At the end of the last book, "Valor's Trial", Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr, disillusioned with a war that turned out to have been meaningless, left the Marine Corp for civilian life.
She is now with Craig Ryder on "The Promise", working as an independent salvage operator, trying to make the move from "Us" being the tight-knit, disciplined, family of the Corps, to "Us" being the loosely affiliated, fiercely independent, slightly anarchic group of salvage operators.
Tanya Huff does such a good a job of looking at the civilian world through the eyes of someone more at home in the military, that I began to see the civilians as the oddity.
Torin cannot help taking charge, can't walk away from a fight with those who prey on the week and struggles to understand the mindset of people who will not risks their lives for others in the face of imminent danger.
The danger this time comes from pirates. Normally they steal ore or salvage. This time they are killing people and have come into possession of something that could turn them into a para-military threat.
Then they take Craig and leave Torin for dead. In the hands of another writer, this would cue a Steven Seagal style blood-bath of revenge. We'd all know that the pirates were going to pay and we'd be cheering Seagal on as he brought them a world of pain.
Torin is just as deadly as Seagal but Tanya Huff takes a different route. She makes restraint Torin's biggest problem. She has the skills and experience to enable her to take on most of the people she meets and either coerce their cooperation or kill them. What she does not have is the moral authority to act. What was killing for a cause in the Corp is murder in civilian life. Torin is very aware that giving way to her rage and killing because she can would change her into someone she doesn't want to be.
The book is filled with ex-military who are trying to fit the person they became in the military to someone who can function in civilian life. We meet a solitary, cantankerous salvage operator who refuses to give in to torture, a medic so broken by his military service that he has become monstrous, a washed-out Navy officer who has gone rogue and former members of Torrin's platoon who are struggling to find purpose in civilian life and who mourn the loss of being part of something important and bigger than themselves.
I found this empathy with the ex-military to be the most engaging part of the book.
Of course there is also an action-packed plot, a huge amount of violence, clever weapons, further insight into how the different races work together and the creation of a "wild-frontier" in space that seems credible and vibrant.
This book also opens up a new story arc that starts with "An Ancient Peace" which is either Confederation #6 or Peacekeeper #1 depending on how the marketing is pitched.