control the rate at which I consume (assuming I don’t want to increase the playback speed) fiction, however they also have the benefit of allowing me to enjoy a book a can’t put down while actually doing other things. Reading Guardian in print definitely saw my attention to other responsibilities greatly lessened as I wanted to know what was going to happen next with an almost feverish desire.
Guardian is the third book of the second Lost Fleet series, Beyond the Frontier, chronicling the journey of the Alliance fleet and its commander John “Blackjack” Geary. For those not in the know this is pure military space opera. Where the original series saw the fleet trying to return home from deep within enemy territory Beyond the Frontier saw the fleet seeking to establish contact with alien entities beyond the borders of known space. Things haven’t gone completely to plan as Geary and the Fleet encounter the hostile Enigma race as well as the suicidely insular “bearcows” and it is the horrific (if only in appearance) spider-like race dubbed “Dancers” that the fleet has made peaceful contact with. Guardian opens with the fleet entering the Midway system (as seen in Tarnished Knight) and managing to scare off a Syndic fleet attempting to reestablish control there. As the Fleet attempts to traverse the chaotic space of the Syndicate (and former Syndicate) worlds it must deal with Syndicates who have a renewed interest in stopping the fleet and who must resolve in underhanded tactics in order to prevent restarting a war it cannot afford.
If all that doesn’t sound complicated enough there is a growing political problem at home; a growing disconnect between the active military, the military command structure, and the politicians running the government. At the center of this political storm is Admiral John Geary who is either loved, feared, or hated (or some combination thereof) by each of these different parties. Campbell does a brilliant job of playing the tension generated by this political situation against the real dangers of traversing enemy space. Tossed into this mix are the Dancer “allies” whose own motivations are somewhat clouded due to the language barrier. Campbell is, as ever, a deft hand at relaying military action and does a fantastic job at illustrating the powerful support structure Geary has built around himself and the fleet over the course several books.
While Campbell has gotten better at portraying the relationships between certain characters, particularly the strange relationship triangle of Geary, Rione, and Desjani, these relationships remain secondary to the grand themes that drive the action of the series. That isn’t so much a critique at this point so much as something I’ve come to adjust to with Campbell’s writing. Campbell has so far managed to craft a fairly complete picture of Admiral Geary over the course of these novels. He never comes off as perfect and his flaws are apparent when contrasted against the various characters he surrounds himself with.
As in the past my biggest complaint about Guardian is that it is over way too quickly. While there is a ton of action and many twists and turns there still is a lot left unresolved. Once again Campbell has introduced a variety of new things over the course of the novel from the ever-growing political tensions to the huge twist at the novel’s conclusion but Guardian marks the first time that I’ve begun to wonder of Campbell has bitten off a bit more than he chew. With twist presented in the novel’s final chapters there still remains a multitude of plot points that have yet to be resolved in any meaningful way: the mystery of of Enigmas, the fate of Michael Geary, the true desires of the Dancers, and the Alliance’s political problems to name the big ones. While Guardian advances some of those plots it does little, if anything, to resolve any of them. I am definitely left itching for more from Beyond the Frontier I also desperately want at least one of these plots to resolve in some way. If you’re a fan of the Lost Fleet, Guardian offers more to devour while setting the stage for what looks to be (I can hope) something huge in the future.