Paperback: 592 pages
Publisher: Orbit (31 Dec 2004)
Category(ies): Science Fiction
This is Space Opera mixed with a consideration of Ethics with a capital E.
Our hero is one Van Cassius Albert, a captain of a warship in the Republic's Space Navy. A somewhat unorthodox combat pilot, he manages to escape an ambush in which he is attacked by a much larger ship. And then he's made a diplomat, a military attaché to the embassy at Scandya, where his looks (he's black in this Stockholm among the stars) and his abilities make him noted among the locals, especially when he manages to thwart the assassination of the entire Scandyan cabinet.
Like much of Modesitt's work, it's got an exciting side to it. Unfortunately, it's also fascist, harking back to the purity of an old, pre-corruption republic that is being eroded by 'the common people insisting on their rights'. In other words, the classic right wing winge whereby those with the wealth resent paying any taxes. If it was just this (and the fascist side of this is reflected in the harking back to Rome of the character names - not just our hero being Cassius, but also Cicero too), then it would be one thing. But the part of it that deals with ethics per se starts with a thoughtful consideration in which the tendency of people to go for the 'big kill approach' rather than a sustainable alternative is deprecated.
Followed by the genocide of the populations of two entire planets.
By the supposed heroes.
It's something that seems to run through many of Modesitt's books. His heroes and heroines may be sympathetic people (here, Van is not only black, he's also got both a pair of gay male parents and a gay sister), but they have a distressing tendency to consider mass killing on an unprecedented scale to be the best solution to all problems.