In _Dauntless_, Campbell, aka Hemry (from the JAG in space/_A Just Determination_ review) switches to faster-than-light mil sf, further into the future. There's some neat stuff about the religious/cultural background (ancestor worship figures prominently), but the basic story is deceptively simple. An Alliance (good guys) fleet has gotten hold of the key to the hypernet gate for the bad guys home system. Here's our chance! Along the way, they pick up the about-to-die-for-good space pod in which "Black Jack" Geary has been hibernating for a century after a glorious last stand covering the successful escape of the Alliance fleet in the _first_ battle in the century long war against the Syndics. Unfortunately, the acquisition of the key was a trap, and after taking heavy losses, all of the Staff go to negotiate with the Syndics, who promptly execute them, leaving Jack in command with an hour to surrender.
Instead, blast from the past Jack decides to exit the system via the "back roads" which have been forgotten in the day of the Hypernet. Turns out the Alliance has lost more than people and ships; they've lost crucial expertise which he can re-instruct them in, if he can find the time to resupply and retrain his new ship. While he's doing so, he stumbles across evidence that humans might not be as alone in the galaxy as they think.
_Fearless_ awaits, but first I had to read _Water for Elephants_ for book group. Packed with incident, _Water for Elephants_ does indeed satisfy. Gruen got lucky and acquired a mother-lode of circus related research material in the course of her other job. In this story, a 93 year old (or maybe 90) man is flashing back on his youthful first year with the Benzini circus. He almost had a vet degree from Cornell, but was unable to sit for his exams because he got the news that his parents had both just died in a car accident. And, oh, by the way, the house had a mortgage (probably to pay Cornell's tuition), dad's been taking payment in kind for the last couple years (it's 1933 or thereabouts and things are _really_ tough all over), the bank where he had his savings failed and the bank which holds the mortgage isn't feeling kindly at all.
Well of _course_ he's going to jump on a circus train. I mean, duh. What would any sensible lad do under the circumstances?
It takes a bit of doing to get hired on, and then to get regular food and a safe place to sleep. Along the way, he takes under his wing a variety of folk worse of than himself. When I said "packed with incident", I was not kidding. Gruen replays every sordid bit of circus history you've ever heard of: the elephant who drank the lemonade (like, the whole vat), the guy who was murdered and rolled up in a canvas tent, the "dumb" elephant that just happened not to understand English, but when you spoke to her in the right language was in fact The Smartest Elephant Ever.
I primarily objected to the dwarf tossing. Otherwise, a fast, fun read with a relatively satisfying ending (altho not for the paralyzed alcoholic guy who had shellshock or the aforementioned dwarf; or, for that matter, for the paranoid schizophrenic or a long list of other people who got thrown from the train). Quite possibly worth buying and reading in paperback, even without a book group being involved. The overall moral is appropriate for our age in that a college degree is helpful EVEN IF you decide to run away with the circus.