Since reading and reviewing Trial by Fire last May, I have been eagerly anticipating the release of Raising Caine by Charles E. Gannon, the continuing adventures of Caine Riordan, a one time writer now pressed into diplomatic and military service of the newly formed Terran Republic. In fact, my excitement is such that I am writing this review with 35 minutes left before I actually complete the audio book I purchased. I’ve already completed over 21 hours and that is more than enough to give my thoughts on this book, and I will finish it today. But first, here’s the obligatory publisher’s summary so you have an idea of what I’m reviewing.
Caine Riordan, reluctant diplomatic and military intelligence operative, has just finished playing his part repulsing the Arat Kur’s and Hkh’Rkh’s joint invasion of Earth.
But scant hours after the attackers surrender, the mysterious but potentially helpful Slaasriithi appeal to Caine to shepherd a diplomatic mission on a visit to their very alien worlds. The possible prize: a crucial alliance in a universe where the fledgling Consolidated Terran Republic has very few friends.
But Caine and his legation aren’t the only ones journeying into the unknown reaches of Slaasriithi space. A group of renegade K’tor are following them, intending to destroy humanity’s hopes for a quick alliance. And that means finding and killing Caine Riordan.
Assuming that the bizarre and dangerous Slaasriithi lifeforms don’t do it first.
The first thing I’d like to say about this book is that Charles Gannon gets the military mindset in most ways. I say this as a vet who has served. When his military characters interact, the do so in a way that is very real to me. It reminds me of the interacts I have with my fellow vets, and those of my classmates still in uniform. There are many things civilians do not understand about soldiers. I see it constantly. Unless you live that life, unless your life actually depends on the man to your right and the woman to your left, you don’t have the life experience to grok it. I’ve read Dr. Gannon’s bio, and I see no indication of military service. I can only guess he is informed by his membership in SIGMA and a set of militaristic hobbies. Whatever the source, he’s taken it to heart. I won’t say it’s perfect, or that it isn’t occasionally Hollywood, but it’s damn refreshing Sci-fi for a vet to read.
But that doesn’t mean this book is all about the military and military action. It’s far more personal than that. In Trial by Fire, the action was hot and heavy encompassing many star systems and hundreds of thousands if not millions of sentient beings. Tens of thousands of them died in a huge war. In Raising Caine, the action is confined to two small groups of humans and a few Slaasriithi. The action is close. There’s a traitor in their midst and they know it, just not who it is. It’s all very, very personal. To me, the characters in Raising Caine, even the ones new since Trial by Fire, are deeper and more complex in this book than they have been in the previous. Though the story unrelentingly focuses on Caine Riordan, you still get to know many of the other characters – love them or hate them. It makes for a strong story.
In my review of Trial by Fire I wrote, “There are a few female characters and Dr. Gannon probably even thinks they are strong female characters.” That’s not all I said on the matter. The rest is even less complimentary. They were harsh words, but I felt compelled to say them. And though I know they are not responsible for any changes in that regard, I am still very happy to report the female characters in Raising Caine are much, much better. It’s a more inclusive story. Males and females share responsibilities. The sex of the character matters far less in this book than it seemed to in Trial by Fire. And though there were a few places where romance rears its undesired head, it is kept low-keyed and is not a vehicle for anyone’s actions… well it was once but that was completely understandable. I’d have done the same thing.
And for those who read this and wonder about the Bechdel Test, yes, this novel passes that test quite early on. In fact, I was disappointed that more was not done with one of the female characters involved in the particularly riveting conversation I’m thinking about, but I know we haven’t heard the last of her. She’s singled out in that plot line’s wrap-up for this novel. (That’s perhaps a wee bit of a spoiler, but what the hell. It really isn’t telling you anything.) There wasn’t much opportunity for female on female scenes throughout much of the book though. The protagonist is male and there is only so much that can be done about that. But that could change, and I can see some spin-off stories possibilities if Dr. Gannon ever decides to write his version of Zoe’s Tale (Pandora’s Tale. *cough,cough*)
There are no really negative things to say about Raising Caine. It is interesting, action packed and just about everything you could want in a Space Opera. It even managed to surprise the hell out of me when the traitor’s identity was finally revealed. Man, I didn’t see that coming. Well played Dr. Gannon, well played. However, you used the phrase “just so” at least a half-dozen times in this novel, and every time the Slaasriithi ambassador said it I thought of a particular Arat Kur from Trial by Fire. Please stop. But honestly, that’s the worst thing I can think of about this book. All in all, I feel Raising Caine is better novel than Trial by Fire, and that’s saying a lot. It’s well worth the read. I look forward to the future adventures of Caine Riordan (and Pandora’s Tale. *cough, cough*)