Space zombies. Floating cities. And Pepper leaping out of a spaceship and riding a heatshield down, sans parachute. What else do I really need to say about this one?
Sly Mongoose is Tobias Buckell's third novel, set in the same universe as Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin, but Pepper is the only character from the earlier books. As with Ragamuffin, this isn't a direct sequel, though it does continue the larger story Buckell is creating about humans struggling to survive and find their place as they discover just how dangerous a place this universe can be.
Sly Mongoose is set primarily on the planet of Chilo, a loosely Venus-like planet with crushing gravity, a corrosive atmosphere ... generally not a pleasant place to live. The inhabitants live in floating cities, descending to the surface to maintain the outdated and unreliable mining equipment. It's a hard life, and when Pepper drops in, it gets a lot harder. The Swarm (space zombies!) is coming, searching for a secret hidden on Chilo's surface, and they're prepared to kill anyone and everyone in their way.
Buckell does a lot of cool things in this book. For starters, Chilo's inhabitants are the descendants of the Azteca from Crystal Rain. One complaint I had about Crystal Rain was that the Aztecs came across as fairly straightforward villains without as much depth as I wanted. Sly Mongoose develops them into fully fleshed out people, still struggling to live down the shame of their ancestors' actions back on New Anegada.
Sly Mongoose leaves me curious where Buckell is going with this series. He's setting up a very dangerous and violent universe, one in which humanity will either need to unite and work together, or face extinction. Behind the obvious threat of the Swarm lies another enemy, and further in the shadows an even larger threat could be lurking.
The young miner Timas is a good character, but Pepper steals the book. Pepper is a highly practical, survival-oriented warrior. He's an interesting one ... long-lived, and having survived enough wars to warp any man. There are times he seems to be running on automatic, more machine than human, and throughout the book you see Timas and others trying to break through to that kernel of humanity. Sometimes they seem to reach him. Other times, Pepper just lets them think so, because it suits Pepper's plans at that particular moment. Definitely not a nice man, but a fascinating one, and a useful guy to have around in a war.
Overall, I'd say this is the best of the three books, an action-filled page-turner that left me eager to read number four.