It took me a bit to read the next in the Free Wrench series, but the book holds up to my love of the series, offering fun and laughter with a tinge of seriousness. I quickly slipped back into their world, recognizing crew and villains alike (though who could forget Lucius P. Alabaster?). I enjoyed both the logic behind the story events and glimpses at how things work in this world.
The series has been ramping up from personal challenges to world-shattering ones, and The Calderan Problem continues this pattern after a relaxed beginning. It starts with the crew separated into two sets, one at the new ichor well and the other, composed of all the crew except Gunner and Wink, are being welcomed and feted in Nita’s home.
There are some lovely moments in Calderan as an artistic people come face to face with the Coopers’ practicality. I appreciated how Lil and Coop didn’t change to meet their new circumstances, and yet as always, they found a place where they fit despite all expectations. There are also cultural clashes where the Rim culture is so different from Calderan that assumptions are problematic.
Nita fit into her old life about as comfortably as she ever had when they dropped her home last time. Her eagerness to get aboard the Wind Breaker to do repairs proves where her heart lies, in more ways than one as it turns out. I wasn’t sure where the book was headed with the main focus on diplomacy and trade with Calderan. The events at the well offered little clarity to draw me at first.
I shouldn’t have worried, though. Not only do things ramp up significantly as we hit the middle of the book, but everything in the beginning offers a foundation upon which the rest of the story rests. I was able to piece together a good bit of what was going on from the clues I hadn’t realized I’d been collecting, building my anticipation as I waited to see things unfold.
It’s a fast-paced adventure mixed with cultural clash mixed with navigating the complexity of relationships…so a true Free Wrench novel. The villains are split between the deep planner pulling strings from the background and the chaotic, bombastic certainty of Alabaster, giving insight along with entertainment. There were a few dark moments when I couldn’t see my way through for a bit, but the Wind Breaker crew holds true to the ability to overcome any obstacle…if by the skins of their teeth.
I very much enjoyed the snappy dialogue with its mix of undertones and overt ones whether Kent chastising Gunner’s quiet or Nita’s siblings trying to wake their sister up to what’s right in front of her face. Alabaster’s monologues are fascinating as well as they work out the various machinations afoot. And of course, I continue to love Wink, the ship’s aye-aye, who is dedicated, brave, and as Gunner would say, a clear member of the crew.
What wins me over every time is the positive attitude of the Wind Breaker crew even when faced with impossible odds. Whether it’s Gunner determined to reclaim a crew member or Mack confident he can turn a week’s journey into a matter of days, they don’t just expect success, they make it happen. And if one path doesn’t turn out as expected, they’re quick to adapt and find another.
It’s those characteristics that make Nita such a good addition to the crew and less than comfortable on her own homeland where everything takes years to come to fruition. She’s at her best when in a desperate scramble on the edge of disaster, and everyone else is better off with her in the mix.
If you haven’t given the series a try, you really should. It’s quick, fun entertainment with complex, layered characters who are dedicated to their paths, whether for good or evil.