The galaxy is mired in a cold war between two superpowers, the Illyrican Empire and the Commonwealth. Thrust between this struggle are Simon Kovalic, the Commonwealth’s preeminent spy, and Kyle Rankin, a lowly soldier happily scrubbing toilets on Sabea, a remote and isolated planet. However, nothing is as it seems.
Kyle Rankin is a lie. His real name is Eli Brody, and he fled his home world of Caledonia years ago. Simon Kovalic knows Caledonia is a lit fuse hurtling towards detonation. The past Brody so desperately tried to abandon can grant him access to people and places that are off limits even to a professional spy like Kovalic.
Kovalic needs Eli Brody to come home and face his past. With Brody suddenly cast in a play he never auditioned for, he and Kovalic will quickly realize it’s everything they don’t know that will tip the scales of galactic peace. Sounds like a desperate plan, sure, but what gambit isn’t?
The Caledonian Gambit is a throwback to the classic sci-fi adventures of spies and off-world politics, but filled to the brim with modern sensibilities.
Dan Moren is the author of the Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi spy novels, including The Nova Incident, The Aleph Extraction, and The Bayern Agenda, as well as The Caledonian Gambit. His work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, PopSci.com, Yahoo Tech, The Magazine, Tom's Guide, TidBITS, Six Colors, and Macworld, where he formerly worked as a senior editor.
Dan's also a regular panelist on the Parsec-award-winning geek culture podcast The Incomparable, co-host of tech podcasts Clockwise and The Rebound, and writer and host of the nerdy game show Inconceivable! He lives with his family in Somerville, MA, where he is never far from a twenty-sided die.
"“You know what?” Brody said, his voice stressed to the breaking point. “I’m sick and tired of feeling like a pawn in some intergalactic game of chess. Ever since I left Sabaea, everybody wants to tell me a different story. Help this guy, don’t help that one, we need your help, nobody will get hurt, I promise. Why the bloody hell should I trust you?”"
It may take you a while to figure out who are the good guys and who aren’t…way longer if you are driven by a strong moral compass. But it won’t take you more than a millisecond to figure out that you are following the adventures of Elijah Brody.
Along the way, you will look at the new balance of power and get a sense of what happened to old Earth. But this is driven by a deadline that goes as follows: "“What happens if we don’t?” “Well, as the general would have it, the Illyrican Empire will roll over the Commonwealth, darkness will swallow the land, and we’ll all be forced to live under the rule of an aging autocratic dictator whose policies are increasingly informed by a coterie of counselors with their own selfish interests at heart.”"
This isn’t much of a sci-fi or space-military yarn. It is more of a future Celtic space-opera with a full measure of family troubles thrown into the mix.
"’I’m selfish? Sit down and shut up, you worthless, good for nothing piece of shite. Let me tell you a thing or two about selfishness. Selfishness would be running away to side with the very people who brutally invaded your home. Selfishness would be leaving behind a brother, a sister, and parents who were just scraping by and could have used the extra income. Selfishness, my fucking idiot brother, would be not returning your sister’s message when she asked you desperately to come home.’”
Tick-tock, there are only a few days left and Elijah Brody is, reluctantly, right in the middle of this clash of Empires. Nothing is very unusual in this imagined world, but the dialogue is snappy and the characters are interesting enough to stay with this thriller to the end.
2.5 raised to 3 because of the “hell for leather” conclusion.
This isn't bad for a first book from an author. However, one of the top rated reviews here compares Caledonian Gambit to the Vorkosigan series, and I can assure you that it doesn't really compare to that in anyway (other than being a sci-fi book). The humor, characters and plot don't even come close to Bujold's work (the Vorkosigan books are my favorite sci-fi series - so it's a very high bar).
That being said, it was a pretty good spy-caper, as long as you're not expecting anything new or surprising. I'd call it a "beach read" - something you read when you just want mindless entertainment (in a good way). The main character Brody was pretty vanilla, but I did like the special ops team characters. As others have mentioned in reviews there really aren't any women in the book except as background.
My main gripe about this book is that a lot of it felt forced or unrealistic. There's a lot of "current-era" jargon and technology - it didn't feel especially futuristic. A lot of the dialog seemed formulaic - like "insert wise ass comment here", "insert brooding, cryptic comment here". My biggest issue was the ending - it wasn't believable & everything works out too perfectly I realize it's science fiction, but rules of believably still apply. That being said, I think this author has potential and I did like the book despite a few flaws.
