I loved this unusual sci-fi novel. The protagonist, a Russian prince slash spaceship captain, Mikhail Volkov, accepts a puzzling assignment from the Space Fleet command. Several years ago, one of the Fleet warships vanished during a warp jump. Now, the ship’s warp drive (without its ship) suddenly appears near one of the Fleet space stations. Where did it come from? Where is its ship? What happened to the crew? The Fleet wants Mikhail to find out.
And Mikhail does find out. He discovers an entire world in an odd pocket of the universe, a world where all the spaceships which had vanished during warp jumps end up in. This world, called Sargasso by its denizens, is one endless ocean. Islands float in the sky. Minotaurs don’t allow anyone into their section of the ocean. Huge octopi roam the depth and could only be defeated with spaceship canons. And the local humans don’t really want the Space Fleet to arrive on their watery home and establish new rules and laws. They have their own regulations, thank you very much, so nobody really wants to cooperate with Mikhail and his mission.
Unfortunately for him, Mikhail’s ship is damaged during the crush landing. He needs the locals’ cooperation, so the bulk of the novel follows the convoluted adventures of Mikhail and his crew, plus a number of local humans and aliens, as their agendas clash.
There are troubles aplenty for everyone. Political squabbles erupt. Personal ambitions collide. Racial tension springs up. Technology goes haywire. Love blooms. Nobody tells Mikhail the truth, and several of his crew fall inconveniently in love. As Mikhail battles his personal self-doubts, in addition to his disintegrating ship and crew, the focus of the novel shifts between him and the other heroes: Mikhail’s foster brother Turk and a local woman Paige.
Paige is a wonderful heroine. Decisive and kind, compassionate and ruthless, loyal and smart, she is more alive in this story than the whining Mikhail, the prince. She captains her own ship, crewed with her siblings and cousins, roams the endless sea of Sargasso without fear, and wouldn’t let anyone dictate her course. Until she fishes Turk out of trouble and falls in love.
Turk is also a much more interesting character than his foster brother, the erstwhile Captain Mikhail. Turk is a Red, created like all Reds by the human geneticists to be a perfect soldier, an outstanding fighting machine. In the outside world, all Reds are property and used mercilessly to fight human wars. Turk is an exception – Mikhail had freed him long ago – but for everyone else outside Sargasso, he is just another Red, little more than an animal trained to kill. Reds don’t even warrant personal cabins on spaceships. They bunk together in ‘Red Pits’.
Turk struggles with some demons of his own. He hates himself for being non-human. He doesn’t fully understand the concept of personal freedom. He is full of worry for his foster brother Mikhail. His is torn between his duty, which lies with Mikhail, and his love, which belongs to Paige.
Between these three, the story romps along the crazy lines of the impossible, until the author brings it to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. Almost everyone wins in the end, and I absolutely loved the happy ending.
A wonderful novel.