This is the eighth book in a long series, but works well as a standalone. I’d never previously read any of the Dumarest Saga, but found that any necessary backstory was woven into the book, and that the story in this book was complete in itself.
Earl Dumarest is a wanderer trying to find his way home. As a child he stowed away on a ship, and in his efforts to survive found himself travelling further and further, until he found himself ina region of the galaxy where Earth’s location is not only lost, but considered a myth. In this novel, in trying to avoid trouble on his trail he finds himself almost penniless on a new planet, with the fastest way to earn enough money for a ticket out being the Games. Once harmless sport, the violent and often deadly modern Games are a symptom of the way the planet’s current Owner is taking the planet into a new age of barbarism.
Dumarest wins his game — and a large bet for one of the two potential heirs of the Owner, a few hours before the owner dies. As the younger of two otherwise equal claimants, Veruchia is likely to lose to her cousin, a man who will take their planet even further down the path of barbarism. But Veruchia may have another line of claim, and now she has the money to search for the proof in the short time before the Council makes a final decision. If she can survive the assassination attempts by her rival…
One of veruchia’s friends sees that Dumarest would make an ideal bodyguard for her. But Dumarest has more incentive than just money to take the job. The lost records of the first landing on the planet could give them both the information they need to change their lives. And so they work together against the clock, and against what may be a common enemy.
This is great pulpy fun, solidly written and with enough description to evoke a world without any padding of the word count. It’s a fairly short novel, and a quick read, but the right length for the story. And glory be, the backstory for the series gives this book extra depth, but it really is written so that you don’t need to read anything else in the series.
That latter point is going to be of interest to some of the people who read my blog — because if you read it as a standalone, you can treat it as a cross-genre romance with a Happy For Now ending. (It’s a long-running series and Dumarest always eventually moves on to protect his loved ones from his enemies, so if you want to read Veruchia as a romance rather than as sf, you really should treat it as a standalone.)