by Timothy Zahn
Special Note: I believe this book is out of print. You can still find used copies on Amazon or at a local store, like I did when I was on vacation up in Harrison, MI.
"Cobra Bargain" is actually the third of what I guess would be the Cobra trilogy. I never read the first one (see special note) but I did read the second one, "Cobra Strike" that was fast-paced but flat. That is largely corrected with "Cobra Bargain"--and not just because it's longer. There's more character development in this story that makes it more enjoyable to read.
This is the third in the series, but each book is separated by 30 years or so and focuses on different generations of the Moreau family. The original "Cobra" focused on Jonny Moreau, who signed up to become a cyborg warrior known as a Cobra and fought aliens known as Trofts. The second book, "Cobra Strike" focuses on Jonny's children, especially Justin Moreau, who also becomes a Cobra and goes to a mysterious planet called Qasama that's populated by humans who make up for their lack of technology with paranoia about outsiders. "Cobra Bargain" then focuses on Jonny's granddaughter--Justin's daughter--Jasmine Moreau, who becomes the first female Cobra. The "bargain" in the title comes in large part because Jasmine is allowed to become a Cobra and go on a spy mission to Qasama when her uncle agrees to quit politics if Jasmine fails.
Once the mission gets underway, though, the bargain becomes secondary to survival. The scout team's shuttle is shot down, leaving Jasmine as the lone survivor far, far behind enemy lines. On the plus side, Jasmine is fluent in the Qasama language. On the negative side, Qasamans view women as only a notch better than outsiders.
Jasmine is taken in by the Shammon family, whose young son becomes her warden--and maybe a bit more than that. While she recovers and tries to come up with a way to get home, Jasmine finds out there's bad stuff afoot on Qasama that could mean very bad things for everyone back home.
For the most part this retains the fast pace of "Cobra Strike" or Mr. Zahn's other books I read. In many ways it's similar to the later "Conquerors Trilogy" that similarly focuses on a multi-generational family and delves into the culture of an alien race. (The difference here being the "aliens" are human.) But as I mentioned before, there's more character depth in this book as it focuses mostly on Jasmine and the younger Shammon family son. There could perhaps have been a little more romantic tension, but for a sci-fi action story it's pretty good.
As a fan of Mr. Zahn's work since his "Star Wars" novels, it was interesting to read some of his earlier novels. The Jasmine character could be seen as a prototype to the Mara Jade character in his "Star Wars" books in that both are strong, independent females. (The difference being that Jasmine comes equipped with all sorts of cool lasers embedded in her skeletal structure while Mara Jade has a lightsaber.) I already mentioned the Conquerors books, which again these could be seen as a forerunner to. If you like a good light sci-fi story, then this isn't a bad read. If you see it in the used bookstore, pick it up.That is all.