This short (about 300 pages), sweet science fiction novel tells the story of a brand-new spaceship captain dealing with relationships and duty and the day-to-day practicalities of space travel and proving herself under fire. This novel reminds me of the old Heinlein "juvenile" sci-fi novels, and I mean that in a good way. Another comparison might be the military sci-fi of David Drake crossed with the more character driven s.f. of John Scalzi. Some who don't like the novel seem to have compared it unfavorably to David Weber's Honor Harrington or the Lois McMaster-Bujold's Miles Vorkasian, arguing that Moon's protagonist is a bit of a rip-off of those characters. Well, I haven't read either of those--I tried reading an Honor Harrington novel, but the telepathic pet cat was a major turn-off. :-)
Moon puts the young merchant captain Ky Vatta through a lot of challenges, all of which flow logically from one trial to the next. There are a lot of little detailed bits of business about the practical side of being a starship captain and dealing in cargo, all while avoiding a lot of heavy concepts in physics or anything wildly innovative in terms of tech or the planetary societies being described.
It that sense the novel is not as creative or imaginative as Counting Heads or Mainspring, but it does a better job of making me care about the characters and actually resolving the plot points that do arise in a straightforward manner without losing tension. I stayed up late trying to get to the end of this novel, because even after the major crisis was resolved, I was intrigued by how the fallout would affect the main character and set up the next storyline. That's the sign of a well-written book to me. One of the best touches is how the protagonist realizes that she's been incorrectly stereotyped by her family, but that there's not much she can do about it because they keep interpreting everything she does through the lens of their experiences with her as a child.
I've already checked out the next book in the series.
Setting: A Solid B. Nothing really original, but all the details seem to have been worked out and things function in a realistic manner.
Characters: B+ to an A. Plenty of likable characters (some people don't like the protagonist for reasons I can't quite follow--she acts more competently than most young people), some scum bags, some sitting on the fence. Motivations are typically explained and make sense.
Plot: A-. It isn't full of stunning twists or a tricky mystery, but it moves along nicely and I didn't find the specific events to be predictable once the ship got into real trouble. A plot I can follow and that meets my criteria for believability is a solid winner in my book.
Language: B. Nothing really fancy here, but no clunkers or failed attempts at "kewl" futuristic language or grammar.
Cool Factor: C. This all felt very comfortable and familiar. But no wow factor for me.
Big Ideas: C. Not really what this book is about. The biggest theme is coming of age.