Merchanter’s Luck, C. J. Cherryh
This is the second of Cherryh’s Company Wars novels by publication date (sez Wikipedia), and it worked out well as the second of Cherryh’s books I’ve read—as I mentioned in reviewing Downbelow Station, the sheer volume of her work had put me off reading her for a long time. This story is somewhat narrower in scope than the first one, focusing on just a couple of characters, though they do get involved in what could become a significant tide in their universe’s history.
Sandor Kraja is youngish, but has been operating his own merchant space vessel nearly solo for years. His merchant family were slaughtered by pirates when he was very young, and then the other two survivors, one being his older brother, died over the years in the accidents that ocurred due to running their ship so short-handed. He’s just scraping by, barely able to keep ahead of his creditors and various authorities, he and his ship going under assumed names, when he meets Allison Reilly, an up-and-coming crewwoman on an important, and wealthy, merchant ship.
Allison’s ship is about to get involved in re-opening trade ties between Alliance and Union space, and re-opening long-abandoned intermediary stations between Earth and Pell (Downbelow). Kraja foolhardily follows the Dublin Again across the lines to Pell, where he and Allison become minor figures in the developments taking shape.
Despite the larger forces pulling the characters along, the real plot is largely character-driven, with the main conflict set up by the main character’s mutual inability to trust each other, despite their mutually compatible goals. Sandor Kreja can’t break out of his habits of isolation and self-reliance, or reveal certain self-perceived weaknesses, while the Dublin characters can’t know whether he is the honest merchant he says he is, or if he’s a pirate himself, who may have even killed to obtain his vessel. Even compared to Downbelow Station, there’s little overt action in the book before the climax, but still there is plot movement throughout.
Compelling characters, dramatic conflicts, and a fast pace make this an excellent book.