The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught (or simply Dreadnaught as I will refer to it from now on!) is the new book in Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet setting, although this book kicks off a new trilogy set after the events of the original six book series. To say that this book was a highly anticipated release would be a gross understatement, I imported it as soon as I could and cracked it open and plowed through it in barely a few days. I'm a huge fan of the series and I thoroughly enjoyed Dreadnaught, despite the few little problems I had with it.
The events of Victorious are just behind us, and Geary and Desjani are now married and have spent a whirlwind honeymoon on Desjani's home planet, despite the constant attempts of the government to get Geary back to answer their questions and accept new orders. But in the end they have to return for Geary to face his superiors and find out just what his new orders are, and it's not quite what he expected. With his promotion to Admiral he is given command of the fleet, plus some extra ships, and tasked with finding out more about the alien race on the other side of Syndic space, how far their borders extend and whether they can hold peaceful negotiations. Of course, things don't go as smoothly as hoped for Geary and his fleet...
Dreadnaught picks up about a month after Victorious and continues the events from that book pretty much uninterrupted. Some of the fleet are still eager to overthrow the government and put Geary in charge of everything, even with Geary not wanting this. It throws up the political in-fighting straight away and lets you see the different factions and just what their aims are and how they believe things should be done, all the while with Geary treading the fine line between following orders from his superiors while keeping the fleet in check by allowing them to believe he is in charge. This aspect is definitely a follow on from Relentless and Victorious, showing just how the government are totally incapable of dealing with a potentially dangerous situation.
Geary is much the same man as he's always been - a good commander able to think outside the box but very loyal to the Alliance and the government. There are new factors coming into play with Geary given the fleet and told to go off to alien space to find out more, and it's through various information channels that he finds out the government are hiding things. With his status he could easily do as he wishes, but he once again does things within the confines of his orders, although edging into that grey area a few times. It's all a good way to show that ultimately a legendary hero is not always the best thing for the ruling government to have in full view, even with said hero wanting the best for the Alliance.
Moving on from all this political wrangling Dreadnaught does start to pick up pace when the fleet enters Syndic space. The aftermath of their dash home is still present, the Syndics now taking the alien threat seriously and using the fail-safe devices on their own hypernet gates, limiting the potential threat the aliens pose. This fallout from the Syndic government failing is also a major aspect of the story, and how Geary deals with these things can be interesting, but it ultimately starts to detract from the action, Campbell spending a little too much time on all the ins and outs of a galactic society in the throws of change. Don't get me wrong, it adds much to the story, but the promise of exploration in alien space makes the pace feel a little slow.
Once we do get into alien space the action and interest really steps up a gear. The enigma race are truly that, and other than the glimpses we caught of them during Victorious nothing is known. It's actually a good idea and Campbell manages to create the alien society from scratch, but it's all done through the observations the characters make - we see nothing from their side at all. This is both good and bad. On the plus side it allows Campbell to draw out some interesting conversations and ideas from Geary and the crew, but all it ever can be is guess work on their part. It does very much feel like Geary, Desjani, Rionne and company believe that what they've come up with is the truth of the race - at least in general - but there is always that niggle that they may be wrong, that feeling that their judgements may come back to bite them at a later date.
Other than that aspect I thought the time spent in alien space was the highlight of the novel, finally getting to the juicy bits I was hoping for when I opened the book. There are some interesting set pieces along the way too and the finale certainly gives more questions than answers - you can be sure I'll be reading the second book as soon as I can!
One thing I was expecting plenty of from past experience with Campbell's writing was of real-time space battles, but there weren't anywhere near as many as I expected. I found the battles to go by quicker than in the first series, not as much time spent dealing with events during the heat of battle, and I missed it. Whether this was done to be more accessible to readers or simply because Campbell felt there was no need to go to the same lengths I don't know.
Regardless of all the little issues I had with Dreadnaught, I loved every minute of it. I've been with these characters through six novels and it felt like returning to an old group of friends.
This does bring me to one last comment, and it's only my personal opinion: this series is much better suited to those that have read the previous Lost Fleet books. I think a newcomer may feel a little out of place with such a large amount of world-building, character development and story taken place over six previous novels, and believe me, all past developments make this a stonking read.
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