At the end of the war a huge worm like creature was discovered in the system, something completely alien. Fleet immediately attacked the Worm and cut it into four pieces, each of which was quickly imprisoned in individual Ozark containers. Around this the main station of Orbital Combine was built and was used to study the creature. But there is often overflow from these containers and Elsever Strone was unlucky enough to become pregnant during one of these incidents. Her four children are born – Harald, Rhodane, Yishna and Orduval – and grow up with very impressive capabilities, each following a route that is their guiding light and will take them into strong positions within society.
Now with the events of the war a memory, two events bring these back to the surface: a book revealing the truth abut the war written by the secretive Uskaron and the arrival of a Polity probe in the system to establish contact with these distant relatives of humanity. With strict rules in place, David McCrooger, a Hooper, comes to the system as the Polity Consul Assessor to work with the governments to invite the system to join the Polity. But not everyone wants the interference and will go to great lengths to stop the Consul Assessors mission.
This story has everything you need from a good sci-fi book: great in-depth characters, a gripping story, weird and wonderful alien environments and wildlife, big space battles, a Polity drone and one of the best things you can ask for from a book: it’s a page turner that will leave you wanting more. Neal has once again used his imagination to conjure up vivid images of alien effects on humanity.
The story really does pick up from the moment you open the book and doesn’t let you go until you turn the last page. Neal has structured the book so while you get the events that are happening at present, you also get flashback sections that focus on the four Strone children and shows you just how different they are to the others on their planet. This is a welcome addition to the book and doesn’t interfere with the narrative in any way, if anything they add much more depth and give you a very gradual picture of the society in which they grow up. One of the more enjoyable elements were the McCrooger sections, all written in the first person. I’ve not read many novels with this trait but it works exceptionally well in this context – an outsider coming into a delicate situation. I’d be very interested in reading more like this from Neal.
On the whole, if you like good, fast paced, intelligent space opera, then this is for you, even if you’ve not read any of Neal’s previous works. You may be left wondering over some bits of information, but when an author has spent years building up his universe over 8 novels and many short stories, you will only fully get all references when you’ve read them all. I’ve still got Neal’s Agent Cormac sequence to read so I may have missed some references, but this wasn’t evident at all and didn’t detract from the enjoyment. Very highly recommended!