2004’s Marque and Reprisal is the second book in the Elizabeth Moon series Vatta’s War.
Having successfully rebuilt her shattered career and defied mutineers, Ky Vatta’s troubles should be over. She should be able to look forward to the carefree life of a successful interstellar trader.
Aside from the whole interstellar war thing, that is.
The Vatta Corporation, based out of Slotter Key, enjoys a close relationship with the local affordably priced elected government. When the Vatta Corporation is targeted for a massive military attack by enemies that the company had little inkling existed, they discover that their relationship with Slotter Key’s government was far more fragile than they suspected. Slotter Key has no interest in exposing their military forces to risk by protecting the handful of survivors of the sudden attack.
As Vatta reels under enemy attack, the same miscreants target I.S.C., the company that controls ansible communication. As a consequence, interstellar communications collapse; without the ansible network, the fastest way to send messages is to courier them on starships.
From Ky’s perspective, the crisis begins with the collapse of the ansible network, which means losing access to the interstellar banking system. For the moment the flurry of assassination attempts that follow the collapse effectively distract her from the communications and credit break-down. The local authorities are useless. They know about the assassins, but they are unwilling (and perhaps also unable) to protect Ky.
Unable to rely on the civil authorities, Ky arms her ship. She’s lucky enough to have an old friend and ally who sends her a letter of marque. Ky can now engage in legal privateering. Not everyone regards privateering as legit (including some mercenaries with whom Ky might otherwise have allied herself on a full time basis), but girls gotta do what girls gotta do.
Unfortunately for Ky, not only is one of her relatives working for Team Evil, so are the contractors she hired to arm her ship.
This is the book I remembered as being the first book in the Vatta’s War series. In fact Trading in Danger was the first book in the series.I was confused because usually War! In! Space! series traditionally begin with the war itself, rather than investing an entire book on the prelude.
On the plus side: fun protagonists! Thrilling action! Explosions! Cathartic deaths for the bad guys! On the minus: stupendously unsubtle villains; the poor devils are engaged in a war of shadows and so cannot purchase billboards outlining their evil intentions but this does not save them from indulging excessively informative gloating when they incorrectly believe they have the upper hand. I’d call this black and white adventure fiction but black and white understates the contrast between the two sides.
Moon has structured the series so that readers new to her and this series could begin here (not true of subsequent entries in the series, as I recall). In fact, someone who had never read any works by Moon at all could start here1. Marque and Reprisal is a fairly typical Moon novel, with her characteristic strengths and weaknesses. Recommended if you like that sort of thing.
1: Later volumes require familiarity with the beginning of the series.