Review: Trader’s Tales

Since most of the people I know plan to spend today sitting at home recovering from a turkey coma, I have a whole series, not just a book, to recommend for reading in between naps today. What, you can’t binge-read a half-dozen books on your day off? I, um, I’m not going to admit anything…

quarter shareNathan Lowell’s Trader’s Tales series is my favorite kind of space opera. A look at a universe where the working man starts on the bottom rung and gradually goes up, with lots of elbow grease along the way. The nuts and bolts – quite literally – of what could happen when humanity spans the stars. When we first meet the unlikely hero, in Quarter Share he’s still a teenager reeling from the sudden death of his only parent, and desperately in need of a job. He’s willing to do anything, and to work hard at that job because what will become of him should he fail?

I suspect most if not all my readers know that feeling. Work, or die. The improbably-named Ishmael starts out working in the kitchen, but he’s gotten lucky, and shipped out on a trader where the crew is interested in one another, and in helping the young quarter shares like Ish and his friend Pip to learn and grow. Pip is quite the character, with schemes aplenty, and Ishmael provides him with a steadying hand which actually make the schemes begin to work… and the story takes off following the boys as they begin trading on their own, slowly drawing the rest of the crew into some private ventures.

I’m reviewing a whole series, which is hard without spoilers, but I think I can safely explain that the premise behind the books is that the shares relate to the amount of money the crew makes – if the trading goes well, the crew gets a certain percentage, or share, of the profits. So Ishmael, who doesn’t want to risk ever being unemployed again, decides he’s going to study and test for all the types of crew there are, from Engineering to Messman to Cargo… he’s working for Full Share, and no matter where he is, he can find a job in one thing or another. By the time his captain sends him to the Academy to become a captain, he’s gotten all four ratings.

But the series isn’t all happy endings and smooth rides. Coming out of the Academy, Ishmael is given a near-impossible assignment for a lowly third mate. His focus changes from worry only about his own skin, to concern for the people working under him. He must protect the vulnerable, and he has no real power of his own. Double Share, at halfway through the series, really marks the transition from a boy to a man.

The last half of the series has a greater depth not only in the main character, but in reaching beyond the hull of whatever ship Ishmael happens to be on. For the first time in his life, the company who hires him, the politics they have to play, and then finally the galactic reach of the Deep Dark, come into play. Ishmael may only want to trade and captain, but he’s not always given the choice of keeping the simple life.

If you come to the end of Owner’s Share with a sigh, and are unwilling to lose track of this world, no worries: there’s a new series with the troublemakers Pip and Ish back together, older, wiser, and with a lot more money to wreak havoc on the galaxy!

I am looking forward to more from this author. I was pleasantly reminded of Ric Locke’s Temporary Duty, which I really ought to go back and re-read.