I picked up the audiobook edition of Cartwright’s Cavaliers by Mark Wandrey, expecting pretty much what I saw on the cover — big mech fights. While he certainly delivered on that cover promise in this book, he also delivered a lot more. Forgive me if I misspell any names, as having the audio version meant I didn’t actually see the words.
The book opens with a character who has physical flaws limiting him from how good he is in standard merc duties — he’s a big fat kid — who in the first few chapters goes from having a silver spoon of being the son of the owners of one of the most famous merc companies in the universe, the Cartwright’s Cavaliers, to losing it all and being near destitute. It’s an engaging opening, where you develop a lot of sympathy for Jim. He’s good a good tactical and business oriented mind all the same, and while others have better physical prowess, he’s able to climb out of his hole and jumpstart the company. It brings me fond memories of Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Warrior’s Apprentice, which is one of my favorite books to this day.
And that theme takes place throughout the whole book. Over and over, Jim climbs out of a hole, jumpstarts a situation, until the end where there’s a much more literal jumpstart that’s needed that’s pretty epic and I won’t spoil for potential readers.
The book’s pacing is solid all the way through with the action building in intensity and complexity like one would expect. I like the different alien creatures and this deep history with an ancient war of alien races that still looms over the galaxy to this day — even though those races are long gone.
The addition of Splunk later on was a welcome change of pace. What Mark did at certain points was give us some nice alien moments that give a break in the action. There’s a lot of military procedural combat, and in a lot of stories I get very bored with that — but because of the breaks in the pacing where it does shift to different concepts and mode of the story, I never found myself disengaged from this book.
The world is very well developed. I love the concept of human merc guilds and a big four called the Four Horsemen. The alien races are pretty neat and I’m enjoying a universe populated by a lot of them that feels like a Star Trek or Star Wars. There is a lot going on and a lot left to explore. At no point did I feel that I was lacking any details or whatnot to make it feel more like I was in the story. Many of the elements are of the standard, classic science fiction that I love and was excited to see in a modern form. It was refreshing.
There’s not a lot of flaws in the book. I mentioned that there are some heavy procedural points which I know a lot of people like (David Weber, John Ringo fans will enjoy) but isn’t so much my style. I would say the romance plot felt a tad forced and wasn’t as developed as I’m used to given my more Lois Bujold and Elizabeth Moon variety of reading that I’m used to. But I’ll stress that’s minor, it never threw me out of the book.
I know Chris Kennedy has a book in this series that came out next, and it’s cool that multiple authors are playing in this universe. It should develop into quite a franchise over time and I look forward to that.
On the audio presentation. Narrator was pretty good. At first I thought maybe he was a bit dry, but I ended up liking him a lot as the book went on.
Overall — this is an incredibly strong book. Fast paced action, memorable characters, an epic climax and leaving you wanting for more. If this is the direction space opera is going, we may see a big resurgence in the genre.