Set in the 23rd century, this is a story of two deep-space miners who rescue a man from certain death in space and have to take over his quest for justice against the all-powerful company that controls all their lives.
This book represents the earliest shown time-point in the Merchanter/Alliance/Union universe, before the war has really broken out, and stays entirely within the solar asteroid belt and at sub-light speeds for its action. Here we have the ASTEX company controlling the great majority of the mining of the asteroids, with only a company limited role for independent prospectors. The main story revolves around Dekker, rescued from his damaged ship by two other independents, Pollard and Bird, and the slowly brought to light details of just how Dekker's accident occurred in the first place.
Dekker, with all his mental problems from his accident, and Bird, as the older, experienced independent prospector, are very well realized characters. Pollard is not as fully realized, but he is far more fully developed in the sequel to this book, Hellburner. The society of miners, the space station environment, and the economic structure are a little hard to get your mind around at first, as Cherryh presents bits and pieces of these items almost as side items to her action and dialogue. But by the end of the book, you begin to realize just how well she has created and defined this near self-contained world, so different from most Earth societies, but with recognizable points of similarity, of definite humanity.
The problems of this book come from this same style of presenting facts to the reader in regards to celestial navigation. Unless you are well versed in this subject, and can extrapolate from a single sentence of description to an entire scenario of vectors, g-forces, and delta-v requirements you will probably find that there are several action sequences that either don't make much sense or don't carry the high feeling of danger that they were intended to. This is minimization of expository material taken to the extreme.
Cherryh's prose style for her Merchanter books has always been very abbreviated, clipped, full of unexplained acronyms, with a large number of incomplete sentences. This style is good for providing a sense of tension and fast action, and does well in this book as she slowly reveals the details of just how the Company is trying squeeze out all the 'little' people and take total control of the Belt, but it does take some getting used to.
The action of this story drives Cherryh's thematic points, on the need for human independence and companionship, the depths of unbridled greed, the tenuous line between real and unreal within the mind, and the necessity for all people to keep on doing what is possible, regardless of odds.
A very good action story, but really needed a little more background and explanatory material to make a solid, cohesive whole. Required reading before starting Hellburner, however, where the problems of this book fade away and the full power of her envisioned world can be seen.
With plenty of suspense..action..and even a touch of romance this is an excellent novel.