This is yet another of Cherryh's books set in her Alliance-Union universe, but told from a rather different perspective than most of the others in this series.
Very little of this book is actually about the war, instead choosing to focus on a middle-aged female warrior, Bet Yeager, who has been effectively marooned on one of the Rim stations, and living from hand to mouth while avoiding detection by any cognizant authority. Finally left with no more options on the station, she takes a new berth on a 'shadow' spy ship belonging to what to her is the 'enemy'. Once on board, she has to earn the respect of her shipmates, put up with sadistic officers, and keep a clamp on her history from 'the other side'. With this as a basic outline, the story really revolves around her continuing growth as a person, stretching herself to perform actions she didn't believe she was capable of, and the (sometimes strange) friendships she makes as she learns the ins and outs of her new shipboard comrades.
Told in Cherryh's typical breathless style, often with incomplete sentences, a frequent recourse to alphabet-soup acronyms, and backgrounds that are often only sketched in, the story ripples rapidly towards its climax, making for quick reading. Perhaps a little too quick, as there is a little bit of a rushed feeling to the climax. And as always with Cherryh, this style takes some getting used to, and readers unfamiliar with some of other books in the series may feel a little lost.
There is some real action here, of the type that Cherryh is known for, but filtered through Yeager's perceptions. Beyond the action, the item that makes this stand out from the run-of-mill works is the strong character development of Yeager in the face of multiple difficult situations, some of which would have a direct correspondence to the problems of women in the American workplace. Some of Yeager's solutions to certain of her situations will put a new face on casual sexual relations on a mixed gender ship, an item of relevance now for the Navy. But this is not a strident call to the feminist movement, but rather a statement in story form of the real power and necessity of independent women, of women living up to (and being allowed to do so) their full potential.
A different viewpoint, a strong female role model, perhaps a little too short and rushed, but still a strong work.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)