Just a heads up, the following may contain spoilers from the first book. See that review first HERE!
Nicholas Seafort is a man that never seems to catch a break. After the events of the first book, Seafort is given command of the UNS Challenger and assigned to a task force heading back to Hope Nation. Unfortunately for him, his new command is stolen from under him by Admiral Tremaine the leader of the task force. Seafort and his pregnant wife Amanda are reassigned to the far smaller UNS Portia for the duration of the trip.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the task force is then set upon by the newly discovered Fish and a deadly virus is let loose upon UNS Portia. Personal tragedy ensues for Seafort and he struggles to maintain a grip on himself and discover the whereabouts of the rest of the squadron. When Seafort finally catches up to the Admiral he is ordered to take command of the now crippled UNS Challenger whilst the Admiral escapes with UNS Portia, most of the supplies and a large proportion of Challenger’s weapons. In this situation, Seafort is forced to take actions that clash with his sense of morality in order to extend their chance of rescue as far as possible.
Challenger’s Hope is a far darker novel than the first. In the space between the two novels mankind has found out that they are not alone. The galaxy has become a far more threatening place and the enemy is so inhuman that any attempt to understand their thinking is impossible. However, the main threat in this book comes from within the Navy itself. Having only ever experienced peace the Navy has become dominated by officers that are unfit to lead. This ineffectiveness is encapsulated by Admiral Tremaine, a man obsessed with his own advancement and unwilling to risk his own safety.
In this novel we also get to see how the society of Earth in the future is highly divided. Seafort is forced to take on board his ship a group of transpop youths as part of a governmental trial to solve the transpop problem. Earth in the future is dominated by a few wealthy uppies whilst below untold billions have fallen away into a state of tribal anarchy. These people are so brutally savage that they might as well be extras in a Mad Max film. Seafort is forced to notice these people on a ship as small as Portia and this lets the reader get a real sense of the rigid social stratification at large on Earth. However, as the novel progresses this relationship becomes a lot more complicated as Seafort begins to realise that those “civilised” people in command may be far more savage than the transpops themselves. This is a really interesting theme that pervades the novel like a slow fuse burning away unnoticed in the background and I think that it is really well woven into the narrative.
Whilst Seafort really struggled to come to terms with choices he had to make to get Hibernia through the first novel he confronts a whole load more self loathing in this one. His short stint in the command chair has really changed Seafort from the upbeat, energised youth of his days as a midshipman. Choices now weigh heavily on his mind to the point that he begins to question his sanity and the point of living. Loneliness, depression and conflicted interests all dominate Seafort’s thoughts throughout the narrative as he is driven away from everything he loves and forced to do the opposite of everything he believes in. He has become a tragic hero, celebrated for the evil that men do and he struggles to atone for his mistakes.