In an intergalactic future where humanity is colonizing new planets, John Perry and his family find themselves at the center of a conflict between humanity and a powerful alien species. John Perry is a retired soldier in a future where humans travel across the galaxy and interact with a host of alien species. The story starts with him outlining the events in the previous books of the Old Man's War series which led to him being where he is now; living on a planet named Huckleberry with his wife Jane Sagan and adopted daughter Zoe.
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Perry and his wife Jane Sagan served together in the Colonial Defense Forces the military branch of the Colonial Union, and are now retired and living in the village of New Goa. John serves as the village ombudsman, and works with an assistant named Savitri. Zoe is accompanied by two alien bodyguards from a species called the Obin, due to events that took place earlier in the series the Obin regard Zoe with semi-religious awe.
One day they receive a visitor from their past life; General Rybicki of the CDF. He offers Perry and Sagan a new job as the administrators for a new colony called Roanoke. New colonies are rare, due to the nearly constant warfare and territorial disputes among aliens species, but he tells them that the humans negotiated for the planet with the Obin.
The colony is composed from seed colonists from ten existing planets, and as former soldiers and outsiders the general believes John and Jane will be the perfect impartial overseers to ease the tensions between the various groups. They agree and soon are given a rundown of the planet and the colonists. Each planet had a different method of selecting their candidates, so the groups are quite disparate composed of contest winners from one planet, political undesirables from another, a Memnonite group from a third, and so on.
Soon it becomes clear that there is more going on with the colony than they have been told. The supposed trade with the Obin was a lie, the planet's ownership is in hostile space. Manfred Trujillo, the man who proposed the colony in the first place and who expected to be assigned leadership complains about this and also suggests that the colony is being set up to fail as a political ploy to quiet calls for expansion. There is also an oddity; in addition to their assigned cargo they have been loaded with a bunch of extra obsolete equipment.
When they arrive at their destination the planet does not match the description or coordinates of Roanoke, although their navigation systems think they are in the correct spot. They are also alarmed to find they can't control their engines. They are soon informed of the truth: their colony is unauthorized.
It turns out there is a union of alien species known as the Conclave which has recently declared that no new colonies are allowed by any species. The Colonial Union does not want to join the Conclave and stop expanding, so they are seeking to undermine it. For the colony to remain safe from Conclave attack, all contact with the outside is cut off. Also their wireless technology cannot be used for fear of detection, which explains the obsolete tools in the cargo hold.
With little other choice the colonists move forward with the new plan and start settling in. Almost immediately they discover a new threat; there is some sort of large predator on the planet, chewing through their fences. The survey information on the planet is rudimentary, so they have no idea what they are facing.
They set up a lined cargo container in which they can use wireless tech and computers, but otherwise shut everything off. The tech guy in charge of it warns John that there are three wireless devices that have not been turned in yet; one is with a colonist who reluctantly surrenders it, but the other two are in each of Zoe's Obin bodyguards. They refuse to surrender them, since they are not constrained by the laws of the Colonial Union, but agree to mask them for safety.
The colony struggles forward, planting crops, fighting pests, and dealing with the predator species which turns out to be not only dangerous, but tool using and intelligent.
Perry uncovers more information about the Conclave, indicating that they are far more likely to evacuate a colony than to destroy it. The Colonial Union has exaggerated the threat for its own aims. He talks to the Obin bodyguards and they reveal that the Conclave has found 17 rogue colonies, only three of which were destroyed. Ten others were repatriated and the other four joined the Conclave voluntarily.
A year in they get a visit from a CDF ship carrying General Rybicki. He tells them they can go back to using their wireless equipment. John is suspicious but the General reveals that the colony is being set up as a trap for the Conclave. Given no choice Perry plays along.
Back in the Colonial Union word spreads fast that the lost colony has been found, and the Conclave immediately begins searching for it and soon a Conclave ship appears in orbit around Roanoke.
General Gau of the Conclave meets with Perry. He tells him the Conclave is aiming to bring peace between the various species, by making them focus on cooperation and exploration rather than poaching each other's colonies as has happened up until now, they would like the humans to join, but the Colonial Union refuses, unwilling to stop expansion, and has a tight lid on the information that gets back to Earth from outside.
Gau asks the colony to surrender, Perry does his best to warn Gau about the trap without risking himself to Rybicki's wrath but after he refuse the surrender Gau calls in a fleet to destroy Roanoke. But the Colonial Union has set up a trap and destroys all the ships except Gau's, who is allowed to return to the Conclave with the news.
The colony suffers subsequent missile attacks, and eventually Perry is summoned to Colonial Union headquarters. The Roanoke ploy has succeeded in causing the Conclave to descent into civil war, but as a side effect several of its members are not determined to wipe out the Colonial Union since the destroyed fleet contained one ship each member species.
Finally Perry realizes that Roanoke's value to the CU now is as a martyr to drum up support for an all out war against the Conclave. He quits his post as colonial administrator and convinces General Gau that there is a third way; together they get one from each Conclave species to commit a shit to a trading fleet, with one additional human ship led by Perry.
He does an end run around the Colonial Union and by taking the trade fleet Earth, revealing all the shenanigans that have been played with Roanoke and all the secrets and lies that the CU has been telling Earth about the Conclave. At the book's end the people of Earth are taking a vote on whether to join the Conclave themselves.
Best part of story, including ending:
It's a bit disjointed, with several parts that could have been left out, like the predators on Roanoke. But overall it's a good political conspiracy story with solid action sequences and ties up several threads from previous books.
Best scene in story:
The introduction of the characters at the start of the book is very well done, they come across as charming and interesting, and believable as a family.
Opinion about the main character:
Perry is a no nonsense kind of guy, funny and unflappable. He does seem a bit more even tempered than is humanly possible, though.