Some writers create momentum from a chapter to the next that keeps the reader’s attention; sometimes energy lasts for a whole book, and sometimes it lasts for a whole series. Elizabeth Moon is such a writer. Her Vatta’s universe is such a tale. I read every single book twice. Trading in Danger could have been a typical coming-of-age science fiction novel, but it is not. In this novel, Kylara Vatta is expelled from the military academy because she helps the wrong person. As a result, her family tries to protect her by shipping her out with a clunker spaceship meant for the junkyard; she tries to save the ship by earning enough to cover repair costs and ends up embroiled in an interstellar war. Moon achieves this page-turning alchemy through a plot device by placing Ky under the thread of mortal danger.
Moon sets Ky up for success by preparing her with a military history. Ky is in her senior year and helps a junior cadet, and results in explosive media coverage threatening Slotter Key’s military (2-3). Ky is asked to resign because she goes outside the chain of command (2). She is ousted from the academy and thrown into work for her family’s trade business (29).
Moon created a strong character driven to succeed, but with a flaw—she tries to save people. Moon shifts Ky’s priorities to her survival, the survival of ship and crew, and the family trade business (207). That by itself is interesting, but Moon constantly steps her character up a notch—when Ky takes a side contract as an independent trader, trouble ensues. Her FTL goes out (84). The ansible is blown, cutting intersystem communication (103). Ky cannot fall back on her parent’s money or reputation because she took an independent contract (101-106). Moon maneuvered the situation so Ky could not fall back on her parent’s money or reputation—that would have been too easy—Ky needs her independence and must fly or drop under her own power. There is a possibility of failure.
Afterwards, she returns to her ship because she is “a long way from where she was supposed to be, in a developing war zone, and out of ansible contact” (116). She cannot get the part she needs to fix the ship because the locals are worried she is hauling more than agricultural equipment (125-127). When she realizes what is happening, she declares that “we have to act. Reaction may kill us, but inaction certainly will” (127). Ky does what she is trained to do—she takes action that protects her and her crew. She departs without Traffic Control’s permission. But Moon doesn’t have her just depart—Ky also registers a formal complaint which is stored in the station’s computers (131). This shows foresight and the ability to maneuver.
When mercenaries board her vessel, they tag her as military trained because of her controlled demeanor (188). Moon does not stop there—circumstances escalate again when a new crew member goes rogue (175-176). The mercenaries shoot Ky while trying to contain the rogue (176). Ky has a “possible C-spine injury” and a gunshot wound (175-176). Moon shot her main character! Not only that, it’s a potentially mortal wound. When the soldier reports it, she is told, “Just finish her why don’t you” (177). But the mercenary does not. Moon explains: “Because she was young and maybe dumb but not bad” and that “if all the nineteen hells were coming down on Mackensee, a good deed might make the difference to whatever gods watched over mercenaries” (177).
Later in the novel, Moon ramps up the action again. Hostages mutiny (234). Ky is forced to kill two hostages to take control of the situation and protect her crew, her ship, and herself (238). Ky as a strong character, but she has flaws. The largest flaw is her neediness to pick up strays. First she helps Cadet Rocher who creates the explosive situation (2-3). Then she picks up three strays on an embattled planet (95-97) and one of the strays tries to be a hero and gets her shot (175). Her inexperience and wanted to help others without looking before she leaps is another way Moon uses this plot device to place her character in mortal danger. Readers want stories that make them feel and by living with Ky through her experiences, we get the feeling as if we are in mortal danger as well.
I loved it. It spoke to me. It was engaging with characters I wish were my friends and I want to binge read the whole series in a weekend. I want more…now. It was engaging, innovative, or thought-provoking. I connected on an emotional level and it captivated me. Put down what you’re doing and read this now. The whole series is terrific.
Moon, Elizabeth. Trading in Danger. New York: The Random House Publishing Group. 2004.