I know “reliable” doesn’t sound like high praise, but I definitely don’t mean it as an insult. Sometimes you just want to grab something you know will be good and decent, won’t piss you off or make you cry, and won’t waste your reading time, even if you know it won’t stay with you. For me, Elizabeth Moon seems to be shaping up to be my “reliable” pick when I’m at the library. They always have a bunch, and it doesn’t really matter if you jump in in the middle of a series.
In this one, which doesn’t feel like a first book in a series (lots of alluded-to background), Admiral Ky Vatta is returning to her home planet for some sort of business deal. It’s been decades since she was there, and her powerful family has some enemies, so when the shuttle taking her to the planet’s surface crash-lands with murdered pilots, it’s unclear if she’s the target, or the Commandant who was sent to escort her. She survives, along with about 20 passengers and crew, but the Commandant does not. They land in a freezing ocean on the side of the planet with no civilization, and the only landmass is only labeled “terraforming failure” on all the maps. Dun dun duuuuun!
So the first part of the book is a survival story, as the survivors figure out their life rafts, the weather, the sharks, food and water, and how to get to land, all while knowing there’s a probable saboteur with them. Once they land on the uninhabited continent, things get weirder, as they find a whole secret base that doesn’t exist on any maps. Then the book shifts into more of a mystery, as there are attempts on Ky’s life, efforts to establish communications with the outside world (who assume there were no shuttle survivors) without alerting whoever owns the empty base to their presence, and a lot of investigating shenanigans happening on the other side of the planet as Ky’s family and friends try to find her.
Solid, dependable writing, decent characters, decent plot. There are a lot of loose threads at the end, but I’m sure they’re all resolved in the next book, which I will probably not read soon enough to bother remembering them all. Which is a shame, because I’d like to know how the mystery turns out.