This book delivers just what I expect from John Barnes. It’s a fast-paced adventure story with some humorous elements, and a bit of sex thrown in to spice it up. The adventure and slight libertarian slant make it easy to compare it to certain Heinlein works, while the sarcastic interplay between characters and interplanetary intrigue plot-line call to mind Keith Laumer and Lois McMaster Bujold.
The writing is brisk, and the story is always moving. This starts with the hero, Jan Jinnaka, graduating from “gen school”, with not quite the test scores to qualify for the prestigious Public Service Academy; the kidnap of his girlfriend, Sesh, who’s revealed to be an incognito foreign princess; and the further revelation that his uncle has been grooming him to become a super-spy. And so Jan’s off on a chase across the solar system to rescue Sesh from the vile Duke of Uranium, bent on driving humanity to an authoritarian future.
The Duke of Uranium is the set-up for a trilogy of Jan Jinnaka stories, and there are a few loose threads left hanging at the end; but the immediate plotline is entirely wrapped up—no cliff-hanger ending here.
At some points, such as when Jan’s school friends and new friends from met aboard ship join together to buy up a spaceship and substantial military hardware, and appear as the cavalry over the horizon when Jan is about to fall into the clutches of the Duke’s minions, the plot may not stand too deep an inspection. And the Heinleinesque social lessons Barnes mixes in to the story are very much on the surface rather than deeply buried in the story. But the action is so constant that we’re not really stopping for a detailed analysis of the novel’s structure anyway, and the result is great entertainment.