Book cover: A Matter of OathsFormidable Commander Rallya needs a new First Officer for Bhattya; talented Rafe needs a new berth. But Rafe broke his Oath and no self-respecting crew will take him on in case he does it again. Worse, he’s been punished with an identity-wipe: he has no idea who he was or why he broke faith. But others know far too much about both, and it slowly becomes clear that they aren’t finished with him – or with Bhattya.

A Matter of Oaths is a happy space opera stew of familiar tropes with immortal warring Emperors, cyberpunk in place of science, amnesia, a strong dose of ‘I’m getting too old for this shit’ and a dash of romance (happily not between Rafe and Rallya!)

I think I enjoyed this more than it deserves in some respects, but I found it engaging from start to finish. This is a debut novel, and it shows in some occasional awkwardness in language and characterisation (Joshim, in particular, felt told not shown for much of the first half of the book) and a touch of unmerited smugness in the closing chapter. I’m also not entirely sure that the comms snippets that gave the reader knowledge of enemy activities were a good idea – I felt this reduced tension rather than raising it (as I think the knowledge that there were bad guys was intended to, but in knowing their identities it removed ambiguities that would have otherwise increased tension at crucial points).

On the flip side, these were the only info dumps in the early stages, and did provide much-needed context. However, I liked it for how little we are told outside them – everything else emerges through the plot, which happily bounds along with few distractions.

I liked the offhand way in which it was clear that few characters were white (in spite of the cover art; the author has commented on this on her website) and several primary characters were gay or bisexual.

I could have wished for more women in the foreground (while there are several female junior officers, they are basically wallpaper, leaving us with Rallya and eventually Emperor Julur’s security lead Braniya, who is far from sympathetic), but Rallya – strong-minded, sharp-tongued, irascible and supremely self-confident – is a joy. We don’t often get female Commanders let alone ones nearing retirement, although there were sections early on in the novel where some fairly nasty behaviour initially went unexplained (it becomes clear she’s misbehaving purely for the badness of it – most of the time, anyway).

I would be delighted to discover there was a sequel, but as it’s been 15 years since this first came out, it seems unlikely there ever will be. It remains an entertaining diversion I can see myself revisiting in the future.

Thank you @sandstone78 for putting it on my radar!

 

A Matter of Oaths is available second-hand from Amazon or digitally from the author’s website.