The story opens with Traviss Uriah Long leaving his house on what he believes is a trip to take some of his classmates jewelry shopping. Long is asked to stay with the air car because his classmates have reservations at a club soon. Because he has no girlfriend to buy jewelry for, Long agrees. However while waiting, Long sees a recruitment station for the Royal Manticoran Navy and, inspired by his deceased father’s tales of his, service in the navy of the Eris system, decides to enlist.
But while Long is discussing enlistment with the recruiter, all hell breaks loose as Long’s classmates attempt an armed robbery of the jewelry store which swiftly transforms into a firefight with police. As the botched robbery rages Long and the recruiter discuss the flaws in using an air car as a getaway and using someone who doesn’t know the plan as a getaway driver.
Despite the recruiter’s best efforts, Long refuses to apply for officer training, but early on Long faces a crisis of conscience when his belief in rules clashes with Chomps, one of his squadmates, stealing extra food because the new ration scheme doesn’t make allowances for people who have inherited genetic enhancements which require extra food as a side effect.
Then, later in training, Long discovers students cheating on tests and after sending several messages to the head of his section he is pulled aside by an instructor who explains why the problem will be dealt with later. Unfortunately, Long soon rushes into a figurative minefield after observing a simulation where the hostile force uses a theoretical weapon, a missile equipped with two drive systems. Long writes a paper explaining why such a weapon is impossible--or at least extraordinarily impractical and can never function as portrayed in the simulation. Long doesn’t know that creating a program to develop such a missile is the pet project of his chief instructor and only a transfer to another department saves him from retaliation.
Meanwhile, a struggle is raging in the Manticoran government as a faction that believes the navy is a waste of resources and manpower in an economy still reeling from a plague that devastated the system’s population is gaining power, a faction that includes Long’s half-brother. Believing that Manticore will never be attacked, they intend to gut the navy in favor of the Manticoran Patrol and Rescue Service, essentially a spacefaring coast guard. Their initial plan is to divide the navy’s battlecruisers with each warship forming the cores of two MPARS sloops. A test is run with a single battlecruiser and eventually this leads to the sloop HMS Phobos and the battlecruiser HMS Vanguard both moving to assist the disabled mining ship Rafe's Scavenger. Urged on by her superiors, the captain of the Phobos pushes her ship, only for a flaw in the vessel’s engines to wreck the sloop, leaving two ships in need of rescue.
Long develops a plan to save both ships and passes it on to one of the Vanguard’s officers, but the captain rejects it because it would delay aiding Rafe's Scavenger by a few minutes. This leads to the Phobos being lost with all hands, a tragedy made more personal for Long when he discovers that some of the people who helped him through training were on board the sloop.
Around a year later, Long is serving on the destroyer HMS Guardian which is being sent to a summit where the Republic of Haven is seeking to sell warships to its neighbors. While Guardian’s official role is to look into the possibility of selling used battlecruisers to the systems sending agents, its real goal is to assess the possibility of exporting future warships produced by Manticore. However it is soon revealed that the true purpose of the summit is to organize an alliance and develop plans against a pirate fleet believed to be operating in the region. But the pirates seize the Haven warships at the summit along, with the Manticoran ambassador and Guardian’s captain leaving the remainder of Guardian’s crew scrambling to find a way to prevent the escape of the captured vessels without killing the prisoners and any surviving Havenite crew members.
I give this book 9 out of 10.. It does a great job of recreating the peak of the setting when readers were left wondering who would win and who would survive each battle, without duplicating what came before. It is also nice to see Haven’s first golden age before it becomes the finically starved conquest-driven superpower of much of the setting’s main era However some of the political events on Manticore strike a little to close to part of the main era for my taste.