|The Radiant Seas|
|Tor Books, 512 pages|
|A review by Rich Horton
Asaro's new novel is The Radiant Seas. Like her previous three novels, it's set in a future in which Earth is an uneasy neutral party in a war between two interstellar empires, the Skolian Empire and the Eubian Empire. Earth is a fairly recent arrival on the galactic scene, and its Allied Worlds are much smaller in extent than either Empire. Both the Skolians and Eubians (or at least their rulers) are descendants of humans (Mayans, actually) who were moved from Earth 6000 years ago. At that time, there was briefly an empire ruled by telepaths of the Ruby Dynasty. The Skolians are ruled by latter-day members of this dynasty, while the Eubians are ruled by Aristos, products of a Skolian genetic experiment gone horribly bad. It turns out the the Eubian rulers gain a particular pleasure from torture, and in particular, the torture of telepaths (providers). They regard all people who don't share this trait as clearly subhuman, fit only for slavery. And, of course, the highly telepathic leaders of Skolia are particularly desirable as providers. Thus, the Eubians are clearly monsters. Asaro tries hard in this book to humanize them, and succeeds to some extent but not very much.
The Radiant Seas, then, is a direct sequel to Primary Inversion. (Her other novels are Catch the Lightning, set later than The Radiant Seas, and The Last Hawk, set at exactly the same time as Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas, but on an isolated planet, away from the main action.) In Primary Inversion we were introduced to Sauscony Valdoria, a member of the Ruby Dynasty, and to Jaibriol Qox, heir to the Eubian Throne, but secretly bred by his father to be a telepath. (This breeding has resulted in him not sharing the Aristo sadism.) After Jaibriol is captured by the Skolians, he and Sauscony (Soz) fall in love. My main complaint with Primary Inversion was that it told the "romance" story of Soz and Jaibriol, ending when that was resolved, while also beginning the adventure/war story of the Skolian/Eubian conflict, and leaving that story completely unresolved. The Radiant Seas is the completion of this adventure/war story. Indeed, though it includes several love stories, and a fair amount of (not terribly explicit) sex, The Radiant Seas is not at all a "romance" novel. The interest in this novel centers on politics and adventure more than on relationships.
The viewpoint in The Radiant Seas is shared among several characters: Soz, Jaibriol, their son (Jaibriol II); Soz' brother, the Skolian Imperator, Kurj; Soz' other brother Althor, and such Eubians as the Emperor Ur Qox and the Empress Viquara. Thus, the story involves several threads that take some time to converge. In fact, I felt that things started a bit too slowly: the first half of the book sets up conditions for the war which occupies the second half. Much of this early narrative could have been shortened or dispensed with entirely, in my opinion. However, the book gathers momentum about midway through, and the close of the book is thrilling, a real ride, with sympathetic larger than life flawed heroes, and well-depicted, if truly evil, villains. (But, at least, villains who the author convinces us really don't see themselves as evil.)
This is the most successful of the series in revealing the political structure of Asaro's future. The dilemmas facing all three sides of the conflict (Skolia, Eube, and Earth) are well-presented, and the resolution is believable and ambiguous. The war is necessary, yet also terrible, with millions at least dying. And the result is not an unmixed triumph for any side. This struck me as realistic, even though I confess to rooting for the Skolians. Asaro again buttresses the "superscience" of her story with reasonable speculative scientific explanations, though on occasion she introduced a convenient feature which didn't ring quite true to me; and some typical weaknesses of space opera are still present, such as engineering programs which invent amazing new spaceship tech and manage to refit or build new millions of ships in a matter of months. Another occasional weakness, also, I would suggest, endemic to the form, is prose that can verge on the pulpish. But, I think a reader of space opera can be forgiven for passing over such details and holding on for what is, once it gets going, a first-rate rip-roaring adventure story.
Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.
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