The Scoundrel Worlds by Chris Bunch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The mercenary team from Star Risk, Ltd are back for their second book/mission and for some reason, the publisher’s marketing flunky who came up with the book’s back cover synopsis blurb apparently didn’t even bother reading the book, because even though it begins with security for a major sporting event, that’s not at all what the book is about, nor what the vast majority of the book is about, so for the synopsis of the book to describe it in that way is to do a gross disservice.
Anyway, M’Chel, Freidrich, Grok, Jasmine, and Chas are back and this time they are hired by Premier Reynard of Dampier, who has recently been dethroned and wants his power back. But that’s not his primary reason for hiring them. He wants one of his friends and colleagues who has been framed for treason, tried and found guilty by a kangaroo court, sentenced to death, and is in a heavily guarded prison on death row, freed and the “real” traitor found to replace the innocent man. Dampier has a nearby star system it has gone to war with three times over yet a third star system that they both claim for themselves and each is saber rattling again. Star Risk agrees to take the job and soon appears on Dampier, where they find a lot of lawlessness and violence awaits them. And a lot of people are anticipating their arrival and are none too happy about it, including the police, the intelligence service, the secret police, etc. Soon, they, and the mercenary sub-contractors they hire, are under assault from all sides and they have to go into ultra violence mode to teach some people a few lessons about who’s the damn boss. It doesn’t help that the big boys on the mercenary block, Cerberus Systems, is also in the picture, mysteriously working for the other side. There’s also a mysterious religious cult and a group of armed revolutionaries and it’s a complete mess.
While everyone is off doing their own thing, Freidrich decides to visit this other planet, Torguth, to see how much truth there is to the Dampierian rumors of their military buildup. Turns out they’re fairly accurate. He also goes to establish contact with and extract information from two sources the revolutionaries have on planet. Torguth is a dictatorial, heavily militarized planet where pretty much everyone wears a uniform of some sort. It’s a very dangerous place to be. He meets both people and agrees to meet them again in a day or so. And he’s sold out. Fortunately, he’s ex-military and in good shape and he’s hidden small weapons around the city in anticipation of just such an event, so he escapes, barely, and is glad to do so.
At the same time, there’s a group of thugs called The Masked Ones going around beating up and even killing groups of demonstrators and protesters with the approval of the police who do nothing to stop them. Star Risk doesn’t approve of their actions, tries to find their identities, finds some success, finds some of them tied in with the secret police (shockingly), and slaughters a number of them to teach them a lesson. This doesn’t sit well with the chief of the secret police, but he does nothing to them — for the time being.
Meanwhile, they’ve been visiting the prisoner in the off-planet prison, softening things and people up, making plans to spring him. Their plan is ingenious.
One cool thing about this book is the role ex-Marine M’Chel Riss plays. She plays a much bigger role than in the previous book, I believe, and is a major, major bad ass. I like it. She plays for keeps and kicks ass. I like her character a lot. Another cool thing about the book is the plot is so convoluted and complex and everything is such a mystery that it’s almost impossible to unweave until the end. The downside is, the ending is actually so incredibly obvious that I thought it was far too obvious and thought there was no way it could actually be THAT and assumed it would have to be someone else (the traitor), someone no one had considered before, but I was wrong. It was one of the two most completely obvious suspects and that was really disappointing. I think Bunch did his readers a disservice here and should have worked harder as an author to make things more complicated than that. He took the easy way out and if I hadn’t have enjoyed the book so much, I’d consider knocking the rating down by a star, but I’m not going to because it’s still a very good book.
So, if you like a good sci fi mystery with ultra violence, conspiracies, assassinations, poisonings, military assaults, etc, this is the book for you. And even though it’s the second book of a series, it’s really a stand alone book. You don’t need to have read the first one to enjoy this one. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read and I’m not completely convinced it’s worth five stars, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t think of any real good reason not to give it five stars, so I’m going to go ahead and do so. I just think it’s a really good book. Definitely recommended, as is the series.