My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book contains three complete Flandry novels. (Books were a lot shorter, in decades past.) Here, collected in one volume for the first time, is The Plague of Masters (aka Earthman, Go Home), Hunters of the Sky Cave and A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows.
The Plague of Masters had an enjoyable setup. Flandry lands on a planet where the air itself is deadly and prolonged exposure will lead to a torturous death. The only hope of a survival is to take a specific drug, every 30 days. It’s not even enough to flee the planet—without a final dose of the drug, you’ll die from the delayed effects of the air. Of course, the planet is under the thumb of a dictatorial group of scientists, who tightly control access to the drug. Anyone whoever stops playing along, stops getting doses. The setup and development of the story is wonderful. The ending is almost confusingly abrupt, lessening what would have otherwise been a very good story.
Hunters of the Sky Cave has Flandry confronting some invaders that he finds personally likable. Unfortunately, in order to complete his mission he has to smash not only their invasion but also their societal structure, just to keep the Terran Empire alive for a few more years. This was a well told story that showed Flandry doing what he does best but also recognizing that his efforts would have limited impact on the larger picture.
A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows is the best story of the bunch. Flandry finds the son he didn’t know he had as well as a woman he can actually love. In the end, he completes his mission but at a staggering personal cost. As the story ends, you know the Empire will live on but you wonder if Flandry, personally, sees any point to it anymore.
These stories are uniformly good because they feature an older, wiser Flandry. He still cracks wise, he still dresses well and loves fine women. He’s still a staunch defender of the Terran Empire. However, he’s increasingly more aware of how decadent, corrupt, and unworthy that Empire is. It’s the best thing going, but it’s failing fast and not even he can keep it together much longer. He does everything he can to push back the arrival of The Long Night, even knowing that everything he does will ultimately prove futile.
That underlying emotional tension drives the stories and forced me to sympathize with Flandry to a much greater degree than I have previously.