Dan's long-awaited first novel. Congratulations! Interesting mashing up of genres here. Some funny lines, but sometimes he tries too hard to be quippy. I don't know if all the cliched language is supposed to be an homage to old detective novels or what, but I found the language took me out of the book quite a few times. Storywise it is a pretty good romp though, and if you think there should be more Scots-Irish in space, this is your book!
Given the title, cover and blurb, I thought it was a safe bet this was a sci-fi book. However, given that the vast majority of the events could just as easily take place in any modern day action novel, the sci-fi tag is a bit misleading. The story supposedly takes place a couple of centuries in the future, where wormholes have already been figured out and used to colonize multiple solar systems. So the fact that almost every other technology seems to have remained virtually unchanged is a bit of a head-scratcher and I'd argue, bad sci-fi writing.
As for the characters, they're as generic as you're likely to come across and I'm already struggling to remember any distinguishing details for any of them. The protagonist was especially forgettable since his character arc was incredibly cliche while being a metaphorical puppet to every other character, despite the author's lame attempt to give him some agency towards the end. The secondary characters were somewhat more interesting, but with such a low bar, that wasn't very hard. The antagonist was at least fleshed out a bit and had believable motivations for what he did, but unfortunately, he ended up being predictable and underwhelming, much like the story itself.
The writing was very much on the amateurish side with this feeling every bit the debut novel it was. The pacing was on the slow side while the world building was basic and disappointing. The dialogue was cringy and took up way too much of the book at the expense of decent action sequences and meaningful character development. The attempts at humour fell flat for me and the quippy nature of the dialogue got old very quickly. The plot was formulaic and the twists felt underserved with the climax feeling especially forced, mostly because it started being a sci-fi book again after it had already cemented itself as a simple, contemporary caper.
Despite all those issues, I didn't actually hate this book and I'd even be hard pressed to say that I disliked it. Sure, it was boring and deserves the single star it's getting, but this would be a 1.5 if I could give half stars. It was perfectly in between ok and dislike. The main reason I couldn't justify the 2 stars though was the cop-out on the sci-fi aspects for the meat of the story. I just can't imagine recommending this to anyone, especially not sci-fi enthusiasts. The narration of the audiobook was also quite mediocre which made it a great sleep aid, but only passable as an audiobook.
Moren sets up a truly compelling world in his first novel. It feels like a cross between a Lois McMaster Bujold story and something out of Rainbow Six. Funny, smart, and I couldn't put it down by the end. The book was a pleasure to read and I'm looking forward to the next one. Highly recommended.
The Caledonian Gambit is a political intrigue spy novel that happens to take occur in space. I noticed a lot of reviewers on Goodreads took exception to the fact that intelligence gathering and the effect of politics on family relationships took first billing over pure science fiction, but I don’t really have a problem with that. Sci-Fi has always been used to reflect upon human reality in that way.
I like the characters, despite what some of the grumblers felt about Eli Brody’s lack of competence. I do get tired of books in which all the (mostly male) characters all border on superhero levels of skill. I’m ok with a little realism. Some of the people in the book are extremely assured and capable, and some are a little less eager to be thrust into dicey situations (but still possess beneficial skills of their own).
Speaking of mostly male, this book IS mostly male characters. Eli’s sister seems like a plot device more than a person. There’s more hope for Gwen, and I presume we’ll see her again in the sequels I also presume are on the way.
Overall, I liked the book. I think my score would fall in the 3 - 3.5 range. Author Dan Moren’s prose feels confident and natural, despite this being his first novel. Some people complained about his use of similes and strange grammatical syntax; those people should probably never pick up a Neal Stephenson book.
I do agree, though, that the Irish brogue and scenery transported from earth to Caledonia seems a little out there, and this was my main issue with the book. I suppose it’s possible that planets or cities on planets might be colonized primarily by people of a specific background, but it seems unlikely. At times it felt like a space version of the Northern Ireland conflict, and I had to wonder if the author drew any inspiration from that particular bit of history.
I think the truth of the quality of the book lies somewhere between the scores awarded by the grumps and the enthusiasts. Almost every book I read is proof to me in one way or another that writing a novel is really hard, and The Caledonian Gambit is no exception. When it’s good, it’s pretty darn good, and when it stumbles, it does pull the reader out of the story a bit. Overall, though, I think it promises at a good future for Dan Moren books, because when he was on a roll, it felt like the work of a much more experienced author. I just hope he leaves the Irish pubs at home next time.
Congratulations to Dan Moren on his first novel. I’ll definitely read his next.
