I received an ARC of this from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Recently I’ve had an interest for books that take place in space. I’ve always liked space, be it through stuff like Star Trek/Star Wars, or just my on-going fascination with black holes and stars. (I didn’t take Orion as part of my pen name lightly.) So when the description for ADMIRAL popped up, it sounded like something I absolutely had to take a chance on.
Four people trapped on a ship. Our narrator has little to no memory of what’s happened, where he is, or in fact who he is, it seems. Their ship is falling apart around them–and they have no idea where they are.
Our narrator’s identity is something of an enigma. If we’re given a name for him, I can’t recall it off the top of my head (I could look it up, but I’d rather talk about that which stuck with me now that it’s a bit past when I read the book) and it seems to be intentionally vague. Our other three characters are all trainees, fresh from school and had been heading to their first real assignment. It’s a struggle not only to determine where they are and how to get off, but also just to trust one another in a situation that demands it, though it doesn’t make it easy.
There is an interesting balance here for me. As I’ve said before, there are few things which I dislike more than instant immersion in books. I have threatened to DNF books because they confused me too much right up front. It strikes me as a lazy storytelling method and a very easy way to throw off new readers. To me, it always feels as if I’ve missed something; there is a first book somewhere that I didn’t read that explained all this, and now that I’m missing it, I don’t have the necessary backstory to really get it.
I hate being made to feel stupid.
However, ADMIRAL was clearly using the instant immersion as part of the plot; in fact, it made perfect sense. Our characters didn’t know anything, and so there was no way for our narrator to know anything either. Exploring the world through untaught eyes was the simplest way to carry over the feeling of being lost and uncertain that our characters had. For that part, I liked it.
The trouble was that I didn’t understand the underlying political structure, and the characters clearly did. There were tensions built into the core identities of the characters that I simply couldn’t pick up on. Add into it that about halfway through the book, we start getting hints as to who our narrator truly is–hints written as if the reader should be in on the joke–and I could not follow in the slightest. (I believe, despite the way they were written, we weren’t actually supposed to get it. I don’t think we ever had enough information until MAYBE the very end, but.)
What salvaged this book for me, and earned it the stars that it did, was that it never made me want to give up. I always had just enough to keep pushing on, and I did eventually get a tenuous hold on the political setting. The characters were interesting and three-dimensional, and when we were threatened with losing one or more of them, I was bothered by the idea. And overall, I always wanted to know how it ended. The Goodreads description indicates that this is likely going to be a series, at least of books in the same world, so it seemed unlikely that there was going to be a completely disastrous ending, but you never know. Space is tricksy like that. I liked the trainees by the end, even Deilani who I absolutely hated at the beginning. Salmagard was a really nice touch, and honestly, who couldn’t like Nils?
I’ll be interested to see where Danker goes next with this. The setting is definitely intriguing enough to make me look into further installments, but if we don’t get a primer on the actual political situation in the next book, I can’t say as I’ll be able to stick with it. One book in the dark is fine. Beyond that it becomes sloppy and lazy. Too much is happening to allow us to make up our own answers, particularly with how this book ends. Danker, however, strikes me as a talented enough author that he won’t leave us hanging too much longer.
Rightfully a 3.5 star book, but I’m willing to round up rather than down for it. Make of that what you will.
Rating: **** (Recommended)