The first volume of Stephen Donaldson's Gap series tells a story that sets he stage for the volumes to come. It's a futuristic tale of three people: two pirate ship captains, Angus Thermopyle and Nick Succorso, and a woman, Morn Hyland, who is Thermopyle's captive and the object of Succorso's interest. Determined to free her from Thermopyle's clutches, Succorso frames his rival for a crime he did not commit, freeing Hyland from Thermopyle's control and leaving her former captor a prisoner of the authorities.
This is the plot of the book, and yet it isn't a spoiler to explain any of this as these developments are all outlined in the very first chapter. What follows in the seventeen succeeding chapters is a detailing from Thermopyle's perspective of the events that made Hyland his prisoner and how Succorso creates the circumstances necessary to free her. It's an impressive feat of storytelling, as even knowing the outcome I was still engaged by Donaldson's description of the developments leading up to the confrontation at the beginning of the novel. The achievement is even more remarkable given Donaldson's characterization, as what starts out as a cliched tale of a chivalrous hero rescuing a beautiful damsel from the clutches of a swinish villain becomes a more complicated story with no real romance or heroism, just degrees of self-interest and depravity. While the narrative is often a brutal and unpleasant one, it's a masterful exercise in writing that serves as an effective introduction to a morally complex universe.