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Literature / The Lost Stars

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The Lost Stars is a hard SF series by Jack Campbell, a spinoff of his The Lost Fleet series. Taking place shortly after the end of the Alliance-Syndicate War, the Syndicate Worlds have begun collapsing following their defeat in the war. In the star system of Midway, two Syndicate CEOs, Gwen Iceni and Artur Drakon, revolt and free their system from the Syndicate Worlds. It's an uphill struggle but they do have some things going for them. They have the (compromised) loyalty of their subordinates, the (mercurial) consent of the citizenry, and, most importantly, the (tepid) support of Black Jack, the godlike entity who single-handedly brought the Sydicate Worlds to its knees. Working together while always suspecting one is about to double cross the other, the face issues of controlling Midway themselves, and how to alter its oppressive practices, and defend it from the aliens only a star system away.

Consists of:

  • Tarnished Knight
  • Perilous Shield
  • Imperfect Sword
  • Shattered Spear

Not to be confused with Lost Stars, which is a Star Wars novel.

Tropes featured

  • 24-Hour Armor: After it's made clear that someone is trying to assassinate Bradamount when she's on a ship full of former Syndic prisoners of war, she wears Rogero's armor at all times until the end of the journey. The smell is utterly horrific when she takes it off.
  • A Father to His Men: Drakon is willing to share the burden of combat with his men and avoid useless waste of lives. This didn't sit well with his aggressive and cold-hearted superiors but did wonders to his reputation with the common soldiers.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Iceni and Morgan think this. Colonel Gaiene is in no hurry to prove them wrong.
  • Altar the Speed: Defied. Iceni and Drakon deliberately decide to postpone their wedding until after an important mission, because they don't want it to look like they're hurrying up in case one of them dies.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The protagonists have this attitude toward the snakes and generally it is agreed that it is justified.
  • Another Side, Another Story: The whole concept of the series, which explores the Syndic side of the end of the war, from Midway's perspective. Iceni and Drakon frequently speculate (incorrectly) about Geary's motives and assume he's running the Alliance now.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Humans have faster-than-light travel but not communication, and FTL travel doesn't work within a solar system—so in the many space battles, characters' information is limited by the speed of light. Usually this is done properly, but on a couple of occasions, characters on ship A see distant-ship B's reaction to event C (such as a fleet arriving from hyperspace) before A actually sees C (and they'll even have time to wonder what caused B to act as it did). Geometrically, that just can't happen—no matter where A, B, and C are, A will be able to see C before it can see B's reaction to C.
  • Ascended Extra: Drakon, Iceni, Morgan, Malin, Rogero, Bradamont and Marphisa were all characters in The Lost Fleet but were minor characters at best. Rogero didn't even appear in person, only in the form of a recording. This time around, all of them are major characters with vastly larger roles.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Anyone who's anything in Syndicate Worlds is either extremely good at this or dead.
  • Bait the Dog: The first book has Iceni's assistant Togo survive an assassination attempt because he is awake, praying to his ancestors, a practice officially forbidden under the Syndicate Worlds, and given a positive context when done by the Alliance characters, but with the possible exception of Morgan, he ultimately turns out to be the most ruthless and untrustworthy figure in Midway's upper-echelons.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension:
    • Morgan and Malin. To the point where Drakon asks Malin if they're involved. Malin reacts with a tremendous amount of disgust to the question (Because he's her son), enough to convince Drakon they aren't.
    • Drakon and Iceni. Both of whom are constantly worried the other is going to stab them in the back while also having the casual sexual thought of the other. Resolved by marriage at the end of the series.
  • Beta Couple: Bradamont and Rogero's relationship serves as a background for Iceni and Drakon's copious amounts of UST.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: When Drakon is storming the ISS facility at the start of the series, one of the ISS commandos takes her own life upon realizing that the battle was lost. Since the ISS had spent a century and a half tormenting and oppressing the general populace of the Syndic Worlds, she was most likely concerned about what would happen to her if she was taken alive.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Averted, Malin works to keep his half-sister Drakon and Morgan's daughter. alive, but claims it's for for pragmatic reasons, rather than familial ones.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Both Drakon and Iceni have made and continue to make morally questionable decisions, but they're by far better than what they're trying to replace.
  • Blood Knight: A variant with Colonel Gaiene. It's not that he enjoys killing or fighting, it's just that fighting is one of the few things that makes him feel alive anymore.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Iceni is terrified when she realizes the public loves her and will do anything for her.
