“I do not intend survival. I intend victory.”
Engaging the Enemy is the third book in Elizabeth Moon’s VATTA’S WAR saga. Young captain Kylara Vatta, her beautiful cousin Stella Vatta, and their elderly Aunt Grace continue their quest for revenge on the people who destroyed the Vatta shipping empire and most of the Vatta family. They are just beginning to realize the extent of the vast conspiracy which brought the Vattas down — it involves space pirates, a disgruntled renegade cousin, a traitorous ship captain, and the government of their home planet, Slotter Key.
While Ky and Stella are out in space dodging assassination attempts and looking for allies, they have to deal with mercenaries, ship captains from different cultures, and more than one planet’s ridiculous system of government. Finally Moon begins to show us the cultural distinctions between the different planets we visit. Some of this is pretty amusing and reminds me a little of Jack Vance’s ability to highlight silly human behaviors by emphasizing a particular inane behavior in one of his created cultures. Elizabeth Moon does something similar here. Mostly she’s making fun of bureaucracy and it adds a nice bit of levity to her story.
Ky is getting stronger and growing into her role as the commander of an interplanetary military force. She’s still worried about her discovery that she enjoys killing bad guys and we, along with her cousin Stella, are starting to worry a little, too. There are some moral dilemmas for Ky — on more than one occasion she has to decide whether it’s ethical to kill or torture one person for the greater good. Ky doesn’t think about this for very long before making her decisions — does that make her morally inferior or superior?
Aunt Gracie is probably Elizabeth Moon’s best character in this series. Because the enemies have brought down the ansibles that allow for interplanetary communications, she’s out of touch with Ky and Stella. Here we see her scheming in the background, targeting the president of Slotter Key. Her story takes less space than Ky’s but it’s always exciting. Elderly Aunt Grace may not be involved in space battles, but she kicks butt nonetheless.
Stella, on the other hand, is weak in this installment. She has so much potential to be a great strong character, but so far Moon doesn’t seem to be sure what Stella’s purpose is. In the previous books she seemed to be a hero in her own right, but this time Moon seems to be using her to make Ky look better in contrast. Too bad. Why can’t Stella be awesome, too? I hope she’ll be back on track in the next book.
Most of the plot of Engaging the Enemy focuses on Ky meeting and strategizing with potential allies, equipping her ships, hiring crew, worrying about her relationship to her home planet, and trying to decide what her role is in the struggle for revenge. Too much of this is tedious and repetitive. I’ve mentioned in a review of an earlier book in this series that I enjoy the focus on trading and transportation logistics, so I feel a little forgiving about this, but many readers will think it’s just plain boring. There’s not much action from Ky’s storyline until the very end of the book when there’s a trial, a surprising revelation about the Vatta family, and a major military engagement.
Despite the deceptive title of the book, there isn’t a lot of action in Engaging the Enemy. However, the story advances and there are welcome revelations and some good character development. I’m rating Engaging the Enemy a little lower than the previous installments just because there’s less action, some of the plot elements feel like they’re there just to add drama, and there’s too much boring red tape. Still, somehow Elizabeth Moon keeps me reading and there’s no way I’m giving up on the Vatta family now. Go Vatta!