As authors go, Melinda Snodgrass is one of those surprising creators who has always remained in the background. While well known for writing one of the best (and admittedly one of the worst) episodes of Star Trek, her later successes such as The Edge trilogy have sadly gone unnoticed. As such, seeing her returning with a brand new science fiction series was a welcome sight indeed.
Set in an era of political strife and intrigue, The High Ground follows the stories of two cadets in the Solar League's elite training academy. Mercedes, daughter of the ruling Emperor, is the first woman to be admitted and seeks to prove her right to the Imperial throne, while Thracius merely seeks to attain a basic command and be remembered with honour. Both however, soon find that fate has a very different future in store for them...
Despite being character driven, this opening book naturally requires to lay down a great deal of groundwork for future instalments. There is, after all, only so much which can be done to truly build elements as it goes along. This means everything from the rules of the setting to the culture and technological level must be all explained at once, and thankfully Snodgrass expertly pulls this off. These are woven cleanly into the narrative, worked around the characters or delivered early on as foreshadowing to later conflicts. Many of the ideas are once again those science fiction veterans will have seen many times before, from the feudal and Napoleonic elements of an intergalactic empire to the cadet story. However, each is presented in a very different light than expected, allowing them to still feel fresh.
The real weakness of the story sadly comes down to a few of the more personal moments. While the character arcs are satisfactory and the twists work, more than a few personal scenes are overly soap operay, with almost cliched dialogue and reactions. While it doesn't reach the point of George Lucas dialogue, reading through them can still be a painful affair and an irritating drop in quality to what is an otherwise solid book. What's more, several early scenes retain a number of "as you know" expository conversations, which makes it a very difficult first few chapters to get through.
Overall, The High Ground is competently written, solidly engaging and very satisfying. While it doesn't make that leap to truly standing out from the crowd, those who want a great blend of feudal values with laser guns will definitely get a kick out of seeing this new setting. If you're a fan of Fading Suns, Foundation or the Battletech novels, definitely set some cash aside for this one, you will not regret it.
THE HIGH GROUND / AUTHOR: MELINDA SNODGRASS / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS/ RELEASE DATE: JULY 5TH