Audiobook Review: The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell

6 11 2012

The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 21 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Tarnished Knight is a promising start of a new series that expands the world Campbell has created in The Lost Fleet. While there are plenty of military engagements, overall there is less action, and more emphasis on character development and a complex political plot. Overall, Tarnished Knight is a winner, with the right mixture of action based military science fiction and political space opera.

Grade: B

I have been a big fan of Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series since first encountering it two years ago. I was very excited, after the sixth book of the series, Victorious, which tied up much of the plot of the series, when Campbell announced that he would be writing two spin off series based in the same universe. I have always enjoyed spin-off series, particularly in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. So much of good SF/F comes down to world building, and these authors create these vast and complex worlds, then the novels only give you a glimpse of it. Often times, when reading a science fiction world set in an elaborate universe, I feel like I’m given a newspaper, but only read the local section. There are so many other stories out there that can be told, and while the main story is what hooks me in, I often wonder what is going on in the world when the main characters leave on their next mission, and people go back to their daily grind. So, when I found out that the first spin-off series was just more of Blackjack Geary doing his thing, just with a new mission, I was sort of disappointed. I liked the book, and there were interesting new things to look at, but I don’t think it really gave us a bigger look at the overall world Campbell had created.  This is why I was really looking forward to Tarnished Knight, the first of a Spin off Series set in the world of The Lost Fleet, yet giving us a glimpse into Syndicate Controlled Space.

When the Syndicate Government lost its century long war to the Alliance, thanks to the efforts of the legendary Blackjack Geary, many of the Syndicate controlled systems fell into chaos. In Midway, a system that borders the space controlled by the mysterious Enigma Race, two former Syndicate CEO’s form an uneasy alliance in order to Midwa as an Independent System. Yet, their instinctive distrust of each other and the populous creates tension as the two new leaders try to figure a way hold onto the power they have. Tarnished Knight is a complex mixture of military science fiction and political space opera that has heavy doses of action, political maneuvering and paranoid conspiracies, both real and imagined. Campbell has created an interesting new perspective that gives us a glimpse into a part of his world that we have only seen through a filter of an enemy and outsider. Here we see how the oppressive nature of the Syndicate government has affected even those who are trying to break away from it. Tarnished Knight reminded me a lot of some aspects of David Weber’s Honerverse, where the complex political systems create a sense of institutional blindness, and an inability to adapt to changing circumstances. We have two main players, former CEO’s Icena and Drakon, who are almost genetically unable to trust each other. It was quite interesting to see the misconceptions and poor assumptions of basic drives of humanity that have been bread into these characters. We are given an outsiders perspective, able to see pieces that they can’t, and full of knowledge from the Lost Fleet series, that make their decisions often seem frustrating. Yet, it also makes a certain bit of sense from their perspective. I find this sort of complex merging of political realities and social engineering fascinating within a science fiction setting. Some fans of The Lost Fleet series, who expect non stop action full of large scale naval battles, may find the concentration on the minutia of everyday static rule to be disappointing. Yet, I felt, with this setting. Campbell has more room to develop his characters, and create something more enduring. Tarnished Knight is a promising start of a new series that expands the world Campbell has created in The Lost Fleet. While there are plenty of military engagements, overall there is less action, and more emphasis on character development and a complex political plot. Overall, Tarnished Knight is a winner, with the right mixture of action based military science fiction and political space opera.

My overall experience of listening to Tarnished Knight as an audiobook came away mixed. There we some definite continuity issues between Marc Vietor’s pronunciation of some names versus the pronunciations used in The Lost Fleet series. I really think this is something the producers of the series should have paid better attention to. Marc Vietor is a solid narrator. He excels at certain productions that are suited to his unique style. He was excellent as the voice of Webmind in Robert Sawyers WWW series, and brilliant as Mack Megaton in the Audie nominated production of AL Martinez’s The Automatic Detective. Yet, here, with a multi-POV tale, with a lot of characters, his almost robotic tones left something to be desired. It wasn’t that his characterizations were bad. I think he shows a decent amount of range for his voice, but, I felt that another narrator may have brought more to the table than Vietor does here. If this was the first entry to a brand new series, the weaknesses of his performance may have been easier to overlook, but since this is a well established world, the deficiencies were all the more glaring. That being said, my problems with the narration were not major enough to want to switch to the print version of this series. I can live with Vietor continuing as narrator, but if they do switch to someone else for future editions, you won’t hear me complaining.

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