2006’s Engaging the Enemy is the third (and middle) volume in Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War quintology.
The book begins where the previous one left off. Ky Vatta is rebuilding her family business, which was laid waste in the previous book. She has managed to acquire her father’s implant, which gives her intimate knowledge of the company (as well as of her father’s final moments before his death). She has defeated her evil relative Osman and has seized his heavily armed ship as spoils of war.
Her troubles are not over, not least because many governments do not accept as legitimate the murder hobo creed “I killed him and then took his stuff.”
The story is told from three points of view: that of Ky, that of her cousin Stella (who has been given Ky’s old tramp freighter), and that of her aunt Grace (back on the planet Slotter Key, managing family affairs there). Ky and Stella’s plot lines eventually merge, while Grace’s remains distinct.
Ky has to deal with several sources of irritation: various governments are not OK with her capture of Osman’s ship they are also curiously slow to do anything about pirate attacks and interference with the ISC1 ansible network. Enemy agents attempt to infiltrate her ship (stopped, but the mole in her crew dies).
There are enough leads, enough evidence, that Ky and her allies begin to guess who is behind the attacks on Vatta, on shipping, and on the ansible network. It seems to be a coalition of pirates, disaffected ISC researchers, and other scallywags, under the leadership of a certain Gammis Turek.
Their guess is confirmed when Turek’s fleet invades and occupies the planet Bissonet in the name of the “Deepspace Benevolent Association”. Other planets may soon fall to the Association.
Meanwhile back on Slotter Key Aunt Grace resists the evildoers … at first alone, later with the help of Slotter Key’s Spaceforce. At which point the Slotter Key president suicides and it become clear that he has been playing for Team Evil.
Also meanwhile, Stella and Ky combine forces to resist Turek and the pirates.
Can Ky save the day in this, the middle book of a five-book series? Probably, since it’s not the end of the series. Things look grim.
The notion that a president might be working for a foreign power intent on looting his polity/country/world is clearly absurd. There would be checks and balances to prevent that sort of thing. Still, if readers are willing to swallow physical impossibilities like faster-than-light travel and instantaneous communication, a little political implausibility should be easy to forgive.
As even this drastically simplified synopsis suggests, you will want to have read at least the preceding book in the series to follow the plot in this one. It won’t be a satisfying read because it is the middle book and none of the grand arcs are resolved. On the other hand, since you know that the core characters have plot immunity, you will know that that no matter how badly things get — and they get pretty bad — none of the protagonists will die. Quite.
The politicians are all corrupt or ineffectual and the antagonists are all moustache-twirling villains. Moon seems to have given up on making the minor black hats individual enough for all of them to need names. The president seems to be just “the president,” which must have made running for the office in the first place rather challenging.
This is pretty standard Moon fare: people who liked her previous space operas are not going to be put off by any unwelcome novelties. Be aware that familiarity with previous volumes is assumed, and that none of the large issues are resolved in this volume. Indeed, Moon is still revealing all of her pieces.
1: Bell, if Bell still had a monopoly and also had its own military.