Trading in Danger is the first book in the “Vatta’s War” series of books. Elizabeth Moon has done a great job of telling a compelling tale while building a world where trade and transport can be as dangerous as mercenary work.
I should start by saying events in my life have many parallels to the events of this novel. I don’t want to get into specifics, but I was once an Officer Candidate in the US Army, just as Ky is at the beginning of the novel.
After being expelled from their version of Officer Candidate School, Ky returns to her home. She is part of the Vatta family, a rich merchant group with influence across several systems. Her father, CFO of the company Vatta Enterprises, decides to get her out of her rut by giving her a ship to command. The mission seems simple: take the ship to be scrapped and bring back the money from it.
The mission is more than it seems, and soon Ky finds herself with trade opportunities and a two-system war. With little fuel and an old ship that’s breaking down, Ky must balance the weight of her first command with the possible profits she could bring to Vatta Enterprises.
There are several positives in this book. The story is interesting and realistic, leaving just enough unanswered questions by book end to garner interest while answering enough questions to be compelling. The world-building is fantastic, the technology reasonable, and the conflict felt weighty.
That said, there are also some problems I noticed. The character of Ky seemed to move quickly from being hit hard with emotional trauma to being a strong captain character (much like Honor Harrington). She whines a little too much to herself about her lost love from the Academy, and I didn’t particularly find it compatible with her cold and calculating persona she has most of the time. The other big flaw was the characters on the ship. The young, brash guy that almost gets her killed and the two captains she argues with when the mercenaries show up are all shallow and underdeveloped. Honestly, the characterization was the weakest part of the book.
There were great characters, though. The Master Sergeant from the mercenaries felt like an old grizzled NCO, and I loved her. The Major and Colonel both felt like real officers, and it was a nice change of pace to have realistic military personnel in a science fiction book.
All in all, I would recommend this book to fans of ship-based science fiction, especially the Honorverse books. I actually enjoyed this book more than On Basilisk Station, and would say it encouraged me to go out and buy the other books in the series.