Susan R. Matthews, |
The Devil & Deep Space
The Devil & Deep Space launched me into a galaxy inhabited by complex and sophisticated hominids. Unfortunately, the etiquette, subtle politics and convoluted histories affecting this society remained largely unexplained for the first half of the book; author Susan R. Matthews should provide a glossary or introductory summary for new readers unfamiliar with her other Judiciary novels. Although I dislike flicking in and out of a story for elucidation, I found the assumption that I understood the author's terms even more irritating. For this reason, had I not been reviewing this book, it would have failed to hold my interest beyond the first chapter -- which would have been a pity. Once I had filtered sufficient information to understand Matthews' system, I enjoyed racing with the plot through the latter half of the book.
Essentially, this is the tale of Andrej Koscuisko. Obedient to his father's wish that he join Fleet, he discovers his exceptional talent for the task of extracting confessions under Judicial torture. The Inquisitor system is strictly defined, but what Andrej cannot come to terms with is his unholy delight in torturing his prisoners. His recognition of his severely flawed personality and deep, unforgivable sin has him writhing in agonies of self-disgust and revulsion. Yet we also know him to be a man of rare honour, one who values and protects his Security detail and his "bond-involuntaries" (hominids who have no rights under law, and are slaves to an implanted "governor" that will destroy them if they exhibit disloyal behaviour).
Andrej has previously evaded an official death warrant with the complicity of the Bench Specialist who was to have served it. Uncertain who issued it, he fears not so much for his own life as for the continuation of his ancient line on his homeworld, and he breaks with the weight of all tradition in an attempt to salvage the situation.
This is not the only complication in Andrej's life. The Ragnarock, the ship to which he is assigned, has lost its third captain to a third incidence of inexplicable death; the new acting captain is taking unprecedented steps to evade an escalating fatal "investigation" by a corrupt admiral; there is a massive alteration in the proposed policies of the Judiciary; and the Judges manoeuvre to see who will ascend to the premier position. The new policy permits Andrej an unusual chance to be free of Fleet forever, but at a price. He returns to his homeworld for a confrontation with his estranged father, a first meeting with his young son and a confrontational reunion with his mistress. He is unwittingly under the keen observation of a Malcontent (typically a Dolgorukij homosexual who escapes the ostracization this entails by becoming a slave priest of a rich religious organisation which not only protects him but elevates him to an unassailable position immune from persecution and the Law) yet this Malcontent is unique in that he is not Dolgorukij, and furthermore, has a bitter score to settle with Andrej. He also watches Andrej on behalf on another, equally obsessed but more vengeful remnant from the Inquisitor's past. While the Ragnarock and her crew fight for their integrity and their lives, history catches up with Andrej in ways he could not have imagined, with totally unforeseen consequences.
The Devil & Deep Space is a fine example of story-telling, that stands well enough by itself, but a knowledge of the previous novels would be of definite benefit. Matthews does a good job of presenting many-faceted characters interacting at social and professional levels, and of providing a self-analysing insight into the motives and driving forces affecting those characters. Her own background provides a solid knowledge base for military tactics under pressure and it is only the automatic assumption that readers already know the terminology that detracts from the book.