The Company Man (Red Dragon #1) by Becky Black

The Company ManWhy I read it:  I saw some good reviews and it was on special at LooseID so I bought it.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Jarvez Kashari travels light, sacrificing relationships for ambition. Alyn Evans is out to establish himself as a company captain. Falling in love was not part of either man’s plans.

The Red Dragon is a ship in trouble. It was once the pride of the Outer Spiral Trading Company’s fleet, but is neglected and fallen from its old glory. It’s a ship in need of love – and a new captain.

Alyn Evans is a man in need of a new challenge. He’s an ex-warship captain and peace has put him out of a job. A man of his experience should have no trouble commanding a merchant ship…he thinks. But of all the challenges he faces on his first trip out, the hardest one is keeping his hands off his gorgeous and fascinating company rep, Jarvez Kashari.

Jarvez Kashari is a man with a plan. He’s determined to make a name as the company’s best trader and thinks reviving the fortunes of the Red Dragon is the perfect opportunity to prove himself. Jarvez travels light, sacrificing personal relationships to focus on his ambitions – until he meets Alyn Evans. Falling in love was not part of the plan.

It’s four months to Earth. Four months for Alyn to juggle passengers, prisoners, suspicious officers, a resentful crew and the intensifying relationship with Jarvez. Four months in space with a traitor aboard…

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I don’t have tons of experience with science-fiction/space opera – although I adore the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold.  That kind of world building is not present here – in part because it is a relatively short book (as compared to say, Shards of Honor) and in part because it is firstly a romance IMO.  (Shards of Honor is primarily a sci-fi book which a romantic element.) My husband and I still grieve over the loss of Firefly and enjoy various sci-fi tv shows, so it’s not a wonder that I’m interested in combining my love or romance with sci-fi.  I was prepared for the world building to be less developed here – it’s a trade off I don’t mind making for a satisfying romance but there were a couple of things I found jarring.  I don’t know whether it is a quirk of mine or reflective of my inexperience with the genre but it was kind of strange to see Earth being apparently the same as it is now except for adding hyperspace travel.  There are still countries – Jarvez’ family is from Iran, Alyn is from Wales, one of the other officers is from France, smuggler is from Australia (of course, because: convicts *rolls eyes*).  While I enjoyed the multiculturality (I know that’s not a real word) of the cast (and how aspects of those things were woven (mostly) skilfully into the characterisations), I haven’t come across future Earth being described quite that way before. Usually, it is a colony or planet where the racial identity is “human” for example.  I found it harder to imagine space travel hundreds of light years away and humans born on Mars right along with the kind of everyday Earth I know now.    I don’t suppose, when I think about it, it is any more unrealistic than any other sci-fi I’ve read, but there you are.

I didn’t feel overburdened by the world-building and I thought there was enough there to make the story clear – apart from that one jarring factor (which may or may not be fair) and one other, I thought it did what it had to do and made internal sense.  The other thing which had me wondering was why it took Alyn five days after their mid-journey supply stop at New Vegas to ask his Morale Officer how many of their crew had deserted during it.  Wouldn’t that be something the captain would want/need to know straight away?

Alyn’s character in The Company Man felt more fully fleshed out than Jarvez’s to me.  In many ways, Alyn is the more straight-forward of the two. He’s all about rules and protocol and honour – having come from the military and having military parents.  Jarvez was a little opaque to me but I expect both the main characters and the world building will be expanded in the next book (which is on my TBR).

Alyn and Jarvez meet anonymously in a Turkish bath before Alyn joins his new command, the spaceship Red Dragon.  To his surprised dismay, Jarvez (whom he knew as “Ji”) is the Company representative and they will have to work together closely.  Morale is low on the ship due to the previous captain and company rep conspiring to embezzle funds from the ship’s maintenance and crew.  To top it all off, they are transporting the two prisoners back to Earth on a trip which will take around four months and during which time Jarvez is tasked with identifying the previously unknown third conspirator.

I liked that the cast of the ship had things to do and they felt like real characters and I really liked that the female characters were balanced and mostly positively portrayed. I only say mostly because the former captain is a female and she is clearly a villain – but the company rep in the next cell is male so I felt that was a fair balance and representative of equality in its own way).

The story felt somewhat episodic in that there would be a sudden shift in action – particularly toward the end.  The tension and pacing just jumped into warp speed (pardon the pun) from something that had been far less frenetic to then.  In some respects, it felt a bit like there was a rush to finish the story and so all of a sudden the accelerator pedal was pushed.

On the other hand, I liked that Alyn and Jarvez thought about the pros and cons of pursuing a relationship and took some time to get to know each other.  Nevertheless, I would have liked more non-sex together time to see more of why they were friends.  In the end, I felt like it was mostly told not shown on page.

What else? Parts of the story (particularly the last third or so) were exciting and kind of swashbuckle-y but others felt a little flat and I thought the “I love you” exchanged by the characters was a little premature and kind of clunky – it didn’t feel like what the characters would say.

Quite often, a sci-fi tv series needs a couple of episodes to hit its stride and I think that may be the case here.  The was enough enjoyment to make me interested in reading the next book and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next one feels more smoothly orchestrated and delivers better on the promise of this one.  I enjoyed it but I’m hoping for more next time.

Favourite Quote:

He had no idea if this kind of activity in public was illegal here, but it was hardly a dignified position for a ship’s captain to be caught in. But the part that wanted him to stop this was substantially outvoted. And then taken out to the back alley and given a good going-over in a shocking case of voter intimidation.

Grade: C+



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