Dauntless starts off right in the middle of action. Two forces, the Alliance and the Syndicate, have been at war for a century. Believing that they could strike a critical blow against their enemies, the Alliance fleet has flown into a trap. With their leadership dead and forces surrounded the situation seems hopeless. But on the way to the battle the fleet stumbled across a survival pod. 100 years old and almost out of power, the pod contained Captain John “Black Jack” Geary. Having fought valiantly in the first battle of the war, he became the Alliance poster child to raise morale. Now the legend has returned and is the fleet’s best hope of getting home.
That little description makes this book sound way more epic than readers may see it as, but it is accurate. But that is the premise of our story: cut off behind enemy lines, our heroes must fight their way home. Geary comes from a different time and is quickly forced to adjust to the changes of the last century. War is hell and as it raged each side has committed atrocities that grow to match the monstrous actions of their enemies in a vicious cycle of retribution.
Now to talk about the key thing in any space fleet series: space battles. Jack Campbell does a unique job with the battles here. Physics are actually taken into account, something practically unheard of in fiction on the whole. Is that ship a light hour away from us? Ok, the image we are seeing is what they were doing an hour ago. Can we go faster? No, our ship’s mass will increase and it will tear itself in two. This is not Star Wars where we have little starfighters dogfighting in space. Ships fly past each other faster than human perception can keep up with. Combat is a pure tactics game of outmaneuvering your enemy.
Main character John Geary is interesting, but the rest of the characters are a bit plain. For the most part, the rest of Dauntless’ cast did not get too much time for development. This being the first book makes that understandable. Now is the time for world-building and character development can ramp up later. The page count in Dauntless (and the Lost Fleet series in general) is not that high either. Limited space for plot, characterization, and so forth. While Dauntless would probably not rank among the greats of sci-fi, it is a good light read (especially for those of us who are suckers for space operas).