Contract of Defiance by Tammy Salyer

Contract Of DefianceMaybe running for my life during a firefight with a squad of Corps soldiers isn’t the best time to be having second thoughts about my occupation, but I have to ask myself, why the hell did I become an arms smuggler? I could have been an engineer!

David vaults over a discarded tool caddy like a champion hurdler and I follow on his heels, clipping one foot on a drill and pinwheeling my arms to keep my balance without missing a step. This is a race where the loser dies.

Aly is a fugitive arms smuggler who thinks she understands her place in the criminal underworld she calls home — and which she finds, generally, a more ethical environment than the Admin-controlled mainstream society. Then her supposed colleagues abandon her and her brother when a mission goes wrong, and she starts to question everything she thought she knew about loyalty.

I really enjoyed this introduction to the Spectras Arise series. Aly is something of an antihero, with a lot of blood on her hands, but the first-person narrative makes clear that her heart is in the right place. Early in the story, Aly is separated from David, and her unswerving devotion to rescuing her brother — regardless of the odds against them — is the one constant in her shifting world.

To achieve this she’s quickly forced to throw her hand in with Vitruzzi and her crew, a band of mercenaries who abducted-slash-rescued her. This is only one example of the moral ambiguity which colours the narrative in varying shades of grey. Aly is a killer and a thief, but she cares. Vitruzzi is another freelance criminal, but has earned the loyalty of her crew in a manner that implies some kind of integrity. The Admin is generally vilified, but nevertheless maintains a kind of stability that non-citizen settlements can only dream of. If you enjoy a story where almost everyone has a troubled past or a troubling motive, this book will certainly appeal: there are no innocents (certainly not in the narrative, and seemingly not in the whole universe), and I can only point to one out-and-out bad guy who seems to delight in cruelty.

But really, ethical questions aside, this book is about the fight scenes. The gun-toting, hard-hitting action starts on the first page, and it barely slows for a moment as Aly and her new not-quite-allies cross the galaxy, hunting for a mysterious secret base in an unknown location. Some of the characters’ motivations didn’t quite gel for me (in particular, the Admin seems to be evil-because-it’s-Evil), but the pace and urgency and realism of the action kept me turning the pages at the expense of sleep. And really, that’s all you need.

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