What timing, as over the weekend I read this space opera beauty by Grand Master of Science Fiction Anne McCaffrey, and one of the space opera greats, Elizabeth Moon. Ms. McCaffrey was extremely generous with the brand name in the late 80s early 90s, co-writing with a number of folk to help increase awareness for young writers. Sassinak is the product of that, a book in her Planet Pirates series which followed the two Ireta Dinosaur Planet books.
The original books in the series are not the best of McCaffrey work, but not the worst either, resulting in a world that I wasn’t all that impressed with after those novels. When I read the co-written The Death Of Sleep with Jody Lynn Nye is when the series really took hold for me. A beautiful story about the perils of space travel and cryogenic freezing, and dealing with life, love, family over time. It gave a lot of depth to the character of Lunzie, and crossed over at the end of the book with the original two books.
Sassinak follows the same format. It starts with young Sassinak growing up with pirates, getting captured by slavers, and rescued by the fleet. The fleet then becomes the only family she knows and she works her tail off to move up the ranks despite no help or political influence to the name. The book really breaks down into 4 novellas, each stories of their own: 1. youth and slavers 2. first fleet assignments 3. Sassinak, commander and pirate hunter 4. the overlap with Ireta.
The character work is wonderful, great plot that goes through it dealing with the prejudice against “heavy worlders” in the fleet, and sabotage erupting from political conflict. I loved the real glimpse at military life, and the bond that’s formed “once fleet, always fleet” between people looking out for each other. The second act with Sassinak dealing with a saboteur and getting jettisoned into an escape pod with limited air was very tense and beautiful. The third novella was most fun with the pirates attacking, hiding on a moon and using resourcefulness to get back to fleet. It really provided a great character lead, using wits and smarts and social skills — the character feeling like a real woman and a great lead at the same time.
I think the fourth novella/act in the book is the weakest, which is where it overlaps with Ireta. We see things from a different perspective, and a lot of the story is glossed over to where I’m not sure it even works if you didn’t read Ireta. As a consequence, this part felt a little flat for me, but the first 3/4 of the book was good enough that it makes it worth it. I look forward to the sequel Generation Warriors as the end set up a nice little promise to go hunt some space pirates.