Mike Shepherd – Daring

Lieutenant Commander Kris Longknife leads a Fleet of Discovery on a reconaissance of the vast uncharted regions of space. No one, least of all Kris, expects to find an alien starship, certainly not one that comes out firing. Faced with a fight-or-flight situation, Kris fired back, blowing the ship to bits.

Half a universe away from her superiors, facing a possible mutiny from officers insisting on retreat, Kris holds the face of humanity in her hands as she struggles to determine the extent of the alien threat—and whether to start an interstellar war…

Daring is the latest entry to the Kris Longknife series by Mike Shepherd. Kris is the one who convinced me that I could read, like and understand SF, so a new Kris Longknife book is always a cause for celebration in our household, especially as my husband is a big fan as well. So when I saw Daring was out, I decided this was what Wiebe wanted for Sinterklaas and got it for him and then didn’t wait for Sinterklaas to get here before reading it (for those who’re not familiar with him, Sinterklaas visits on December 5th and leaves presents for everyone). And boy, was it good to get back to Kris’ United Society space! As noted in my review for the previous book, Redoubtable, I was a little disappointed with that one. I had hoped to find out more about the Iteeche, but instead we went on a side trip.

Well, in Daring I got what I asked for in my review of Redoubtable… Iteeche! And as an added bonus even more aliens. And these aliens are even bigger and badder than the Iteeche were before we met Ron. I liked that Kris and her crew were surprised at the fact that the new aliens were so like us humans in appearance and DNA. This universe doesn’t actually adhere to the Star Trek school of alien life as the Iteeche and some of the other known species have shown. They’re truly different and alien, surviving in different ecological habitats – and sometimes even atmospheres – from us. I wonder what it says about humanity that these ultimate baddies are so like us and where Shepherd will take this story arc.

Daring is a departure from previous Kris novels as this is where Kris comes fully into her own. Like her Grandpa’s Ray and Trouble before her, she is confronted by a choice that will reshape the future of not just humanity, but also the Iteeche. She’s playing in the big league now and the repercussions for a wrong choice will be far more far-reaching than in previous books. I loved that we see Kris struggling with the dilemma; who is she to make this decision? To add to Kris’ difficulties, her decision will not only affect humanity and Iteeche, inaction will affect other alien races as well. But once she’s made up her mind, she also needs to convince the other commanders in her fleet that she is not only in the right, but has the authority to make such a decision. This development in Kris is very interesting and the fact that along the way she gains new insights into and respect for her grandpa’s was a nice touch.

Of course, having made her decision – for good or ill – everything goes to hell in a hand basket. While space battles have the somewhat dubious benefit of seeming relatively blood and gore free on the page, actual loss of life is far greater than we might realise at first. And no one is spared. I was pretty shocked at some of the losses, as I really hadn’t seen some of them coming or at least I hadn’t expected certain characters to die. So while we see most of Kris’ crew again in Daring – and they’re as fun to be around as ever – we have to say goodbye to several of them for good. While these goodbye’s made me sad, it also adds a lot of tension to the narrative; if Shepherd is willing to off these characters, who will be next? On the one hand, I can’t wait to find out, on the other, I’m afraid to, as I don’t want to lose any more of Kris’ friends.

Daring is a great addition to the Kris Longknife series. Yes, it follows roughly the same setup in its narrative as the previous books: we start in the middle of an action scene and only then move on to the  real set up of the novel, Kris gets her orders – or rather, tells her superiors what she’s going to do, she’s a damn Longknife after all – and we’re off on another adventure. This might be seen as formulaic, by-the-numbers-writing, however, within this familiar framework Shepherd succeeds in grasping his readers attention and using that familiarity to both lure them in and put them on the wrong footing. Daring also takes the series in a darker, more serious direction it seems and I can’t wait to see where the events in this book lead in the next. Now is the time to get on board for the Longknife series; you’ll have plenty of time to catch up on all the prior books before everything breaks loose in the next chapter of Kris’ adventures. Only eleven more months before we find out what happens in Furious. I know I’ll be waiting for it as soon as it hits the stores.