CODE OF CONDUCT
by Kristine Smith
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Code of Conduct is Kristine Smithís debut novel. Mixing adventure and politics, Smith tells the story of Jani Killian, a former soldier who has lived incognito for nearly twenty years since shooting her commanding officer when he tried to enforce an illegal order. While many believe Jani was killed in a fiery crash shortly after that incident, portions of the Commonwealthís government believes she may still be alive. The alien idomeni, in whose culture Jani was a specialist, also believe she may still be active.
As the novel opens, the Commonwealth Interior Minister, Evan van Richter, a former lover and comrade in arms, manages to find Jani and offer her protection if sheíll help him discover the truth behind his wifeís recent death. Skeptical at first, Jani agrees to leave her haven on the world Whalen and travel to the capital of the Commonwealth, Chicago, where she becomes involved in the intricate politics within the government as well as with the idomeni ambassador, Janiís former mentor among the aliens.
The politics surrounding Lyssa van Richterís death are Byzantine, made more so when Janiís research begins to indicate that the crash which almost killed her nearly two decades earlier may have been linked to the death sheís currently examining. While doing her research, Jani must carefully guard her identity, especially when she is kidnapped by a rival minister who is intent on destroying van Richter and capturing the Jani Killian who possibly died in the crash.
Many of Smithís characters are little more than two-dimensional, most notably Durian Ridgeway, Evan van Richterís chief troubleshooter. This works to the novelís benefit since the reader can focus more on the politics of the situation rather than the personalities. Nevertheless, Smith manages to make her characters individuals and infuses several with very likeable personalities, even when they are Janiís enemies, notably Lucien Pascal.
The narrative shifts between chronicling the events which are happening to Jani, Janiís thoughts about those events, her memories of events long ago and thoughts about idomeni and human culture. Unfortunately, this weaving of these different views does not always work cleanly and it frequently takes a while to shift gears to follow the actions and thoughts Smith is presenting.
The idomeni, Smithís aliens, have a complex culture which Smith only begins to hint at, perhaps indicating that she will further explore their culture in future novels. Among the few times Smith leaves Jani as her main character, she switches her focus to Tsecha, the idomeni ambassador. These migrations allow Smith to focus on the alien race and provide moments which underscore their foreignness. Perhaps the most telling moment is when Tsecha expresses joy at a human death because that is the attitude the idomeni have when one of their own dies and joins the afterlife.Code of Conduct is clearly a first novel and shows the potential Smith has to become a major author. The plot is complex, but Smith manages to keep the various threads orderly. Most impressive of all are the ideas which are touched upon but not fully explored, leaving Smith plenty of material for future works.
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