Miska Storrow leads an unusual band of mercenaries in The Hangman’s Daughter, Gavin G Smith‘s latest novel (review copy from Gollancz). Hers are pressed men, prisoners kept in suspended animation on a prison ship and fitted with collars that enable Miska to explosively decapitate them at will. Miska and her mercenary legion have been retained to infiltrate a mining base that has been taken over by rebels, but she has few resources to back her beyond some ageing weapons and ammunition, and an AI version of her late father.
This is classic military science fiction – lots of running around, explosions and gory injuries and deaths. In between, a conspiracy plot begins to be revealed. Is Miska the rogue special forces operative turned cold-hearted and ruthless killer that she claims to be, or is there more going on under the surface? Obviously there is, otherwise this wouldn’t be much of a story.
The plot rattles along fairly well, but the cast of supporting characters is pretty thin and straight from central casting – identikit gangsters and idealistic rebels plus a stereotyped drill sargeant for a father. There is some disturbing fetishisation of a dangerous cohort of three high security prisoners held on Miska’s ship, including one particular serial killer that she is inexplicably attracted to. But the biggest difficulty for me was Smith’s reliance on concealing information from the reader. It jars me out of the story for a close third person narrator to not share information that would be known to the perspective character, particularly in a knowing way that is clearly designed to build suspense.
Goodreads rating: 2*