The Ninth Circle: A Novel of the U.S.S. Merrimack (#5)
by R.M. Meluch
Cover Artist: Stephan Martiniere
Review by Bill Lawhorn
DAW Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756406943
Date: 01 November 2011 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The adventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Merrimack continue. Now that the war is over, the crew face peace, an unsteady peace because that is all the Palatine can ever allow.
Lieutenant Glenn Hamilton is taking a break and travelling with her husband Dr. Patrick Hamilton to Earthlike planet Zoe. An attack by an unknown extraterrestrial sets the stage for conflict. The League of Earth's Nations' scientists and leaders do not want to admit that there was an attack. In addition, they are set in their ways to the point that they don't recognize the potential of the creatures that inhabit Zoe.
The Merrimack is sent to help Glenn as soon as Admiral Farragut knows there is an issue. Captain Calli Carmel tries to meet the standards that Farragut set as Captain. The relationship between two crew members, Kerry Blue and Colonel Steele, creates tension as they worry about each other. On the way to Zoe, the crew hears rumors of a new crew of Pirates terrorizing the quadrant. Just to make it a little crazier, Caesar shows up on the scene.
The pirates calling themselves "The Ninth Circle" are Roman. Their leader is Nox, formerly John Knox Farragut, the Admiral's brother. The pirates were trainees that lost their place, now they are looking for redemption. They are no longer of Rome, but Rome may have a use for them anyway.
The action around Zoe heats up as the attackers are determined to be unknown aliens. They threaten the native inhabitants of Zoe. The decisions related to these aliens shows the differences between the various powers.
This is the fifth book in the Tour of the Merrimack. As part of a longer series it isn't the perfect entry point, but the back details are shared keeping new readers abreast of the main action of the past, if not all of the details. As a disclaimer, I had only read the fourth book of the series prior to this and I was able to follow the action and characters.
This is a pretty standard military space adventure. There is a first contact that hadn't been in the earlier part of the series. The xenobiology action following Dr. Hamilton was one of the more interesting aspects of the book. The difficulty of choosing between species is not standard fare.
Although this is a good book, I liked Strength and Honor more. The adventures during peace aren't a fulfilling for me. I am still bothered by the whole Palatine empire and its development and rise.
The ending mystery sets the stage for the sequel.