I was put off from reading this for a full eight years mainly due to the horrible cover, but also some misgivings about David Drake. While I loved his Hammer’s Slammers, his writing has often been a bit wooden. The blurb just didn’t do it for me either. Well, I’m so happy to be proven wrong. “With the Lightnings” is quality military SciFi. The RCN series has been likened to the Hornblower books, However Drake himself says they are actually based on the Aubrey/Maturin books. Since those are in themselves inspired by the Hornblower series, I suppose both comparisons are apt.
Lt. Daniel Leary is an officer of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy. Cinnabar is a “great power” opposed by “the Alliance”. As in all good adventure fiction of this stripe, the Alliance is “evil” and Cinnabar is “good”. Leary is a supernumerary on a diplomatic mission to the planet Kostroma. Meanwhile, Adele Mundy, a Cinnabar information specialist in exile, has been hired to set up the ruler’s library on Kostroma. While they are there, the Alliance invades Kostroma. Leary and Mundy join forces and, with the help of a group of Cinnabar ratings, set about attempting to escape.
Swashbuckling action only begins to describe this book. Drake has adapted his technology and political/social structures to mimic the age of sail to a degree that would be ridiculous if it wasn’t such a good background for a story. Leary and Mundy are the perfect characters for this kind of thing. Daring, courageous and humorously cocky, yet by no means arrogantly sure of themselves. The locales are colorful, the characters engaging, the action furious and exciting.