Have you ever read something and had trouble nailing down your exact opinion on it? I mean, something that had an awesome premise and some good elements but wasn't quite what you wanted it to be? Have you ever been stuck in the moment unable to quite sort out what was there, what you wanted to be there, what you only thought was there and what should have been there? At some point I know I have to say something, but honestly, Cadogan's Gamble by Ron Francis has me a bit perplexed. It's not that the story itself was confusing. It's a pretty straightforward tale. It has a twist or two but nothing so unusual that I was unable to follow it. It just left me... confused about what I thought of it. Let's see if I can work this out here in public.
Cadogan's Gamble is a story about a bounty hunter who was forcibly retired from the military and his crew. They are paid to retrieve a missing alien and hopefully prevent a war. Things don't go exactly as planned, but what fun would the story be if they did? Things get twisted quickly. The crew of Cadogan's ship is not exactly normal either. You've got a mechanic with a personality disorder, the CO's ex-girlfriend as the second in command it's got all the right things to make a rocking space opera. Romantic connections, kidnapping and murder just scratch the surface. I mean, we're talking about potential to put this thing right up there with some of my favorites: Robotech, Honor Harrington, Grand Central Arena (and sequels) etc.
It gets better; The alien aggressors have better technology than the humans do. The primary weapons on the human ships can't touch the alien ships, although their missiles do work somewhat. But the humans have a line on the secret to the alien tech, if they can find a way to adapt it in time. And the enemy aliens have enemies of their own to contend with. This book should be over the top amazing. There's just so much here to make things interesting. This is a work that should be awesome dipped in awesome sauce on a freaking stick. This book should be the one you're looking to buy for the third time because you read your first two copies until the fell apart.
It keeps going. I've always been a fan of dialogue driven drama. Read a David Weber novel. Some of the conversations in his Honor Harrington and Safehold series books can move the plot along at a mile a minute. I'm still amazed by Al Pacino's monologue at the end of Devil's Advocate. Dialogue is something I live for and when it's well done I'll read a book or see a movie just for the dialogue. I mean, I work in a call center for forty hours a week and spend another eight or so hours a week on the phone on my own time just because I enjoy the conversation. Seriously. No one who works in a call center spends time on a phone but me. I just love words. I don't care if they're written, spoken, whatever.
That much being said, this book just does not live up to its potential. I really wanted to love this book and it just didn't get there for me. All of this awesome just kind of goes unused and neglected. It's like a huge, beautiful pool out behind your house that you never swim in. It might be worse than that because at least if I had a pool and didn't use it I could just up and change my mind one day and go dive in. All would be fixed the second I started my backstroke. The thing is, with a book someone else wrote there's just no way to run in and fix it.
This book suffers from much of what should be its strengths. I don't know how else to put it. There is too much dialogue. Conversations last for pages and pages and then once they end the book cuts to... another conversation. For the first probably hundred pages or so ninety plus percent of the words are devoted to talking or at least it seems that way. The book is one hundred fifty-two pages long. It's like listening to the old man in the corner tell stories about what life was look when he was young. It's just rough. You keep waiting for something to happen. I was reading one particular passage of this thing in the break room at work and someone asked me if I was okay. I guess I was making faces. It was pretty rough.
The space battles could have been much better. The first one was almost all dialogue. It takes place mainly from the bridge of the human flagship. Instead of action we're all treated to a series of sterile reports coming in from the bridge crew. I kept wondering if anything was going to happen at all. The second space battle was HUGE. Hundreds of ships were in a giant furball going toe to toe. This one battle could have put this book up with some of the aforementioned Honor Harrington novels or some of the better DS9 episodes. This thing had potential to top the Battle of Endor. It was over in about three pages. It was again mainly dialogue with very little action.
I guess the lack of action was what killed a lot of the potential that this book had. I've never read anything this long that had so little happen. I mean, there was one pretty cool torture scene where the main character was trying to get some information but even that didn't last very long. In a lot of ways, this book felt like it was a couple of actions held together by talking instead of a really cohesive story. I'd like to see this thing get a major rewrite and come out a hundred or so pages longer and all of it action. There is so much to do here. It's a shame it never happens. What we do see is never fully developed.
Bottom Line: 3.0 out of 5 Warheads
Ron Francis, 2015
Cadogan's Gamble is available for purchase here: