This review is cross-posted from On a Pale Star: A Book Blog for Speculative Fiction
The blurb, from the publisher:
Captain Katherine Francis is about to disobey every Ethics Law the Union of Planets throws at her. After the Union’s enemy destroys her home planet and murders her family, she makes the decision to bring an end to the war–whatever it takes.
When an opportunity arises to ally with the neutral Alliance and turn the tide of war, Katherine throws aside her moral code, partners with a known spy, and risks sacrificing the very core of who she is.
And when faced with choosing between her conscience and stopping the bloodshed, she realizes that, either way, she’ll lose.
Shortly after Road to Hell opens, Katherine Francis, captain of the space port Perdition, receives terrible news about her family’s fate in the on-going war that is costing millions of lives and slowly chipping away at the Union of Planets. She’s devastated. More than devastated, she’s furious, and she nurses that rage until it’s what sustains her.
The Union’s Fleet Command puts out a request that all captains come up with a “local action plan” that might help the war end sooner, and Katherine begins to toy with an idea that skirts the Ethics Law, bending it without breaking it. And then, there’s an opportunity that goes against everything she’s been taught about honesty, trust, ethics, and the higher ground.
Bereft of her family, with her estranged wife somewhere out near the front, Katherine is faced with a question: just what are her ethics–the codes and values enforced by the Ethics law and the foundation of her and of the Unions’ way of life–worth?
We all know what the road to hell is paved with, and Krista Ball, by way of her tall, strong, grieving captain, reminds us that “hell” isn’t just a physical place but a state of mind and of being. Katherine decides that ending the war and defeating the Coalition is an end that will justify her means. What she doesn’t expect, I think, is just how much her methods will cost her personally and how much her decision will ripple outward to affect others in her life.
It wasn’t easy to read Captain Katherine Francis’ struggles in this novel, but I’m glad that I did, even my own personal moral code wouldn’t have struggled with what to do as Katherine’s did. She’s well written and consistent even as she does things that she never, ever dreamed she would do. I very much appreciated her character development even as I found that I sometimes had more in common with her (much less morally rigid) cohort-in-espionage, Salim.
Salim is a Coalition exile, both familiar to Katherine and utterly, utterly foreign. Not being Union means Salim hasn’t been raised on the strict Ethics Law, and doesn’t have the same boundaries as those he live among. He breaks Coalition codes for the Union and does so to benefit himself: agreeing to decode only in return for upgrades to his access to technology or for similar rewards. Early on Katherine comments that she’s fine with Salim as long as she remembers that “he will do what benefits him most.”
Of course Salim becomes her go-to person when she decides to go full-out, ignore the Ethics Law, and end the war. They are excellent foils to one another.
I’m not going to spoil the book and tell you if her plan comes to fruition and her end goal is met because while it is important, it is not really the point of the novel. Katherine’s constant struggle to reconcile herself to this path she’s chosen, her horror at the bad (very very bad) events that occur because of her choice, and even her inability to change a lifetime of conditioning and habits to effectively lie, those are the important parts of the story.
When does practicality win out over ideals? What would you do if you were told you have carte blanche to act as you want, as long as you don’t get caught? What are your personal morals and ethics worth? What’s your price?