The Vattas were once a powerful trading family based on a planet called Slotter's Key. They were wealthy and respected and in one day, all of that changed. Enemies attacked the Vattas at their homes and trading offices across the galaxy. Governments were suddenly deaf to the Vatta's cries for help and aid. Most of the Vatta family died, and it fell to the backs of three strong women in the Vatta family to fight to try and regain their place in the world.
First was Kylara Vatta, who had recently been kicked out of the Space Navy due to being squarely in the center of a political mess, she had been given captaincy of a small trading ship that also carried letter of Marque from Slotter's Key, enabling her to act as a privateer, should it become necessary. She managed to live through several assassination attempts and retrieve a better, more heavily armed ship from her outlaw Uncle, Osman Vatta. Her attempts to keep her own ship and the ships of other merchants safe from attackers and pirates has gathered her a tidy little force of her own, now looking for the men behind the attacks on the Vattas.
Second is her cousin, Stella Vatta. Daughter of Osman, but raised by other members of the family after he stole a ship from Slotter's Key and left his wife and daughter behind, Stella has grown up as a ne'er do well daughter, untrusted and thought foolish by the rest of the family. First sent to Kylara with a shipment of fruitcakes from their Aunt Grace that contained not only a small fortune in diamonds and Ky's father's implant with control codes Ky needed. Stella rescued Toby, a teenaged cousin of hers, from a world where he thought his parents killed. A brilliant engineer and computer tech, Toby has helped Stella start up the Vatta's business offices again, and get shipping contracts going.
Grace Vatta is Stella and Ky's aunt, the former head of security for the Vattas. She survived the assassination attempts and helped keep the women and children who survived alive. Though she looks like a harmless old lady, she is anything but, and helped overthrow the President of Slotter's Key, who had been blackmailed into helping bring down the Vattas. Now on the Council that runs Slotter Key, she is helping coordinate the hunt for Gammis Turek, the ruthless space pirate who was behind the attack.
But all is not well. Rafe Dunbarger, Stella's former flame and head of the ISC, is having problems with the company his father used to run. The former second-in-command was in league with Gammis Turek and was jealous of Rafe as well, causing his father to kick him out, virtually penniless. With Rafe's father out of commission due to a brain aneyurism, and the second in command finally gotten rid of, Rafe is now in charge of ISC, only to find that their spaceforce is in tatters due to poor maintenance and the embezzlement of funds meant to maintain it, and the board wants to blame the Vattas for the entire thing and Gammis Turek as well.
Unfortunately for them all, Gammis Turek has many more tricks up his sleeve, and there is a long way for them to go before he can be taken down. With his spies everywhere, even the corridors of ISC itself, can the five of them keep the Vatta family together, and take down Gammis Turek before more people die?
This book marks the end of the stories of the Vatta family, and especially Kylara Vatta. Still, the one thing that stands out about this story is how it is the women who end up pulling the bacon out of the fire, by taking command. Now, I'm generally a feminist-leaning person anyway, but it was definitely a breath of fresh air to see women being the ones doing most of the work getting the galaxy in order. Although Kylara's position in command finally takes its toll, requiring her to go in for some psychiatric help, the women in general in this book are portrayed as being as strong, and in many cases, far stronger (as well as more devious, honorable, charming and intelligent) than the men. But every character gets their own chance to shine and to help bring events to a resolution.
The best part of Elizabeth Moon's novels is that it is impossible to be bored when you are reading them. Even when the action isn't tense in the middle of a battle, or in some high-stakes political or business meeting, your attention is still engaged and active, so that even Ky's time in Psych is interesting and not dull or boring, as it might be with a lesser writer. And while her characters are strong, they are not without their flaws, either. And they can also make mistakes, mistakes that can end up costing them. Nor are some characters more interesting than others. No matter who is at the forefront currently, you will find yourself still interested in reading and seeing what is going on, and what will come next. And even if the story ends here, you can still imagine what will occur for them in the future, and still want to know.
The story and these characters may end here, but I hope she revisits this remarkable family at some point in the future, so we can see them again, or get to know the next generation.
Next up: "To Hell and Back" by Lilith Saintcrow, the last in the Dante Valentine series of novels.