  • Chess Master Sidekick: Drakon and Iceni are the ones in charge, but Malin is the one with some of the most detailed and long-term plans for Midway's future, as well as being one of their most innovative combat strategists.
  • Colonel Badass: Drakon is this, but gets Kicked Upstairs to Four-Star Badass. Malin and Morgan sub in. Kommodore Marphisa massively levels up in rank to get here, and proves up to the challenge.
  • Colonel Kilgore: Morgan is always up for a battle, and not particularly fond of plans that involve avoiding combat or establishing peace.
  • The Comically Serious: Togo, on occasion, such as when reading Iceni titles associated with past leaders, and getting to "The Man."
  • Covers Always Lie: For the first time in the series, not the case. This time, the cover depicts Drakon holding a gun, something which he actually does often in the series.
  • Dark Messiah: Morgan believes that she can raise her and Drakon's daughter to be a cunning mastermind who can take on Black Jack and conquer all of human space.
  • Deuteragonist: Iceni to Drakon, particularly as Marphissa takes over space combat operations and Drakon conducts more ground combat operations, leaving her firmly in the political role. This is even established as the view of the populace; part of the reason both decline the common practices of the Syndicate Worlds is that their citizens largely view them as a package deal, and if one of them killed the other to rule alone, they'd lose the legitimacy imparted by their overt cooperation.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Morgan coerces a drunk Drakon into having sex with her, to the point where he doesn't even remember what happened. This is stated to be a failure on his part, rather than a crime on hers. If the position were reversed, it would definitely be called rape.
  • Do You Trust Me?: Gwen and Artur to each other, frequently, in the second context. Artur has specifically said he would trust Gwen implicitly, because he believes she won't betray him. Gwen really wants to believe him.
  • Drowning My Sorrows:
    • Colonel Gaiene, who's developed a reputation for being a drunken letch due to seeing so much war.
    • Drakon indulges in a little of this, leading to a one night stand he did not want to happen.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Rogero and Bradamont, neither of which ever expected to actually pursue a relationship together, but who were lucky enough to be able. They still need to keep it on the down low.
  • Easy Logistics: Much like in the Lost Fleet, it's averted here. Early on, Iceni and Drakon managed to capture a partially completed battleship. A good portion of their efforts after that are not just dedicated to obtaining more resources to complete it, but also to finding sailors to crew it, which proves to be much harder than one might imagine. It gets to the point where they have to embark a risky mission through Syndic space to retrieve several thousand prisoners of war from the Alliance to act as crew.
    • They've given up damaged and/or incomplete ships as a goodwill gesture because they realize they don't have the resources to actually fix and/or crew the vessels.
    • They also speak about the money required to keep the crews paid and the ships stocked with weapons. Midway is a little richer than average, but not by a whole lot.
  • Establishing Character Moment: At the beginning of The Tarnished Knight we see Morgan suggesting that Murder Is the Best Solution towards the defecting snake sentries leaving them a way to attack the Internal Security Compound and Malin instantly opposing her on both moral and pragmatic grounds. When Drakon agrees with Malin, they both accept it and then efficiently go to work.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Or, at least, darkish and morally conflicted Grey can't comprehend Good. A dramatically ironic running gag in the series is that both Iceni and Drakon believe Black Jack to be a shrewd politician and a masterful power broker, interpreting all his charitable and genuinely kindhearted actions through this lens. The Lost Fleet series proper has already revealed this to be severely not the case, and he has no idea he appears as such to them. Notably, they are utterly confounded by his demotion from Fleet Admiral, wondering what could be the purpose behind a reduction in rank. They are floored and disbelieving when told he did it for love.
    • They also tend to misread it in themselves, with Iceni in particular having a sort of philosophical crisis as she comes to realize she might disagree more with certain tyrannical and immoral actions that she previously thought.
  • Fantastic Drug: Drakon needs to lure some unsuspecting guards onto his ship. He instructs his subordinate to dress as a dock worker, go out, and try to pander some "Happy Stuff" to them, a legendary drug that's never been found.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: Syndicate Worlds had so much big-time corruption and petty fraud going on that any official data on anything were basically only useful as propaganda, with the secret police being about the only organization motivated enough to really work. Then again, they got overthrown in many systems, even with fanatically loyal troops, ubiquitous surveillance and near-perfect lie detectors at their disposal.
  • A Father to His Men: Drakon has a reputation as this, and mostly delivers on it, caring deeply about his senior officers, and feeling a sense of loyalty to the average grunt as well.