Once again, despite all the rave reviews for this "sci-fi" novel, I'm walking away. To me, this reads like the most typically mediocre spy thriller in the world, just in space...like, every single bit of dialogue feels like the expected thing to say, and the characters all feel like total cardboard. I'm a third of the way through and there hasn't been a single unique or interesting situation, other than a wormhole shutting down and cutting a ship in half. That happens at the very beginning of the book, but not much time is spent on it, and instead we skip forward in time to a boring super spy type trying to find a missing agent and a boring best-pilot-in-the-universe type (forget that he's only ever flown one mission) trying to find his brother (in the dumbest way possible).
Just...I don't get it. It seems like another one of those sci-fi novels for people who don't actually like sci-fi. I'm giving it two stars because I don't hate it, but I'm also not remotely interested enough to finish it. This just isn't my thing.
I rarely read space opera, but this was a bit slow for my taste. The attempt at humor was very cliche, which did not help. The book was not bad, just okay. I listened to the audiobook and the narration was good.
This book isn't as good as the ones that come after it, but still worthy of a 5 star, and definitely worthy of a read. Think Le Carre crossed with sci fi. Love these books - one of my new favourite authors!
I loved this book! Thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. I can’t believe this is the author’s first book. Very well done. I finished this book 5 minutes ago and I’ve already purchased the second book in the series.
A pleasant easy read of a book. For long stretches, it didn’t even seem like SF, more like a terrestrial spy thriller, but the opening and the ending involves space flight, so it qualifies. The story takes place over three action-packed days, principally following Eli Brody, a native of the planet Caledonia who, nine years earlier, left to join the Space Navy of the hated Illyrican overlords, as he had always wanted to fly. Unfortunately, his first and only mission was a disaster, and he’s been a POW ever since. Now he has reluctantly allowed himself to be transported back to his home world, where the Commonwealth (the Illyrican Empire’s galactic rivals) want him to trace his elusive brother Eamon, who reportedly has the key to some new super-weapon being developed by the Illyricans. The other main POV is that of Simon Kovalic, a leader of the spy team for the Commonwealth, who have dragged Eli back to Caledonia. Kovalic is said to have a set of standards that he keeps to, making him a good guy in the hierarchy, where the Illyricans are assumed to be bad people – they take over planets and enslave the population…. The book races on to the final shoot-out in space, with a conclusive ending; the good guys win! However, one good thing about the story is that people on all sides (and there do seem to be more than one side) are a blend of good and bad. Indeed, I did wonder for a long time why the Caledonia Resistance (the Black Watch) and the Commonwealth spies didn’t just team up. The cultural history of Caledonia was just sketched at, indicating it was settled by Scots and Irish descendants, and became an “independent” world, before being subjugated by the Illyrican Empire. It seemed like the city names were just random collections of Scots and Irish towns, though the capital being called Raleigh seemed an outlier. The primary leader of the underground opposition organization, known as the Black Watch, has a code name of “De Valera”, and his own given name is Eamon. Interesting name-borrowing. The irony of calling a resistance group the Black Watch is that the original of that name were there to put down resistance in the wake of the 1715 rising of King James III. Did I like it? Well, yes, it was a page-turner. But I didn’t think it was all that original, and though it seems to leave a lot of room open for sequels, not the least personal relationships across spy services, I don’t think I will be back for more.
The devil is in the details and the details are where this book fails. Oh, it's a competent enough spy story, it's just that the sci-fi aspect keeps wandering off. Far too much of the book felt like it was taking place on Earth in the present day. That wouldn't have been a fatal flaw if it weren't for the lack of stakes, a problem that also largely goes back to the worldbuilding. Caledonia, the Illyrican Empire, the Commonwealth...the audience has no preset investment in the well-being of any of these governments or places and the book doesn't give us enough to get invested. Or at least not enough for me to.
Part of the problem is that one of the main characters seems to have no investment in any of them. He's Caledonian, but he enlisted in the conquering Illyrican's military, and then he's been stranded in the back of beyond for five years and...he has no investment in the book's central plot, basically. And when the characters don't care, the audience starts to wonder why they should.
Okay, yes, the other main character had the investment of being a Commonwealth agent, but somehow the stakes still didn't work. The time pressure of the plot never felt like pressure. (Maybe because the whole idea of dragging in this guy because his brother's involved - a brother he hasn't seen in nine years, I might add - didn't feel like desperation so much as "eh, this could work.")
(I'm pretty sure there were also timeline problems in the back story. Like I said. Devil. Details.)
This book was OK. It wasn't bad or particularly good, it was just OK. The protagonist was less interesting than the other characters (even the antagonist was more colorful and had more motivation). There were some witty dialogues, and a few short actions, otherwise it felt like a slow hike up a mountain.
