I remember when I was reading Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New/Long/Short Sun cycle (Three separate, related series, for those that don’t know), there was a short time when everything felt kind of clunky and heavy handed afterwards. The next book I read was Excession by Ian M. Banks, and these days, it’s probably my favorite in the (admittedly hit or miss for me) Culture series. But I remember rolling my eyes at things that seemed really obvious to anyone with half a brain.
I say that because I feel like this is a thing– you experience something really good, and then for a while, everything else feels just kind of meh. I say that because I’ve spent basically all of the last year reading next to nothing but Nick Cole and Jason Anspach’s absolutely fantastic Galaxy’s Edge. (Like… 16 books so far? With more to go.) I wasn’t sure how well much of anything was going to hold up after being immersed in a Star Wars that’s better than basically 97% of Star Wars.
I tore through Cartwright’s Cavaliers.
Cartwright’s Cavaliers takes place in a universe of relative anarchy, where a an interstellar Union rules with next to no laws. (The only one I can think of being mentioned is “Are you attacking a planet? Any ships involved in the fight can be no farther than ten miles up.”) Mercenary companies represent an enormous, galaxy wide industry, fighting for both defensive and offensive reasons, with some races more suited to the role than others. Earth, with its war-wracked past, produces some of the finest mercenary companies in the galaxy and 18-year old Jim Cartwright is the heir to one of the most famous of those groups, Cartwright’s Cavaliers.
Except Jim’s mom basically ran the company into the ground after his father’s death, and Jim is a flabby nerd. Jim is faced with the task of rebuilding the famed Cavaliers with little more than museum pieces that none of the creditors wanted and no staff to speak of.
There’s a certain sort of Heinlein-esque worldview to the Cartwright’s Cavaliers that’s hard for me to put my finger on. Maybe it’s the mech suits reminding me of Starship Troopers, or the relatively libertarian slant calling to mind other Heinlein works. Could be that Jim is a bit of a competent man in the making, mentored by an experienced older man. Whatever it is, it works, and despite Starship Troopers’ spot at or near the birth of mech/power armor as a trope, it wasn’t what I was expecting reading this.
There are a few flaws to be found. I read a bit more about Jim’s body than I really wanted, to but, to be fair, Jim being overweight is relevant to the plot and eighteen year old boys do spend a lot of time thinking about their penis. It might bother some more than others. (Along with the language. That doesn’t normally bother me, but like I said, I have spent the last year soaked in the nearly profanity-free Galaxy’s Edge.)
A more universal criticism is that the writing can at times be a little clunky. It’s always serviceable, and it always gets the point across and moves the plot along. But there are a lot of exclamation marks, and not just in the dialogue. I tend to be of the school that thinks that exclamation marks are best left unused as often as possible. But then…. I’ve sold like a dozen short stories, and Cartwright’s Cavaliers is a Dragon Award finalist. Maybe I’m wrong about that.