  • Faux Affably Evil: ISS CEO 'Happy' Hua, whose friendly appearance and demeanor has tricked many a person into telling her incriminating things about themselves and others in confidence, which she then exploits ruthlessly.
  • First-Name Basis: Iceni finally gets fed up with their last name basis and insists Drakon call her by her first name, Gwen. Drakon then insists Iceni call him by his first name, Artur.
  • Flaw Exploitation: The ISS will believe any CEO, or former, is overconfident. For their part, the former CEO's quickly learn the ISS will follow battle doctrines and planned tactics to the letter, and are able to plan ahead accordingly.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Even earlier than that. Drakon and Iceni's Relationship Upgrade to Official Couple comes when the former proposes to the latter.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Drakon and Iceni are going out of their way to avert this, but there are times when they find themselves seriously considering acts that were typical Syndic behavior.
  • The Generic Guy: Colonel Kai, of the senior Midway officers doesn't get much personality beyond being The Stoic and Undying Loyalty, never reveals his backstory, and rarely if ever significantly affects the plot.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: A subtle version with Iceni, who gets really mad when Malin tells her about how Morgan slept with Drakon, and then quickly turns around and wonders whether she was actually taking the news personally.
    • The Syndics, regarding Geary and the enigmas. He found out more in a year than they did in a century.
  • Hidden Villain: By Perilous Shield, is becomes apparent someone other than leftover Syndicate World agents are messing with Midway, only being noticeable when they purposefully act sloppy enough to appear as Syndicate agents. The most mysterious piece of the puzzle is the early, before more obviously influential people, assassination of an otherwise ordinary officer, who was also noted to have been kept around despite apparently being a mediocre soldier.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: Malin and Morgan to Drakon, to the point that when he starts uncovering secrets about the two that he worries may affect their performance, the thought of continuing without them bothers him. Diaz, the sececutive officer of Marphissa's flagship, is this to Captain Toric, which gets him promoted to Toric's job after it becomes clear that Toric is an Ungrateful Bastard and a Pointy-Haired Boss whose promotion was an example of The Peter Principle.
  • I Gave My Word: Drakon protects four ISS agents despite everyone trying to get him to kill them like the rest because he had promised them a passage off planet for them and their families.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Comes up frequently, since everyone is expecting everyone else to backstab them. Tellingly, Iceni is so used to this way of thinking she is incapable of believing Black Jack at one point is simply asking for supplies and has to go through an impressive set of mental gymnastics using this trope to justify to herself giving him what he requested.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Attempted multiple times by snake warships.
  • Inappropriately Close Comrades: It's mentioned that the Syndicate Worlds put restrictions on relationships, but that these rules were often broken. Given the nastiness of the Syndic system, however, the breaches were often a case of either Sleeping Their Way to the Top or Sexual Extortion rather than actual romance. And then there's the incident with Drakon and Morgan.
  • Insignia Rip-Off Ritual: Not literally, but Drakon and Iceni decide they need to break with Syndic naming conventions as a way of distinguishing themselves as different from their former masters. Each decides to adopt the title General and President respectively, giving their military actual ranks instead of corporate titles, and even naming their ships.
  • Invincible Villain: Prior to the start the series this was how the leadership of Midway viewed Black Jack after having to suffer him ripping up the Syndicate interior and destroy fleet after fleet sent his way. Including almost all of Midway's protective forces.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: Morgan is sexually attractive, and not afraid to use it to confuse or take advantage of men, Because All Men Are Perverts.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Invoked in a passage leading up to a Title Drop in Tarnished Knight
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Drakon is the Tarnished Knight.
  • Last Stand: Snake forces are fanatic, and their Viper special op units even moreso. They frequently fight to the death wherever they end up cornered.
  • Like a Weasel: CEO Boynes has a tendency to keep coming back and switching sides.
  • The Lost Lenore: Colonel Gaiene's wife Lara died while serving as The Cavalry for his unit several years before the main series, and according to Drakon, it broke him. He's sunk so low since, as a direct result of his grief, that he barely feels worthy of mentioning her name out loud.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Malin tells Drakon that he knows that Morgan is his mother. His adoptive mother was one of the attending doctors before what was expected to be a suicide mission.
  • Majorly Awesome: Rogero and Gaiene are this, despite being Colonels, as they don't have quite the authority of Malin and Morgan (despite all of them having the same rank) and are actually in the fighting more often.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Iceni at one point tries very hard to argue herself into believing its a coincidence.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The "tarnished knight" of the title is named Artur Drakon (cf. Arthur Pendragon).
