The Road of Danger
Author:  David Drake
Publisher: Titan Publishing
ISBN-10: 1-4516-3815-9
ISBN-13: 978-1-4516-3815-8

#9 in the national best selling RCN space adventure series.

Captain Daniel Leary with his friend–and spy–Officer Adele Mundy are sent to a quiet sector to carry out an easy task: helping the local admiral put down a coup before it takes place. But then the jealous admiral gets rid of them by sending them off on a wild goose chase to a sector where commerce is king and business is carried out by extortion and gunfights.

With anarchy and rebellion in the air, a rogue intelligence officer plots the war that will destroy civilization and enlists the help of a brute whom even torturers couldn’t stomach.

And, of course, it’s up to Leary and Mundy to put a stop to the madness.” (publisher’s synopsis)

Each of David Drake’s Republic of Cinnabar Navy interstellar adventures begins with an Author’s Note explaining where he got his idea.  This novel is a space opera expansion of a brief mention in Livy’s history of Rome from its beginning to the death of Augustus in 14 A.D., about the chaos in Northern Italy following the end of the Second Punic War in 201 B.C.  “Northern Italy at the end of the third century BC was a patchwork of Roman colonies and allies, Celtic tribes recently conquered by Rome, and independent tribes, mostly Celtic.  A man calling himself Hamilcar and claiming to be a Carthaginian raised a rebellion against Rome.  In the course of it he sacked cities and destroyed a Roman army sent against him.  Nobody was really sure where Hamilcar came from.  […]  The point that particularly interested me was that the Roman Senate reacted by sending an embassy to Carthage, demanding that the Carthaginians withdraw their citizen under the terms of the peace treaty.  […]  Livy’s account got me thinking about the problems that the envoys would have had.  […]” (pgs. ix-x).

The Road of Danger is a direct sequel to Drake’s What Distant Deeps.  In it, the Republic of Cinnabar (Rome) and the Alliance of Free Stars (Carthage) have finally declared a truce to their long-running war; or more exactly, both sides are exhausted.  But unlike the historic Rome and Carthage, Cinnabar and the Alliance are still equal in power.  “Neither superpower could resume the conflict without collapse: forty years of nearly constant warfare had strained both societies to the breaking point.” (p. 1)  Captain Daniel Leary and his subordinate, Communications Officer Adele Mundy, of the sometimes-RCN Princess Cecile (a space yacht that Leary has heavily armed) and their loyal crew, are sent to deliver an important message to a Cinnabar admiral in a backwater space region on the Cinnabar-Alliance border, and then place themselves under his orders.  The admiral, jealous of Leary’s past successes, sends him on what is meant to be a potentially-fatal wild-goose mission.  The Macotta Region of the galaxy is a hodgepodge of Cinnabar and Alliance planets, independent planets loosely allied to one or the other superpowers, and truly independent planets (that the superpowers do not consider worth annexing).  The Funnel Cluster in the Macotta Region is mostly Alliance-controlled.  When a revolt breaks out on Sunbright in the Funnel Cluster, it would normally be considered an Alliance internal affair, except that the Alliance charges that the rebel leader claims to be a Cinnabar citizen with backing from the Cinnabar government.  The Alliance has formally protested and demanded that Cinnabar stop the four-year-old rebellion.  The Cinnabar admiral commanding the Macotta Region sends Leary in the Princess Cecile, without any backup, to “solve” the problem.  Leary recognizes that if it is genuine, it could force the Alliance for its interstellar prestige into resuming the war against Cinnabar that neither wants.

This is the background for another space opera adventure of interstellar derring-do and political intrigue.  Instead of going to Sunbright openly as a Cinnabar government representative, Leary and his crew disguise the “Sissie” as a neutral Kostroman space yacht owned by a Kostroman noblewoman (Mundy in disguise), rich but of dubious morality, touring the stars; while Leary, also in disguise, joins the crew of an Alliance civilian blockade runner chartered to deliver a cargo of weapons to the Sunbright rebels.  Leary and Mundy discover separately that Everybody Is No Damn Good:  both sides of the “rebellion” are corrupt local politicians and merchants hoping to line their own pockets, or petty warlords building their own personal armies, or perverts out to destabilize society so they can practice their own perversion without any local government to stop them.  The only honest party in the whole affair is the Sunbright rebel leader, a naïve young idealist who has gotten disgusted after realizing that the “oppressed peasants” are as brutal as their oppressors, and who has become a helpless figurehead of his corrupt subordinates.  He is more than ready to return to Cinnabar with Leary, if the latter can figure out how to get them out of the hellhole and end the “rebellion” in a manner that will defuse the Cinnnabar-Alliance tensions.  There is lots of bluffing, macho face-offs, outright murders and assassinations, deals and betrayals, and space naval action when Leary and the Princess Cecile confront a more powerful gunboat of one of their enemies.

The main complaint is endemic to this series: Drake does not convincingly dress up the various primitive tribes of pre-civilized Europe, or the Scandinavian viking societies, into futuristic interstellar nations.  It is hard to swallow that a space-traveling multiplanet government would be controlled by so many independent trigger-happy local despots and ungovernable guerrilla warlords.  But the action is non-stop, and Leary and Mundy and their crew are charismatic underdogs who always satisfyingly confound (or kill) their adversaries.  The Road of Danger is #9 in a series that will probably go on for some time to come.

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