Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series was a part of my 25-in-14 reading challenge where I attempted to, and succeeded in, reading at least the first novels in 25 different series, across a multitude of genres. Reading Dauntless proved to be quite a fun experience actually because I went in expecting some serious military SF, and the experience was much different to that expectation. It had some nice hard-SF elements to it, but they were sufficiently explained for a layman and the writer kept his focus on the characters and the story itself.
Fearless is the second novel in the series and carries on over from the events at the end of Dauntless with Captain John “Black Jack” Geary and his ragtag Alliance fleet scoring a resounding victory against the Syndics. It was definitely a great moment to end the novel on and Jack Campbell ups the stakes and everything else in the sequel. John has been fighting for unity and discipline and cooperation between the various ships of the fleet since he took over, massively disadvantaged in a lot of ways, and Fearless is just another major test for him as he continues to lead the fleet out of the Syndic Worlds and back home to the Alliance.
In many ways, Fearless is a clear superior to Dauntless. It has much more exciting action, the characters are much more well-developed now, and Jack Campbell gives the characters more challenges than just naval fights. There has been some dissension brewing within the die-hard traditionalists of the fleet, and in Dauntless we see how it all really comes to a boiling point when the fleet liberates a random Syndic slave camp and finds that one of the freed soldiers is a fleet Captain who can match John in glory and repute though he doesn’t have the same mythic status.
And that’s what I loved so much about the book you see. In the first book, John’s major challenges related to maintaining a tenuous grip on the cohesion of the fleet and getting used to a time that is as alien to him as an actual alien. Kind of a weird way of saying that, I know, but I think it gets the point across. He was in suspended animation within an escape pod for countless decades and the Alliance fleet he has come back to isn’t one that he could have fathomed. Now he is reinstating the wisdom of the “old” times and making all the elements work together for a better whole.
Now in Fearless, John’s challenges relate on a very personal level. He has to fight off the politics of said recently-liberated fleet hero. He has to deal with the budding romance between him and Senator Victoria Rione. All of that is aside from the fact that he must continually prove himself. His one and only job, as stated by him several times previously and again in this book, is to get the fleet home with the most minimal of casualties. And yet, when he proposes to take the fleet further into Syndic space and attack one of the enemy’s most well-defended worlds, he has to fight off the disappointments and glory-hounding of the people around him. In that respect, nothing has changed really, though the other newer challenges do put all of that in a very stark contrast that does not shed a positive light on him at all.
But that’s fun!
There were some basic hints in Dauntless that there might be something personal developing between John and Victoria, but nothing happened in that novel. Now in Fearless, we see how their attraction to each other, and the fact that Victoria is also John’s moral center, leads to the two of them getting romantically involved. Sure, it is only the beginning of this relationship and is focused more on their sexual needs, but there are also moments where it is so much more. And yet, I enjoyed that Jack Campbell didn’t lose sight of the bigger picture and had John question any possible motives that Victoria have for allying him and being his partner, for he is Blackjack Geary, the great hero of the war against the Syndics, a legend and a myth. That has some political cachet that would be very beneficial to those closest to him once the fleet reaches Alliance space.
Thankfully though, despite all the romantic and sexual excitement, the novel also focuses extensively on the military side of things. Just as well since this is military space opera. There are lots of big battles here, but none bigger than the second one in one of the more valuable Syndic systems. That’s where the fleet really proves itself to John and John proves himself to the men and women under his command, though getting to that point is marked with betrayals and disappointments, not to mention quite a bit of soul-searching as well.
I mean, the fight scenes are great and all, detailed and methodical and with a great emotional punch again and again, but the characters and their interpersonal relationships are just damn wonderful too. And it is there that Fearless proves to have a real leg up on its predecessor. Everything that we were introduced to in the first book is taken further in Fearless and we get to see how more and more captains of the fleet are beginning to gravitate towards John’s way of thinking, whether that be a battle-situation or otherwise.
The pacing of the novel yee-yaws a bit in the middle scenes, but that’s largely because Jack Campbell’s void combat is often a mix of long-range preemptive or up-close reactive, rather than being more towards the middle point of the two. Regardless of that, the scenes are still filled with some great character development scenes, and I liked that John began to delegate more to the men and women under his command rather than being a control freak about things. He is maturing in his relationship with them, just as many are doing the same with him in reverse.
Ultimately though, yeah, Fearless is quite a bit better than Dauntless and it kept me hooked right up until the final page, so I’m definitely giving it my seal of approval.
More Lost Fleet: Dauntless.