Disclaimer: Please, note that English is not my first language. I apologize in advance because I know there could be some mistakes in the text below. I’m trying to improve it, thanks.
In a previous post in this blog I was excited about the preceding work by Ian Sales, the four great stories included in The Apollo Quartet (sorry, this one is only in Spanish). In the present case my impressions have been somewhat different: A Prospect of War is a very distinct work, in my opinion it is a challenge for the author because it is his first novel, and if we also consider that is part of a trilogy, this challenge could be also qualified as a tour de force.
A conspiracy threatens the throne of His Imperial Highness Willim IX by the mysterious enemy called The Serpent. A renegade battlecruiser, Vengeful; among his crew Commander Rinharte and Lieutenant Kordelasz are entrusted with a dangerous mission in Tanabria Station. Meanwhile, on the planet Darrus, Lady Finesz, from the Office of the Procurator Imperial, finds a plot that exceeds the apparently routine mission entrusted by his superiors. Finally, Casimir Ormuz, a young crew member from a data freighter conceals a great secret. Some events will lead those characters to a journey through different planets, while the threat of a civil war looms over the galactic empire.
The book is 650 pages long, divided in sixty-eight chapters. A Prospect of War is a novel that takes its time but I have never found boring, since it allows me to enjoy their chivalrous dialogue and the detailed planetary descriptions, as commented below. However, I consider that the development of the plot shows some flaws such as the evolution of the character Casimir Ormuz, or the lack of definition about The Serpent.
About the characters, I must say that generally they may look somewhat rigid with all that militaristic stuff, although I do not think this is a key issue because they are also those who are not easily forgotten. Specially, in the case of Casimir Ormuz, the more developed character, for some reason I has not found his evolution throughout the novel entirely plausible. Besides that, no more objections: I consider the novel is well conceived and better written.
A Prospect of War is formally a space opera, within the subgenre known as military science fiction or space naval adventures. In this sense there are aspects of the book reminiscent both the military science fiction as Honor Harrington novels, and also the Patrick O'Brian’s British Navy adventures. We must remember that this particular naval aesthetic has been in the space opera since its beginnings; right now I'm thinking about the great classic The Mote in God's Eye (1974) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
An explanation here: I understand by analogy with naval stories of the British Empire the use of some concepts, for example the honor, or some archaic concepts of war transferred to the space, including sword fighting. We also could see that in the archaic language and continuous use of the sailor slang. In short, we could say the well-known saying: of other times, more noble and civilized, where honor and chivalry prevailed. So to speak, of course, the naval combat in the eighteenth century was nothing to do with civilization (neither combat is). As an example: when asked whether his captor must allow her to retain his weapon, Commander Rinharte replied: I cannot give you my word that I will not run away. My duty compels me to try (and gives him the sword).
A Prospect of War is, in my opinion, a reflection of the tastes of the author: military futuristic stuff but with a retro technology look (but nothing to do with steampunk), and a passion for science fiction shown in every page. We could say that is a nostalgic novel of other forms of war, and also to a more classical style of science fiction. In this regard I must highlight the excellent worldbuilding about each of the planets and their societies. Or how it justifies faster than light space travel and the implications this has on the development of the plot. The complexity of the empire, and especially the wealth of details suggested of the worlds visited, reminisces pleasantly the great stories by the Grand Master Jack Vance.
Finally, a couple of points to note: the strong role of the women in the novel, who hold the most command posts; and also that there are no distinctions of gender, women and men participate equally in combat. The second is the social hierarchies in the Empire, the almost insurmountable barrier between aristocrats and proletarians, an issue that it appears that will be more important in the sequels.
I recently read a review in the blog SF Signal which indicates that it is an interesting but flawed novel. In my humble opinion I cannot agree that it is a failed novel, although I consider that the author should monitor some aspects in the sequels. My impression is that Mr. Sales has spread their pieces in the board of this galactic wargame, reserving the development for the sequels. In this regard, a notice to mariners: A Prospect of War ends in an absolute cliffhanger.
To sum up, although it is not a novel for everyone, it is a space opera with a plus that makes it very enjoyable. I am sincere when I say that I am left wanting more adventures of Commander Rizbeka demar Rinharte and the skilled swordsman Garrin demar Kordelasz. I consider that if the sequels are at the same level, and the author corrects the aspects which I have mentioned, it will become a trilogy highly recommended.