The third Vatta’s War book picks up where the second left off, but keeps itself largely on immediate concerns, instead of doing a lot with the big McGuffin-related issued that dominate the second book.

Mostly, that’s because there’s other issues that need addressing. But the ISC fades into the background including Rafe, who gets less screen-time and sent out of the plot at the end (actually, he’ll probably get to be a separate plot line viewpoint character next time). Instead, we’re concentrating on the fact that a near-scrapping merchant hauler has been joined by a larger, more powerful ship that has been seized from pirates.

The legality of that last (it was originally registered to Vatta Transport) is one of the low-powered engines of the book. Among the more legal problems, it also splits up Kylara and her cousin Stella, so that distance can start adding to misunderstandings between them. This is potentially interesting, and the instinct here is good, but it’s not handled that well, which helps the book underperform.

Aside from those two, we get some spy-thriller action back on Slotter Key. The action was well done, but I have my problems with this plot line, because the principles involved are too perfect. It also resolves out too perfectly with clandestine action. I think leaning over to the political side a bit, and presenting some turmoil as people in the government start wondering if perhaps they’ve got people who have aided and abetted a vicious attack on civilian targets on their own planet, and how to get them out of power…. Of course, that’d be a far more complicated plot line, and perhaps a far more unrealistic one to get the plot where it needs to go.

Meanwhile, bigger events are happening. We slowly get to see this is a larger conspiracy between a lot of pirates, and whoever is behind the new ansible system. A system is invaded and taken over mid-way through, with word rapidly leaking out, and all the fear reactions that follow from that. And that helps propel the part of the book that is it’s main contribution to the overall plot. Kylara Vatta has a Letter of Marque from Slotter Key, and she now has a ship that can actually fight. But what’s going on is far bigger than any one ship is able to handle. She’s going to have to find a way to motivate a larger force into taking this on.

So, in many ways, this is slower burn all the way through. However, the tension does ratchet up through the novel, and we have a nice action scene at the end. All the previous strengths are here: we have a good lead character, an interesting situation, and good writing. As a middle book, it serves it purpose in the larger narrative well, and keeps things moving enough that it doesn’t feel like the plot is bogging down, though there’s only partial resolution here.