When Esmay Suiza found herself in the middle of a space battle, the senior surviving officer, she had no choice but to take command and win. She didn't want to be a hero, but Once A Hero....--This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
In Once A Hero, Esmay Suiza is the leading woman. She is a young lieutenant on trial for her involvement with a mutiny that took place in the previous novels. Fortunately for her, she was a hero and the Court Martial is supposedly a formality. It is nonetheless stressful on Esmay and tests her self-confidence while forcing her to examine her choices. I enjoyed her strength of character as she reviews her testimony and role in the incident. It was also a good introduction to Fleet, this book's space military.
After the trial, she goes to visit her home planet of Altiplano. Esmay comes from a wealthy and powerful family of General's, her father being one of them. We get a taste of a different society in which male and female roles are traditionally well defined. In contrast to Fleet's court martial, her home planet hails her ceremoniously as a hero. Because she is a woman, her success in the military would not have been possible on Altiplano, making the warm welcome all the more meaningful to her. While she is there, a tragic hidden past and a family betrayal are revealed. Esmay must face some hard truths.
She returns to Fleet to continue in the navy and is reassigned to a space station. Esmay becomes acquainted with the station and the duties required of her position in the technical track. She struggles with her true desire to be command track and reflects on how the violent crime against her when she was a child has impacted her personality and behavior. She also tries to modify her ingrained sense of courtesy. A potential love interest, Barin Serrano, explains that things considered rude on Altiplano are perceived differently in the Fleet culture and are affecting her image. A whole new part of the story develops in which an attempt is made by the evil Bloodhorde to take over the space station and Esmay is given an opportunity to draw upon her abilities to make important command decisions and stand out as a hero once again.
There are several things I didn't like about the book...the manner in which the enemy is defeated came off as silly to me. There are some repetitive comments about how people think Esmay has promise and why won't she come out of her shell and when will it happen. Also, the subject of sexual violence seems a very serious issue to address and while it didn't bother me, I can see how this portion of the story or its treatment may not appeal to everyone.
I did love the details. I really imagined the space station, the special suits, the ships and what life in space would be like. I loved Esmay's dedication, hard-working attitude and rise to success. I did go on to read the next book in this series and found it lacking in comparison to Once a Hero.
The book can easily be read without reading the three earlier books in the series (Hunting Party, Sporting Chance, Winning Colors), which aren't nearly as good. The later books are also weaker, in my opinion.