It was OK, but that's it. Still, credit should be given to Dan Moren since this is his first book. Yes, the protagonist is weak and the story idea is not very original(or heavily influenced by real-world events) but it's well and clearly written.
The book is just boring, I don't know how else to say it. Almost halfway through the book and nothing interesting has happened. The characters are bland, and the dialogue is mediocre at best, laughable and cliché at worst.
I'm also not sure what the point of setting a book in the future and on another planet is if it's all going to be a carbon copy of Earth and have nothing that we do not currently have. This is a society that has somehow figured out how to harness the power of black holes, yet apparently hasn't changed anything else outside of calling cell phones "comms".
This is the opening novel in "The Galactic Cold War" series, which, at least based on this first book, appears to combine elements of espionage, space opera, and military science fiction in what proved to be a thoroughly entertaining mix. There are two main protagonists, both of whom I liked. There's abundant humor. There's darkness sufficient to give the book some weight, but not so much that it becomes a bleak reading experience.
I'll mention two minor quibbles....
Firstly, I found the prologue the least engaging and most generic part of the book -- it read like vanilla military science fiction. Since I enjoy military science fiction, that was still fine, but it didn't convey the individuality or humor that the rest of the book possesses. As a result, I picked up the book a couple of times over the past year, read the start, and then set it down again. Once past the prologue, I became hooked.
Secondly, while I thought the two main characters were well done, some of the supporting cast, especially Tapper, felt closer to stock characters (albeit, in Tapper's case, a stock character that I enjoy).
Quibbles aside, I enjoyed this very much. Enough so that I ordered the next two books before I'd finished reading this one.
About my reviews: I try to review every book I read, including those that I don't end up enjoying. The reviews are not scholarly, but just indicate my reaction as a reader, reading being my addiction. I am miserly with 5-star reviews; 4 stars means I liked a book very much; 3 stars means I liked it; 2 stars means I didn't like it (though often the 2-star books are very popular with other readers and/or are by authors whose other work I've loved).
A repressive galactic imperium intends to conquer another star system when said star system destroys their access to the galaxy. A lone prisoner, Eli, finds himself scrubbing toilets for the intended victim. After five long years, Eli finds himself free but immersed in a plot to thwart the imperium he had served.
Moren does a nice job with his characters. Eli and his PTS is sadly demonstrative of many of our current service people coming home from the wars. Eli’s teaming up with enemies of his former employer is not far fetched as his home had been a former victim of the imperium.
Kovalic’s special operations squad tackles a mystery and Eli ends up being torn between sibling rivalry, operational success and self loathing.
Eli Brody does not fit anywhere. After all everyone thinks he is dead. That is the start to a thrill a minute space opera with some science mixed in. Eli is tasked to find who and what is being developed and used as a weapon and stop its use. He has to deal with family, spies, old gang members, and not knowing who to trust. This is a fun read with a very well developed plot, fully fleshed out characters, and good world building. This ended with the mystery solved but there could be a interesting follow up. So far I have not seen any indication that one is in the works.
The narrative starts up quickly with some good space-fighting action, then turns to puzzling spy/ family drama. A good scifi spy novel with satisfying characters and just enough twists to keep you guessing. The interplanetary politics are fun, but ultimately, the dysfunctional family issues drove the plot for me.
This was actually a story about a two people involved in investigation and covert operations. One changed, mostly because he was not initially part of the operation, while the other merely became known to the first and to the reader. Other characters played a part only in how the related to these two. There was very little science, and that was mostly about propulsion and traveling enormous distances through the universe. Of course, there was plenty of fiction!
Skvělé prostředí, skvělé světy, postavy s propracovanými charaktery, hlavní postava dokonce ovládá humor, napětí, skvělá nálada a příběh v pozadí. Ale hlavní dějová linka, hlavní zápletka? Zklamání. Myslím, že když by se úplně stejné postavy ve stejném světě vydaly řešit míň nudný problém, bylo by to skvělé dílo.
I had put this book on my list, as it seemed to combine spies and space opera. Plus it was a new author, to me, so something to try out. A friend of mine had read it and gave me the book. I wanted to like it, but could never really get into it.
The plot is basic and is told without serious twists. Two political entities at war, a special ops team, and a lost pilot that could save the galaxy. A super weapon that will change the tide of the war.
Here, the characters are flat. No one is really interesting. The spy is able to figure out everything. The bad guy is simply angry and driven. Page may be the only interesting person, though he is a super hacker that can crack anything. The environment the author has placed the characters into has no sense that it is in a technic civilization. Maybe the trains. Sure there are spaceships, but very little actually happens in space or on a ship.
