Winds of Marque by Bennett R. Coles
Published by Harper Voyager on April 16, 2019. Paperback of 360 pages at $16.99. Also available as an eBook for $9.99 and Digital Audio for $26.99.
Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.
The cover: There’s no credited cover artist for the copy I read, though there is a credit for the book being designed by Paula Russell Szafranski. The author’s name is at the top, followed by the title in a large, grand font. Beneath it is a vessel made of four classic sailing ships, joined to one hull, with a mast protruding at every forty-five degrees. Behind the ship is a massive sun and a small planet partially eclipsing the lower half of the sun. Two giant sabers cross just below this world. It’s an image of familiar items placed in new ways. This captures the old and new well. Overall grade: A-
The premise: From the back cover, “In a dense star cluster, the solar winds blow fiercely. The star-sailing ship HMSS Daring is running at full sheet with a letter of marque allowing it to capture enemy vessels involved in illegal trading. Sailing under a false flag to protect the ship and its mission, Daring‘s crew must gather intelligence that will lead them to the pirates’ base. Posing as traders, Daring‘s dashing second-in-command, Liam Blackwood, and brilliant quartermaster, Amelia Virtue, infiltrate shady civilian merchant networks, believing one will lead them to their quarry. But their mission is threatened from within their own ranks when Daring‘s enigmatic captain makes a series of questionable choices, and rumblings of discontent start bubbling up from belowdecks, putting the crew on edge and destroying morale. On top of it all, Liam and Amelia must grapple with their growing feelings for each other. Facing danger from unexpected quarters that could steer the expedition off course, Liam and Amelia must identify the real enemy threat and discover the truth about their commander — and their mission — before Daring falls prey to the very pirates it’s meant to be tracking.” This sound like Master and Commander in space, with a dash of romance and fighting pirates. I’m all in for this. Overall grade: A
The characters: Liam Blackwood is the main protagonist of the novel. He’s loyal to his captain, no matter who it is and how unwise their decisions are. His crew likes him, he’s outgoing, attractive, from noble blood — which sets him apart from others, and he’s fond of drinking. He’s not perfect, but he always does what he thinks is best for his captain, crew, and ship. Amelia Virtue is new to the crew and is initially nervous about her new position, but is immediately shown to be more than confident. She’s liked immensely by Blackwood, but doesn’t want to have a shipboard romance, as that leads to problems. She’s not of noble parentage, so it falls to her to show Blackwood what it’s like for others who aren’t born on high. Read Admiral Lord William Grandview is the man that approves the Daring‘s mission and is of high blood, but doesn’t seem to carry all the stuffiness, or ignorance, that others do. Commander Sophia Riverton is very mysterious. She is unquestionably the captain of the Daring, but she doesn’t associate with the crew and keeps things hidden from Blackwood. This leads to issues later in the book. Cadet Highcastle is an inexperienced teen thrust upon the Daring by a higher up for him to gain experience before officially joining the academy. He’s brash, shoots off his mouth often, and is a reminder of how those of noble blood think problems should be solved. Wild card Matthew Long is a warehouse owner at the Windfall, an orbital platform in deep space. He needs the Daring to transport items for him and in return he gets items for the ship. I like that the reader doesn’t know if he can be fully trusted, which is how the protagonists also view him. Pirates are the main antagonists. They appear without notice, as one would expect a pirate attack to be. They kill anyone attacking them and they kill when they try to take a ship. They are an excellent foe. Among the pirates, and in other places, are Theropods or brutes, as they’re nicknamed. These aliens are essentially giant dogs that walk upright and communicate with humans via boxes around their necks. They are also able to wield giants swords with their tails, making them a threat from three appendages. Not all the Theropods are killers, but when encountered on pirate vessels they are a deadly force. The mystery race in this book are the Sectoids, giant insects. Not one human, that has survived, has seen them. They are supposedly about to go to war with human forces, but no one knows for sure. What is known is that their acid has been found on several destroyed ships, burning through everything, especially flesh. They are feared by human and brute. This is a great collection of classic and original characters. Overall grade: A
The settings: The main setting is the Daring, a ship that looks ratty but is sporting more weapons than other ships. The reader gets to go all over this fine vessel and writer Coles makes it very interesting. By the end of this book I felt I could draw a picture of its interiors, it’s described so well. The second most important setting is Windfall. It was intended to be a high level facility that has fallen into disrepair and has some disreputable areas. Some areas are safe in the day, but at night anything goes. It was a perfect location where deals could be made secretly and illicit wares handled. The other primary setting is space. The sighting of any ship is a cause for concern and the tension is palpable when one or more appears. Overall grade: A
The action: There’s some terrific fighting between ships and at several ports. Even when there’s no physical fighting, a conversation where information is trying to be gleaned creates as much nail biting as any battle. The mystery of what Captain Riverton is up to also creates a good amount of tension, with it blossoming into something massive by the book’s climax. Whether it’s fighting or just talking, the tension is constant on this secret mission. Overall grade: A+
The conclusion: Everything wraps up neatly, though things are left open for a sequel. I would sign on for that mission as soon as it appears. Overall grade: A
The final line: A classic space adventure with bullets and swords as well as missiles and aliens that’s a rollicking read. With each book Coles continues to prove his expertise in creating science fictions novels with engaging characters that are involved in incredible actions. I look forward to reading anything he writes. This novel’s cast has all the elements from a Victorian adventure novel on the high seas, but transports it to space where aliens and oxygen can add to a ship’s woes. There have to be follow up adventures to this book. Overall grade: A