A Spaceship for the King - Jerry Pournelle - 1973 Daw Books Paperback - Frank Kelly Freas Cover

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Blurb: “They had struggled upwards for a thousand years to reach the point Earth had reached in the early 20th Century—and then the revived Galactic Empire took them over as a colony.

There was one condition under which the planet's people could achieve freedom—they had to prove they could build themselves a spaceship on their own know-how. The plans for such a starship existed on an even more backward world—heavily guarded as taboo documents.
So the puppet king called on his former foeman, Nathan MacKinnie, to go and bring back the "sacred" blueprints—without bringing a world-destroying Imperial fleet on his heels.”