Kel has worked carefully to assimilate into the culture of her adopted homeworld of Loth. She’s a daredevil climber of xoffedil, the local megafauna, and is a somewhat dour friend to Lunna, a cheerful youth from the nearby village. But Kel has a secret buried under the floorboards of her house—the kind of secret best left right where it is, for everyone’s safety. However, when a derelict war machine left behind by an expansionist interstellar empire mysteriously reactivates, Kel’s best option is to dig out her old weapons and hope she doesn’t have to make use of them.
Valerie Valdes’ Where Peace Is Lost reads like Star Wars co-written by Scott Lynch and Tamsyn Muir. Kel and Lunna are soon joined by Savvy, an appropriately named space captain, and Dare, Savvy’s strong and silent companion. The four mismatched leads try to solve a problem that’s locally a very big deal, but beneath the notice of galactic politicians and imperial commandants. Along the way, there are hijinks at varying levels of violence, some involving the loquacious Lunna charming their way out of (or into) trouble, others involving Dare hitting things with a high-tech claymore. And then there’s Kel, whose secret could solve all their problems, but also create newer, much bigger ones.
Where Peace Is Lost could easily be the first book in a series revolving around this volatile quartet as they traipse around the galaxy, solving problems with implausibly big swords and amusing chatter. Valdes ties up the main plot without answering several significant questions about her core characters and their respective histories, perhaps leaving room to flesh things out in sequels. Or perhaps she’ll just . . . leave it at that. When the characters and their relationships are as well-drawn as they are in Where Peace Is Lost, a reader’s imagination can easily fill in the gaps.
Where Peace Is Lost, with its ambitious, imaginative brand of escapist social commentary, is part of the current resurgence in optimistic speculative fiction, where the good guys are actually good and some of the bad guys might be decent deep inside. Readers will forgive a few just-so plot twists and predictable romances in order to spend time in this gift of a story where nobody locks their doors, the greedy get what’s coming to them and and the artifacts beneath your quiet, secretive neighbor’s floorboards can save the world.