by Sarah A. Hoyt
Cover Artist: David Mattingly
Review by Sam Lubell
Baen Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781476736174
Date: 29 October 2013 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Darkship Renegades is a direct sequel to 2010's Darkship Thieves. This space adventure story has more characterization than the first book, but also less action.
It opens with Athena Sinistra returning with her husband Kit to the hidden Libertarian asteroid base called Eden. When they arrive Kit is immediately arrested and accused of treason, for having landed on Earth. But how can he be arrested when Eden does not have a government? While the two were away trying to steal power from space powertrees near Earth, fewer power thieves had made it back, and the Energy Board, through their control of what power remained, had become a de facto government.
After a hearing, the citizens of Eden decide to send Kit and Thena back to Earth, to get the notes from Jarl Ingemar, the inventor of the powertrees, so Eden could grow their own. With the help of Doc Bartolomeu, a family friend and one of the last of the original Mules (bioengineered supermen like Jarl and Thena's father), and the recently widowed Zenobia, Thena and Kit survive additional attempts on their lives and escape on a spaceship. But Kit was wounded in the attack and the Doc's cure accidentally put a copy of Jarl's consciousness in his brain that tries to take over Kit's body. And then they discover that the ship is disintegrating around them, due to sabotage with material eating bacteria.
With the odds against them, with Kit gradually losing control of his body to Jarl, and no ship, the four must get to Earth, find the secret of the powertrees, and return to Eden to fight the forces of the Energy Board.
Thena continues to be a great character, with a react first, think later personality that covers some real self-doubt and insecurities. Kit is a much nicer character, so it is interesting to see him interact with the more pragmatic, perhaps evil, Jarl personality in his mind. Doc Bartolomeu takes on the Heinlein wise old man role.
The book has several problems, including a huge reliance on coincidence, as when Thena accidentally brings their stolen ship right near Jarl's secret base, which has all of its technology still running 300 years later. At one point Jarl activates spy cameras in someone's home that were still functioning, undetected centuries after being installed. Hoyt recognizes the unlikelihood of this, draws the reader's attention to the problem, and then proceeds to ignore it. She writes, "Wouldn't Simon's father have noticed a camera in all these hundreds of years? Surely the place had been remodeled or something...”. Hoyt would have been better off hoping the reader didn't notice this problem, in the rush of events, rather than bringing it up herself. Another problem is that the supposed libertarians of Eden have a quasi-governmental agency like the Energy Board and allow it to exercise growing dictatorial political power. This does not mesh with the culture of Eden as shown in the first book with citizens fighting duels.
Overall, the book struck me as not quite as good as the first book, although still a fun read. The central conflict in this novel is Thena trying to help Kit with the mental presence of Jarl, who has the stronger personality and threatens to take over the body. This inevitably is less straightforward and exciting than the more physical conflicts of the first book. Still, anyone who enjoyed Darkship Thieves will enjoy this book as well. Unlike many series these days, Darkship Renegades does not end in a cliffhanger, although there is certainly room for more adventures. Another of Hoyt's books, A Few Good Men, takes place parallel to this one, covering the rebellion against the Good Men.