Jack Campbell brings us back again to the universe of the Alliance Confederation and the Syndicate Worlds that we have become familiar with in his Lost Fleet series. This time, however, the heroes are not the crews and commanding officers of the Lost (Alliance) Fleet and Admiral (Black Jack) Geary is no more than an element in the background. Instead, and a bit like Weber has done with his Honor Harrington series, Campbell embarks on a new strand, showing how two senior Syndicate officers that briefly figured in the previous series take control of a strategic solar system and try to make it independent, secure and better governed.
One of the strongest points of the book is the atmosphere of total paranoia that is a given in the Syndicate society. At every turn, for every move, even the simplest ones, the senior commander of ground forces and the senior commander of space forces wonder whether the other one, or any of their senior officers, or any of the partisans of the regime that they have just overthrown, is not starting to make a move against them to take them out. Even some of their own officers' behaviours are somewhat ambiguous; as they give the impression they may be playing both sides and/or also having their personal agendas.
The second strongpoint is the battles. Here again, the author has clearly wanted to introduce some variations, possibly to prevent some readers from getting bored with yet more naval battles, but also because the two ex-CEOs do not have much of a fleet to begin with. So there are a couple of space engagements, but there are also a couple of land engagements. In fact, my favourite battle scene happens to be right at the beginning of the book when General Drakon assaults the enemy headquarters at the heads of his storm troops and has to take control of it before its defenders trigger off weapons of mass destruction.
The other strongpoint of this novel is the horrific picture it draws of a society and of worlds dominated by a ruthless, cruel, totalitarian and somewhat inefficient dictatorship. The security services (the ISS) composed of "snakes" and their shock troops (the vipers) cannot but remind the reader of some kind of cross between the Gestapo and the SS, on one hand, and the KGB and its own shock troops, on the other hand.
There are, however, also some drawbacks. While having a story that differs from what was becoming the "usual" space battles in which the "goodies" almost always win, it is possible, but only just, to read this book without having read the whole of the previous Lost Fleet series (some 8 other books!). It is highly preferable to have read all of them first, or the last two (Dreadnaught and Invincible), at the very least. Needless to say, however good this book may be, it becomes somewhat of a problem when a lot of it only fully makes sense when you have read a number of others before it!
Another little issue is the romance that you see starting to develop in this volume. It is slightly different from what we saw in the Lost Fleet series, but, somehow, I found it even less credible, given the circumstances, although I will stop here to avoid spoilers.
A good book, but not Jack Campbell's best. If Amazon did quarters, I would probably rate this one 3.75 stars. Since this is not possible, this one just scrapes into the four star bucket for me.