The novels of Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War series look for all the world like Honor Harrington knockoffs, but they aren't. While both series feature brave and resourceful space opera heroines rising to the occasion in trying circumstances, Moon's Kylara Vatta begins her adventures in disgrace, thrown out of the military academy upon which she has staked all her future dreams. Returning home to her wealthy family's influential interstellar shipping firm, she finds herself placed in the captain's chair of one of their older and more decrepit freighters, the Glynnis Jones, on what is meant to be its final voyage to the scrapyard.
The commission is mostly, she knows, to get her away from her (and the family's) embarrassing situation and let things cool down. But there is also somthing of a rebuke here. Her family never really supported her military pursuits, and they're obviously seeing what happened as a vindication of their feelings. The Glynnis Jones' last voyage is supposed to be as routine as can be. But when Ky sees an opportunity to prove herself by making a bit of extra money on the run — supplying agricultural equipment to a planet stiffed by a competing shipping firm — she unwittingly places her ship in the middle of a looming planetary war. That the old vessel's FTL drive has finally gone kaput can't help. With mercenaries and treachery now dogging her, can Ky save her crew, honor her contracts, and keep her and her family's reputation intact, or will this be another item on the list of inept mistakes courtesy of her youth, inexperience, and reputation for over-eagerness to help?
Ky is an immediately likeable and sympathetic heroine, in some ways even moreso than Honor Harrington. Both characters must combat preconceptions about being young, green and idealistic, but for Ky it's even more of a handicap. There's a certain cynicism to the way all of her problems seem to stem from earnest attempts to help people and do the right thing. And to be honest, one of the book's key flaws is that I was never really convinced that what happens at the story's opening to cause Ky to be drummed out of the military was such a horrible crime as all that. For making a simple, honest mistake (indeed, it barely seems as serious as that), she's treated almost as if she were a full-fledged traitor; it's overkill. But it does, at the very least, sell the idea that this unfortunate heroine is starting life under a cloud.
Another annoyance involves a rather cloying depiction of Ky's family. Her mother gently nags her about clothes and being ladylike and stuff in the manner of every sitcom Jewish mother stereotype in history (though there's no hint the family is Jewish, and thank goodness, because the character would have gone from silly to offensive). And there's a dumb running gag throughout the book about her aunt's inedible fruitcakes, which comes a cropper with an eyebrow-raising punchline at the denouement that I really hope Moon explains in book two.
Those nitpicks aside, once the adventure gets underway, the story is fast-paced and compelling, and Ky's character issues in particular resolve satisfyingly, without recourse to melodrama. Trading in Danger is never brilliant, nor particularly original, and Moon can't resist a plot device or two (the most glaring being a conveniently placed communications gizmo). But it's efficient and entertaining escapism that will do a fine job of killing a rainy weekend. There are hints that, once the kinks are worked out, future sequels could improve the quality curve markedly.