If you took away some of the surface tweaks, this could be a story about the IRA and the British occupiers. Right down to the gaelic and names. The spy then becomes an American interloper who needs a local to help get to places his accent won't admit him to. There is even a point in the book as the characters are walking through a part of the city where they comment that the place looks like a theme park version of where the colonists came from. Eh? There is very little speculation on society, as it is essentially 20th Century Ireland with smartphones.
There are plot holes and gaffs in explanation, too that really detracted from the story. If the planet where the wayward pilot was living cut off from the galaxy for five years, how did the Commonwealth know he was alive and to look for him? Right in the beginning, right from the blurb on the back, it didn't make sense. Or when faced with an unfamiliar ship, our team of heros is able to fly it (there is a bunch of handwaving around all Imperial ships are the same...). Or why put the super duper weapon on/near a planet that has a reputation for armed rebellion? At one point, the pilot says they are 25k km from a point in space & traveling at 5k km/hr. The very next line the super spy says they have 5 minutes. That is not how math works. But saying they have 5 hours wouldn't help the plot along.
In the end, the book was simply dull. Characters that have no life, a plot that keeps it on a planet for more than 2/3's of the pages, and numerous goofs that had me retracing pages to make sure I hadn't missed anything.
This book was hard for me to stay with because it kept plucking at my suspension of disbelief, daring it to unravel.
About a third of the book feels like science fiction - spaceships, FTL travel in space, galactic superpowers competing with each other in morally dubious ways. But then we get to the planet where a lot of the plot takes place and suddenly all of that futurism disappears. Descriptions of buildings, jobs, transportation, and everything have no resemblance to anything sci-fi at all. It felt like that part of the book could have been lifted out and placed in a standard espionage novel without raising an eyebrow. It bothered me because it showed a lack of care taken with the world building. For example, they have antigravity/repulsor carts to move cargo, but all of the ground vehicles and public transportation are 21st century-style wheels and train tracks?
The other jarring thing for me was that the freedom fighter/terrorist group at the center of the plot borrows a lot from the IRA in concept, including how people look, their names, and some of the language (I'm not sure if the phrasing they used was actually Gaelic but it looked convincing). In my opinion, the similarities should either have been downplayed or some sort of reason the group behaves a lot like the IRA should have been mentioned. The world is not a far-flung civilization of humans in a totally unfamiliar area - Earth is a thing and it's where all the humans came from, so some sort of link to the group or Ireland would have helped with the disbelief problem.
Despite those issues the story was a decent read. The clandestine agent protagonist was fun to follow and was competent without overcoming every obstacle effortlessly, and his team helped to provide some laughs. The other main character Eli was less entertaining because he was basically drifting along clueless the entire time, but that was his established role from the beginning, so I could overlook it. Despite being a mystery/espionage plot there wasn't a lot of mystery for me; the big reveals of the story were easy to anticipate; a lot of clues are dropped leading up to them.
This isn't currently listed as part of a series but the end of the book certainly leaves it open for a sequel at least. I would probably pick up another book if it came out but I don't know that I'd rush to get it.
Too many science fiction novels focus on the whiz-bang special effects, and then rely on stock characters with crystal-clear good / bad alignments. Fortunately, Moren's story is free of this defect: characters on all sides of the political & cultural divides in the novel are a blend of good and bad (and indifferent), giving the novel a healthy and welcome dose of reality.
Not that there aren't some whiz-bang battles and high-tech gadgets within. Moren drops hints along the way about the super-secret technology that will change the galaxy, and the opening and closing battles in particular provide plenty of action. Spy thriller fans will rejoice in the presence of one Simon Kovalic and his sidekicks, as they track down missing operatives and shadowy Caledonian provacateurs. But it's the internal and interpersonal journeys that are the novel's real strength. Political, cultural, and family alliances shift in a lifelike--and sometimes heartbreaking--way.
There was a distinct lack of estrogen in this universe, though. One female character was there largely to provide motivation for others' rage; another did pack a solid punch, but was not a major presence; another was supposedly intelligent, but was motivated only by romantic interest. (Moren gets extra points for giving us a glimpse of an older woman, but loses them all because she is shopping.) My favorite female character was sadly relegated to only one scene. Here's hoping this oversight will be corrected in future excursions to this part of the galaxy.
Finally: a note on the audiobook version. The narrator did a fine job with the "Caledonian" accents. Elijah Brody's voicing was very good--young, defiant, and sometimes bewildered. Simon Kovalic's was more problematic; not sure that a very proper British accent was the best choice for him.