Character-driven military science fiction, the first installment in Wagers’ NeoG series revolves around Maxine Carmichael, a lieutenant in the Near-Earth Orbital Guard who has spurned the influence of her powerful family and followed her own path into space.
Set in the year 2435—centuries after the nebulous Collapse—the narrative begins with Carmichael’s being assigned to Zuma’s Ghost, a NeoG ship with a close-knit crew that has done well in the Boarding Games, an annual competition that pits various military infiltration teams against one another for bragging rights. As if being the person to replace a beloved crew member (who got promoted) wasn’t bad enough, the perception of her dynastic family name (her parents are both Navy admirals) makes her assimilation even more difficult. With four months until the next Games, Carmichael has the added pressure of not only doing her high-pressure job, but of performing well in the hypercompetitive matches. Her life quickly becomes even more complicated when the salvagers they apprehend onboard a missing system jumper turn up dead shortly after being taken into custody. Traces of a substance link the dead to LifeEx, a company that produces a life-extending serum and that Carmichael’s sister coincidentally heads as its CEO. When someone begins attempting to kill off Zuma’s Ghost crew members, Carmichael must figure out if the attacks are connected to the upcoming Games, her investigation into the LifeEx mystery, or both. While the multidimensional character of Carmichael—who happens to be asexual—and other female characters (like butt-kicking Petty Officer 1st Class Altandai “Jenks” Khan) are the story’s obvious strength, there are noticeable flaws. Carmichael’s complicated relationship with Jenks at times strains the bounds of believability. Additionally, the pacing and fluidity are erratic, particularly in the later Games sequences, which come across as rushed and don’t fit organically with the overall narrative flow.
A military sea novel set largely in space: Patrick O’Brian meets Elizabeth Moon.