    • He had a one night stand with crazy chick Morgan. Morgan le Fay being Arthur's manipulative and scheming half-sister who slept with him and planned for their child to take over the throne.
    • Drakon's other staff member and Morgan's rival is Malin. Malin also works closely with Iceni and sincerely believes in establishing Midway as a free and independent nation. Merlin was Arthur's trusted adviser in establishing his kingdom and opposed Morgan le Fay.
    • One of the colonels in direct command of the ground forces is Gaiene (Gawain, knight of the round table and nephew to Arthur).
    • Gwen Iceni is Guinevere. Her last name is the name of the tribe of the famous British Queen Boudicca.
  • Mommy Issues: It's safe to say Malin has these, as he sought out transfer under Drakon specifically to find Morgan, and stayed with Morgan to protect her. As well as Drakon from her.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Iceni very likely accidentally ordered the assassination of an annoying political opponent in a fit of rage, and it shocks her enough to make an agreement with Drakon to stop all assassination attempts by either.
  • Mythology Gag: Jokes about the ghastly Danaka Yoruk bars continue from the parent series. It turns out the Syndics can't stand the things either. One character palmed off the entire supply that they'd taken from a captured Alliance unit to an ISS unit. Since the snakes never came back, they apparently were either killed by the Alliance or killed by eating the Danaka Yoruks.
  • Never Found the Body: Morgan, invoked by name and averted in that she didn't actually die until the next book. And then died in a very public way.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Drakon, Iceni and their officers work hard for this, with Marphissa once risking getting dangerously close to an Enigma-occupied world to retrieve a trio of human survivors.
  • Out with a Bang: A Snake gets taken out this way.
    "But the climax was a bit more intense then the snake was prepared for."
    "The old tricks are the best" Iceni said dryly.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Iceni and Drakon are not exactly good and honorable, but moving towards that ideal is pragmatic. Brutal dictatorship led the Syndicate into chaos. Taking over neighboring star systems takes efforts and ties down troops, while making allies means more resources to fight the common enemy. Giving freedom and civil reforms means greater worker productivity and much less chance for assassination.
  • Production Foreshadowing: Since this series takes place concurrently with the Lost Fleet sequel series, but lags behind in releases, there's occasional spoilers from Beyond the Frontier that hint at the future in each book of this series.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: Kontos and his forces have to be rushed to the medical after winning the control of the battleship. Kontos himself tries to play it brave, but while giving his report to Iceni, he collapses on the floor mid-sentence.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: The planet, after the security forces are destroyed. More than once certain hidden figures try to set it off.
  • Pride: Drakon appears like this, for Flaw Exploitation.
  • Properly Paranoid: Everyone, since the Syndicate system fomented this on purpose as a way to pit their underlings against each other, to keep them from rebelling against the Syndicate leaders.
  • Psycho Supporter: Morgan is this to Drakon in spades, as he fully realizes when he learns that her psych eval was fake and she has serious issues.
  • The Purge: A regular danger while being a member of the Syndics. The protagonists perform a rare heroic version when they proceed to utterly wipe out the snakes (State Sec) within their system.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The general premise for why people end up stationed at Midway on the edge of Syndicate and Human space.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Colonel's Morgan and Malin serve this excellently for the first two books, as well as being a male-female example of Those Two Guys, although this comes to en end early in the third book when Morgan is sent out of the system on a mission and Malin remains behind.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Drakon and Iceni become Official Couple in the last book.
  • Running Gag: As with the Lost Fleet series, a number of jokes are centered on present day idioms and turns of phrase that have had their context lost to time by the period the books take place in. For instance, Iceni's assistant Togo advises several new names to replace CEO, among them "the Man" and "the Big Cheese," both of which are only known to have been ancient indicators of status.
    • And, as stated above, Iceni and Drakon amusingly read Geary as much more politically cunning than he really is, turning his casual and sincere charity into masterful maneuvers to get their support and help himself.
  • State Sec: The ISS, not so fondly referred to as snakes. In the wake of the Syndicate Worlds collapse, they have even less qualms than most concerning arrests, torture, and mass murder.
  • Shout-Out: To Honor Harrington series. When Iceni decides to name her cruisers for mythical creatures the first three names she settles on are "Manticore," "Gryphon" and "Basilisk".note 
  • Spell My Name With An S: Iceni's new naval ranks.
  • Spin-Off: Type 11. A few very minor characters in The Lost Fleet become the main characters for this series.
