Review of Victory Conditions by Elizabeth Moon
by Elizabeth Moon
Let’s pause for a moment and savour the feeling of completing a series. That’s not always an easy undertaking, especially when reading them entirely through the library! After five books, this series is ready for a conclusion. Elizabeth Moon delivers everything you might think you want—tension and build-up to a big, fancy space battle, and then a little resolution—but I’m not sure always delivers it how one would want. As always, this series has hovered on the edge of too pedantic, too detail-oriented for its own good. Victory Conditions carries on that tradition.
As usual, spoilers for previous books in the series but not this one.
Ky Vatta is preparing to fight the next battle in her war with pirate Gammis Turek. She has had some success recently, and various governments are beginning to align with her and offer ships for her effort. But it still might not be enough. Meanwhile, cousin Stella is running one half of Vatta Enterprises and supervising a love-sick Toby. Grace is running a lot of Slotter’s Key, and Rafe is still on Nexus, trying to disentangle the ISC from many years of corrupt management.
There are too many main characters in this book. For a book of this size, there’s just too many people we are supposed to care about. And I really do think this leads to Moon dropping the ball: Toby, for instance, features prominently at the beginning of the story, only to be sidelined afterwards. We barely hear from him at all for the entire rest of the novel. Even for characters who receive their fair share of screen time, like Rafe or Stella, they seldom seem to have the time to breathe and grow. There’s this subtle conflict between Stella and Ky that is the result of their different yet equally strong and stubborn personalities: Stella thinks she is looking out for Ky when it comes to Rafe, and also Stella is very concerned about the business side of things; Ky, on the other hand, is laser-focused about winning the fight against Turek at any cost—and she is none too happy about Stella interfering with her love life either. It’s a lovely conflict, but it only gets a few pages here or there.
Meanwhile, of course, Moon treats us to the ongoing logistics of refitting, supplying, and then fighting with so many ships. If you have made it this far in the series, then none of this will surprise you. Most of this book is meetings or conversations about weapons loads, stress profiles, etc. This is military science fiction at its most significant attempt to be “realistic,” and I like it, but I won’t pretend it’s riveting.
Shout-out to Moon for including a chapter where Ky seeks therapy for her trauma, particularly with regards to having to kill so many people. Even when books like this acknowledge the toll that constant violence and combat takes, often they do it to demonstrate how edgy and tortured their protagonist is. For Moon to point out that even the best commanders need medical help from time to time is very important.
Beyond that, I’d like to say I loved this book, but honestly I’m happy the series is over. The first two books are the best: Ky is new to her situation and really needs to think on her feet while confronting a tense series of dangers. These last three books have raised the stakes, but in terms of plot and pacing—and now characterization—they’ve just felt off. A little dull.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Turek has been a disappointing villain. This isn’t really his fault. For the first few books, he was barely more than a shadow—people died saying his name. In this book, he’s broadcasting moustache-twirling messages to various systems, telling everyone how much they will fear his name! Moon lampshades this in the book, but combined with the anti-climactic confrontation that happens between Ky and Turek … alas, he never had the chance or space to grow into a truly formidable, interesting personality.
Victory Conditions has a lot going for it. However, it’s also an example of a series that stumbles mid-way and never quite regains a solid footing. There is nothing wrong or bad here, nothing really even boring—but there also isn’t anything to make me sit up and say, “Wow, now that’s an ending.”