Engaging the Enemy: Go Vatta!

science fiction book reviews Elizabeth Moon Vatta's War 1. Trading in Danger 2. Marque and Reprisal 3. Engaging the Enemy 4. Command Decision 5. Victory Conditions science fiction book reviews Elizabeth Moon Vatta's War 3 Engaging the EnemyEngaging the Enemy by Elizabeth Moon

“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!

For fans of fast-paced adventure and compelling characters, the military science fiction of Nebula Award — winning author Elizabeth Moon is the perfect choice. The brilliantly unorthodox Kylara Vatta, black-sheep scion of Vatta Transport Ltd., one of the galaxy’s wealthiest merchant houses, is a heroine like no other, blessed with a killer instinct for business and for battle. Now, in the aftermath of cold-blooded assassinations that have left her parents dead and the Vatta shipping empire shattered, Kylara faces her greatest challenge yet. There is a time for grief and a time for revenge. This is decidedly the latter. Placing her cousin Stella in command of the trading vessel Gary Tobai, Ky embarks aboard the captured pirate ship Fair Kaleen on a twofold mission: to salvage the family business and to punish those responsible for the killings… before they strike again. Since the network providing instantaneous communication between star systems has been sabotaged, news is hard to come by and available information impossible to trust. But as she travels from system to system, with Stella a step behind, Ky pieces together the clues and discovers a conspiracy of terrifying scope, breathtaking audacity, and utter ruthlessness. The only hope the independent systems and merchants have against this powerful enemy is to band together. Unfortunately, because she commands a ship known to belong to a notorious pirate–her own relative Osman Vatta, whom she killed for his part in her parents’ deaths – Ky is met with suspicion, if not outright hostility. Rumors swirl about her intent, her very identity. Soon even Stella begins to question her cousin’s decisions and her authority to make them. Meanwhile, the conspiracy Ky hunts is hunting her in turn, with agents insinuated into every space station, every planetary government, every arm of the military, and every merchant house – including her own. Before she can take the fight to the enemy, Kylara must survive a deadly minefield of deception and betrayal.

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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

View all posts by Kat Hooper

2 comments

  1. Even with the weaknesses you’ve stated, this sounds good and you’ve successfully tempted me to start reading this series.

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