  • Starcrossed Lovers: Captain Bradamont and Colonel Rogero are an inversion of this. They come from opposite sides of a longstanding war but both their sides want them to continue to be able to continue so they can create some sort of backdoor channel between them.
  • State Sec: Internal Security/the Snakes, with shades of Secret Police.
  • Surprise Pregnancy: Inverted. Morgan knew she was pregnant and purposefully had sex with Drakon because she thought they would have an especially talented child. Drakon is the one who is surprised to learn this.
    • In a double Whammy, this is revealed by Malin almost immediately after Malin reveals he himself is the result of a previous surprise pregnancy involving Morgan, one which neither she nor the likely one-night stand father know about at all.
  • Theme Naming:
    • Midway and all the planets that surround it have Hawaiian themed names.
    • The names 'Gwen Iceni,' 'Artur Drakon,' 'Roh Morgan,' 'Malin' and others allude to Arthurian legend.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Some Syndic terminology. One common example is that people are not killed, they are 'Subject to Life Termination'.
  • UST: Drakon and Iceni. With the subtly of a brick. Eventually taken care of in book 4, with a marriage a few short weeks later.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Hardrad exploits their inability to do this to humiliate.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: This happens to one unfortunate State Sec official.
    Bridge Bunny: Something is being ejected from C-143.
    The captain of C-143 (serenely): We have just disposed of the last snake, CEO Iceni.
    Iceni: Out of an airlock?
    Captain of C-143: That particular ISS agent delighted in undermining my authority with my crew, CEO Iceni.
  • Token Good Teammate: Marphissa, who is genuinely dedicated making Midway more free, and helps push Iceni consider more reforms.
  • Trojan Prisoner: IN a rare example where the prisoner isn't in on it, Drakon and Malin turn the tide of the Battle of Ulindi by sending a prisoner to the Snake lines. He's carrying a parlay message (which they know the Snakes will ignore), but really they inserted a computer virus into his suit that will ravage the snake coms once he's close enough.
  • Undying Loyalty:
    • The protagonists eventually get this from the people of Midway and their forces.
    • The Snakes are a dark reflection of this as they're willing to commit suicide attacks and give up their lives to prop up the failing Syndic system.
  • The Vamp: Morgan, whose proud of her sexuality and uses it to her advantage on occasion.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Averted. Iceni and Drakon assume Geary is this, because they are so jaded, they cannot believe he is sincere.
  • Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: Averted with Rogero. He manages to resist being seduced by a recently liberated executive who turns out to be an undercover snake and then thinks wryly that it's an achievement that he won't exactly be able to boast about.
  • We Have Reserves: The Syndic's attitude toward their subordinates. It is a major reason why our antiheroes rebel.
  • Wham Episode: The last chapter of Perilous Shield lays it on THICK. Malin has been lying to Drakon, it turns out that Morgan is actually his biological mother, Morgan's psych evaluation was falsified out of pity and she is dangerously unstable, it turns out that Morgan is pregnant with Drakon's child, and that she wants to raise the child to be someone who could rule over all of human space, surpassing even John "Black Jack" Geary.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: Drakon with Morgan. When he wakes up he hopes last night had been a very vivid dream, until he feels the scratch marks on himself and sees the torn sheets.
  • What Would X Do?: In the first battle, Iceni succeeds by pondering what Black Jack would do. Later, she has studied his battles more systemically.
    • Of course, this does go a bit against the answer to that question she came up with in the first battle — "Not follow the rules."
  • With Due Respect: "I have just contradicted a CEO to her face."
  • Would Not Hurt A Child: Why Drakon protects the families of security agents.
  • Yandere: Roh Morgan has many qualities of one. Not only did she hide the full extent of her mental instability, she's utterly obsessed with Drakon, first trying to separate him from all other friends and advisors, then raping him while he's drunk, and eventually trying to murder Iceni at hers and Drakon's wedding. All while claiming she has his best interests in mind.
    • Mehmet Togo. is a male example of this, towards Iceni. Nearly every Yandere quality that Morgan has is also exhibited by him except for the rape part.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Both Iceni and Drakon are the subject of this both directly and indirectly.
  • You Are in Command Now: Kontos ends up in charge of the then-unnamed Battleship when the snakes kill all executives and he's left as the most senior surviving worker.
  • Your Head A-Splode: CEO Hardrad goes out this way.
    Morgan: He was working away at activating those detonation codes when his brains got turned into wallpaper.
  • Zerg Rush: How the Syndics used to fight their wars and why Black Jack was able to utterly tear them apart. Figuring out how not to fight like this is one of the secrets to Midway's winning independence.