A Kris Worth Waiting For

**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**

FINALLY!! This series started off rather lukewarm, but with a teasing sparkle that persuaded me to carry on. Once I hit Books 6-8, though, I was seriously getting ready to pack it in and give up on the promise of that little something special that seemed to be peeking out at me from the pages every now and then. That promise is finally fulfilled here in Daring.

For all that many of Shepherd's chronic writing and style issues still make appearances - if one more person let's out a "good old Irish sigh," I swear... - Kris finally comes into her own as a character. Until now she has been an upright and courageous warrior, a beloved princess, and savvy diplomat, but there has been something she hadn't quite grown into yet. When humanity faces it's greatest peril and Kris Longknife is the one left to make the sacrifice she steps up and proves she has matured enough to bring all of those facets together into a single noble personality. One which is utterly selfless, commanding and brave -- and capable of making the hard decisions that no soul should ever have to carry the burden of.

The Story
Kris has gotten her way and is off on her Voyage of Discovery. Commander of her patrol of corvettes, she also has battleships representing the Greenfeld Empire, the Helvetican Confederacy, and Musashi along for the ride - oh, and our good friend Ron the Iteeche shows up to hop aboard as well! Good thing she's the daughter of the leading political family on Wardhaven. Kris's diplomatic skills, combined with her natural gift for commanding the respect of allies and enemies alike, are tested again and again by the mixed and conflicting agendas of the various factions. Her troubles have only just begun, though...

When her scouting expedition trips over an alien ship that comes out with guns blazing and no call for quarter, Kris finds herself in an unenviable position: the discoverer of a race of humanoid cutthroats bent on ripping apart anyone who crosses their path. What would happen if these "bad actors" found their way to human space? It's not something this Longknife is prepared to risk, and so she leads her task force against the first new alien contact since the blood-soaked battles of the Iteeche War. Her mission: Destroy them before they can annihilate us!

The Battle
Something you can count on in every Kris Longknife flick is a big battle scene. It's typically the best-written chapter(s) in the book. While Daring is a gigantic step up from what came before it as a whole, the ultimate battle still stands out.

Everything Kris knew about the massive mother ship the new aliens were headed her way in told her that her force was outgunned. Nevertheless, there is still an optimism that you go into the battle with, knowing that it's Kris and she can pull off just about anything. That makes it all the more devastating when we are forced to bear witness as the battleships in her command are blown away one after the other. Characters who we had come to know and like were gone in a sentence, and Shepherd didn't allow any time for mourning as he moved from one tragedy to the next. It was absolutely impersonal the way the death toll was accounted for, and that is what made it so brutally effective. I wanted to bow my head and Taps was sounding in the back of my mind, but the end of the engagement only led directly into a desperate run from jump point to jump point as furious aliens gave chase. Escape came at an unbelievable cost.

Kris's Reaction
No less disturbing than the slaughter itself was the aftermath and the emotions Kris and her friends had to deal with as a result. We watch as survivor guilt grips them -- a virulent trap for the mind. Shepherd forces Kris to deal with it, though, and she manages to pull Vicky out of her funk and rationalize the situation. No, they will never go to sleep without seeing all those good men die, but bearing the two-edged fortune of surviving doesn't mean they should lie down and give up on living. They have a job to do, a duty to the greater good of humanity, and Kris is going to see it through one way or another.

I was so so SO proud of Kris! If the version of her character from the earliest books had faced this situation she would have curled up in Vicky's bottle and the series would have ended pathetically. This Kris, however, has learned to shoulder the burdens she deserves and not let anyone shove guilt she hasn't earned her way. She knows herself now, and while she doesn't like some of the things she is now capable of doing and thinking, she knows that someone has to make the tough calls. That's the essence of a true leader.

The Kiss
Yes, it happened! It finally actually happened! If you didn't pick up on the chemistry between Kris and Jack by now, then you need to give up on this series. Matters reached a boiling point between them and the wall came down. Shepherd constructed it well. He didn't rush it, allowing the first revelation to come out without a melodramatic lip lock with soaring music and fireworks in the background. I was so afraid he might take the easy out there, but he proved that I should have had more faith in him.

The parting where Kris is arrested and led away for a quick ride back to Wardhaven and a confrontation with Great-Grampa Ray, played out just like a good movie. An embrace, a desperate kiss, and then a forced separation with the soulful promise that stirs every girly girl's hearstrings: "I will find you." (Ah, Jack, I want one just like you.) It was well-handled and tastefully composed. Mush-factor was nada, and the raw emotion that has gripped the two of them for so long is laid bare. The fact that it is cut short so abruptly makes it all the more poignant.

Okay, okay! The gush is over. Carry on...

Family Matters
That last scene. That. Last. Scene. Woah! Kris vs. The Trio of Terror, and guess who got the last word? It wasn't King Ray this time.

Kris sticks to her guns here and defends her actions, and those of all who served with her in the battle against the aliens. Never will she allow what those men and women died for to be taken lightly. This is what ultimately wins it for this character: no matter what the cost to her personally, no one who serves under her command is allowed to be undervalued or forgotten - the sin of those who sit safely at home while their lives are being defended. She sticks it to her grandfather and takes the fall with both eyes wide open. That, my friends, is nobility.

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If you're slogging your way through those early books, keep going and get to Daring. It is the very best of Kris and her creator. Bravo!